A New Kind of Onboarding for a New Kind of People Team

One of my first jobs was working at a marina. My coworkers and I were responsible for cleaning up the boathouse to get it ready for members and students. It was a grueling kind of orientation. We spent weeks cleaning, building, lifting, and fixing for long hours every day. What’s more, it poured rain almost the entire time. We donned foul-weather gear, ran inside when it thundered, and dried our hats on the heaters during lunch.

And yet this experience was not only outrageously fun, it bonded our team in many remarkable ways. Conversation came easily as we shared in those early experiences, which set the tone for the rest of the summer. Even though we only worked together for three months, the six of us remain close friends to this day, years later.

For most of us, great people and a shared purpose are consistent characteristics of all of our favorite, most memorable jobs—not just as teenagers but as we move into the corporate world, too. So why do we seem to forget this, instead focusing on things like pay, perks, location, etc. (also important factors, to be sure, but best when balanced with people and purpose)?

And why is it that our onboarding plans just skim the surface of the employee experience, usually involving a brief tour of the office, a welcome package, and some onsite training? The job of a good onboarding plan should be to connect new employees to those two key factors—the great people, and the shared purpose—as quickly and meaningfully as possible. It’s about giving new hires a chance to share in and contribute to the workplace from day one.

Whether you’re hiring 1 new employee or 20 this month, putting effort into your onboarding plan upfront can help ensure your processes are scalable well into the future, not to mention increase engagement and retention in the long term.

Here are a few ways companies can change how they think about onboarding in order to optimize the new hire experience.

Onboarding is not just HR’s job

In this blog post, Maia Josebachvili describes the new People teams as compared to traditional HR. Here’s how she outlines some of the key differences between the responsibilities of the new and the old:

  • Traditional HR: Ensuring compliance and decreasing liability issues

  • People Teams: Maximizing employee value through talent acquisition, employee onboarding, talent management, total rewards, employee experience and culture, and internal communications

Through that lens, the onboarding mandate for traditional HR teams included things like making sure employees understand and sign their contracts, going over the expectations and rules of the organization, touring the office, learning how to use the available tools, and familiarizing themselves with corporate processes, and other compliance-based initiatives.

Certainly, these are still essential parts of the onboarding process. Compliance is and always will be a massive priority for HR and People teams.

But the employee experience is about so much more than that. It’s about creating an experience in which your new hire feels wholly involved, which makes them feel comfortable asking questions, and which sets the tone for the months and years ahead.

Under this new mandate, onboarding is a team effort. Here are some of the people who are involved in bringing on a new employee:

  • Direct manager

  • Candidate experience or recruiting team

  • Employee experience team

  • People operations team

  • Team leads from other departments

  • CEO or other executive who will speak to the vision of the company

  • “Buddy” in another department

  • Culture mentor

Note: with all the focus on your new hire, it can be easy to forget how their presence affects existing team members. Adding a new person can change the dynamic of the team, and part of a good onboarding plan is to make sure those changes are positive and productive. Make sure the whole team is involved in the onboarding of a new hire, not just HR and management.

And remember, this process does not stop after the first few days of onboarding. Which brings me to my next point...

Onboarding takes longer than you think it’s going to

In this video about working with Millennials, Simon Sinek discusses how, when you’re looking at the summit of a mountain, it’s easy to forget that you actually have to climb the mountain to get there. We want immediate gratification. We want love at first sight. We want to feel like we’re part of the team, bought in, productive, engaged, and ready to contribute now. But the fact is, it takes time to climb a worthwhile peak. Onboarding is not a one-day, or even a one-week activity. It takes time and thoughtful, deliberate planning that carries forward for weeks or months, if not the first year of employment—and beyond.

This is why it’s important to incorporate regular check-ins into your onboarding plan, at a cadence that works for your team. In an employee’s early days, more regular check-ins can be helpful (e.g. at one week, one month, three months, and a one-year milestone celebration). Be sure that, when checking in with employees, you’re not only doling out feedback, you’re also asking for their input in return. This not only gives insight into how your onboarding plan can be improved, it also shows the new hire that you value their opinion right from day one.

Onboarding is real work

After spending a week reading employee handbooks, meeting department heads, chatting with customers, watching informative videos, getting onsite training, attending demos, memorizing the core values, and booking coffees with dozens of people, your new hire probably feels ready to finally get started with some “real work.”

But remember: Onboarding is as real and worthy a set of tasks and duties as any to-dos they’ll add to their lists from here on out, and should be prioritized as such. Ensure your new hire is not rushing through things so they can get started quicker on their “actual jobs”—when you set out time for onboarding, it’s important for new hires to understand this is important and worthy.

Preparing the boathouse for members was as important as maintaining it once the season starts. Preparing for “real work” sets you up for success in very real and measurable ways. Make sure your new hire is pointed in the right direction before they hit the ground running.

Work is changing, so onboarding needs to change, too

As Maia stated in her article about the new people teams, HR is changing in three big ways:

1. The digital revolution has elevated the value of people to an organization.

2. The power has shifted from companies to people.

3. Strong employee engagement and company culture have become a competitive advantage.

The onboarding process needs an update in order to reflect these changes. Rather than requiring each new hire to sit through an informational video from 1993, utilize more current technologies, invite them to guide their own process based on their strengths, weaknesses, roles, and preferences, and ensure you highlight and focus on your company’s culture and values.

A good onboarding plan will grow with you

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel every single time you onboard a new employee. Putting in the time up-front to think deeply and intentionally about your onboarding plan means you can feel confident that each and every new team member will have what they need on day one, whether you’re hiring 1 new person or 100.

Developing these scalable practices at every stage of the employee experience can make a huge difference in a company that’s growing quickly.

Start by developing an onboarding plan and package that can work across all departments—one that you can easily access and recreate for each new hire and includes that basic compliance and regulatory information.

You can have fun with this plan, too. It doesn’t need to be dry to be informative. Set up some time to work alongside your marketing and design team to create a handbook that fits your brand and your culture.

Utilize the expertise of each department to make sure the rest of the process feels personalized rather than cookie-cutter. Just because your onboarding plan is scalable doesn’t mean it needs to be exactly the same for every new employee. Simply ensure that the plan is clearly outlined, with roles and duties assigned to individuals in a very clear way. That way, each new employee is certain to have everything they need to feel welcome, productive, and bought in right from day one.

Remember that it’s supposed to be fun

Think back to your own favorite work experience. What was it that you liked about it? What made you feel welcome? What helped you bond with your team?

Although you’ll never be able to replicate the unique anticipation and joy of your first job, putting yourself in the shoes of your new hire will help you create an authentic and memorable experience that will make your new hire want to stick around for the long haul.

Looking for more ways to make people and culture the focus of your onboarding program? Download the New Hire Onboarding Guide eBook by clicking on the link below.

Sydney Goodfellow Hazel

Sydney Goodfellow is the Marketing Manager at Hazel, a Greenhouse partner company that makes modern HRIS, time off, and employee engagement software for culture-centric companies. Hazel recently published an ebook called The Practical Guide to Scaling Company Culture, which you can read and download at hazelhq.com/blog.

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Company Culture