Employee Onboarding – You Only Have 1 Chance to Make a First Impression

Employee Onboarding – You Only Have 1 Chance to Make a First Impression

By Kim Seeling SmithKimSeelingSmith.com

Many companies are starting to embrace the concept of onboarding a new employee.  And why wouldn’t they?  You’ve probably read the statistics:

  • According to the Wynhurst Group, 22% of staff turnover occurs within the first 45 days of employment.  They also say that “New employees who went through a structured onboarding program were 58% more likely to be with the organisation after 3 years”.
  • Leadership IQ found that “46% of rookies wash out in their first 18 months” in their study of 20,000 newly hired employees.
  • Executive search firm Egon Zehnder states that, “Many companies leave executive onboarding to chance, and as a result experience failure rates in excess of 50% when it comes to retaining new executive talent.”

Employee turnover is expensive.  Conventional wisdom pegs this figure at between 50 – 200% of a staff member’s annual salary.  Employee disengagement (running rampant at around 80% according to Hewitt) can cost a company up to 1/3 of the disengaged employee’s salary in lost productivity.

So onboarding is good for business – of that there is no doubt.

Where so many companies get it wrong, however, is the way in which the onboarding program is run.  Most onboarding documents and procedures manuals concentrate on the systems and processes required to get the new hire up and running, rather than helping them settle into the team and become as productive as quickly as possible.

A few years ago my friend Mel Kleiman, Founder and President of US consultancy, Humetrics was engaged by a client to do exit interviews on staff who had left his client within the previous 90 days.  To his amazement he found that a large percentage of these former staff members would consider coming back to their old employer.  Why?  Because they had not yet settled into their new team.  They didn’t feel like a valued member of the new company.  They had not yet developed the emotional attachment to their new employer that they had to their old one.

The lesson here is that the faster you can break the emotional ties to the new staff member’s old company and establish ties to yours the risk of you losing that new employee not only diminishes for the first month, 3 months or 18 months.  As we’ve seen in the above Wynhurst statistic, you are more likely to keep them 3 years or longer.

And this translates into bottom line cost savings and productivity increases for you.

So how do you break their old emotional ties and establish new ones?

Complete any administrative, process or procedure oriented work prior to Day 1

First of all, you relegate all of the processes, procedures and administrative work to the time before the employee starts.  I can’t stress this enough.  There is nothing more frustrating to a new hire than showing up at their new office with high expectations and a keen sense of excitement to find that they cannot log into their new system, don’t have a working computer or phone or that their desk needs to be cleared from the last occupant.

New hires are like race horses at the starting gate.  They want to get going, they want to run.  Yet most companies bog them down on Day 1 with a myriad of forms.   Not to mention the additional benefit of not having to pay your new hire to fill in forms.

By the end of a Day 1 spent filling in forms, testing equipment and doing important but, lets face it, boring work, the bloom has gone off the rose and your new team member may have gone down several points on the engagement scale, before even having a chance to connect with your company in any meaningful way.  Once you’ve lost that momentum it is very difficult to regain.

An effective onboarding program orders and tests all equipment prior to the new employee arriving on Day 1.  Pay attention to little things like setting up email signatures, cleaning out and stocking desks with needed supplies and ordering business cards so that they have them to proudly give out to friends and family at the end of the day.

If at all possible have the employee fill out all necessary forms prior to starting and bring them in complete.  Don’t then review them until at least Day 3.  Explain to the new hire with their offer, the importance of filling out the forms prior to their arrival so they can become productive on Day 1.  Everyone wants to be productive.  Everyone wants to contribute.  If they don’t you should not have hired them.  Help them do this and they will immediately start to engage.

It’s also important to pre-plan their first quarter’s KPI’s (3 – 5 is a good number), schedule any required training, schedule meetings with other stakeholders within the company for the first week and pre-select who they will be going to lunch with (more on this later).

Start the engagement process with the offer

Employee engagement and the onboarding process itself actually starts well before Day 1.  It starts with the offer.  In many companies either the HR department or the recruiter responsible for the placement is responsible for giving the verbal offer and negotiating salary.

While there is some merit to the argument that salary negotiations are best done by someone other than the hiring manager, if the candidate has been pre-closed on a salary the hiring manager should make the offer and take the opportunity to tell the candidate how excited they are to have them on their team.  It’s more personal, establishes or deepens the relationship and, quite frankly, increases the likelihood of the candidate accepting (it’s more difficult to turn down a prospective boss than a recruiter or HR person).

Day 1 – Hit the ground running

Your new hire reports for their first day of work, full of excitement and expectation.  They get there a little early, wanting to make a good impression and keen to get stuck in.  Then what happens?  It’s usually Monday morning and the rest of the team arrives slowly.  Energy is down and the talk is, not of the job, the company or the really cool work they are doing.  The talk is all about the weekend and how they hated for it to end to start yet another week.

If this scene were played out as a cartoon you could see the air quickly leaking from the balloon.  The employee starts to feel deflated before they have even begun and all of your good work getting the paperwork and processes done before they start has just gone out the door.

My friend Mel, mentioned above, came up with a brilliant and simple solution to this problem.  Start your new employee on a Tuesday.  Or at the very least noon on Monday.  After the rest of the team has had a chance to get their coffee, settle in and get reinvigorated about the work they are doing.

Once they arrive, immediately spend some quality time with your new hire.  It’s important for them to start bonding with you as their manager.  Let them know how excited you are to have them join you.  Talk about what you hope to achieve as a team and a company.  Then ask them to tell you why they joined the company and what excited them about the role (this helps them get in touch with this as well and they re-experience that excitement).

It’s also very helpful to go over the company organisational chart and explain who they will be dealing with directly.  Review the company’s products, services and customer demographics.  Help them understand where they fit into the company and where the company fits into its’ market niche.

Then, quickly get into the nuts and bolts of the job.  You should have come up with 3 – 5 KPI’s for them to achieve during their first quarter already.  Go over those KPI’s and have them agree to them, ask any questions about them and express any concerns they may have.  Best to get everything out on the table early on.

Give them their schedule for their first week including any meetings (already scheduled) with company stakeholders.  Go over their training schedule for the first 30 days.

And most importantly, assign a project to be completed within their first week.  Big or small.  Give them something tangible to do.  A way to add value.  This will also help you evaluate their ability to follow instructions, manage time, collaborate, etc.  This small objective can serve as a basis for a number of evaluative measures and help you manage them through their 90 day probationary period.  But it will get them productive and engaged right away.

Finally, give them a tour, show them to their desk, help them log in and introduce them to anyone they need to know straight away.  Formal or informal buddy systems work really, really well.

At the very least, make sure you have previously set up a positive, motivated, co worker or team member to eat lunch with.  One of the most important aspects of emotionally engaging with your company and severing ties to their old company is immediately starting to forge relationships with others at the new company.  You also never want to take the chance that they will end up going to lunch with a “bad apple” that will fill their heads with negative pre-conceptions.

The preliminary meetings should go for no more than 3 hours.  It’s important to get them at work and producing as soon as possible so they can feel like they are contributing.

At the end of the day have another, short meeting with the new hire.  There is a very specific intention to this meeting and this is yet another concept borrowed from the brilliant Mel Kleiman.  You know your new employee will inevitably be asked by friends and family, “How is your new job?”

Optimally you want to be the first one to ask them that and you want nothing less than, “Great!  I really think I’m going to enjoy it.  I like the people there and I think the work will be really interesting.” Or some version of this.

But you may have to answer some questions or address concerns to get them to that answer.  So make it safe for them to give you their true opinion.  How did their first day go?  What did they like about it?  What was frustrating or disappointing?

This is also a terrific opportunity for you to tap into a fresh set of eyes and a new outlook.  They will potentially see things that can be improved or recognise opportunities for the company.  This is a very valuable resource for you.

Last Day, Week 1

One of the most critical aspects of true employee engagement and reduced employee turnover is robust communication between staff and their managers.

I teach my clients a communications structure that I call the FOCUSed Communications Framework.

This framework consists of the following:

  • Frequency: most managers do not have structured 1 on 1 conversations frequently enough.  I recommend these occur monthly (with weekly more unstructured “catch ups” where needed or desired).

What do you talk about during these meetings?

  • Objective of Job: This is your opportunity to monitor their progress on their KPI’s.  Will they hit their goals?  If not, why not?  Do they need additional training, resources or time?
  • Career Development: Consistently the number 1 or number 2 cited reason for employee retention.  Everyone wants to grow, either vertically as they climb the corporate ladder or horizontally as they learn and develop new skills and take on new responsibilities.  Find out what each of your staff members want to do long term and how can you help them achieve it.
  • Underlying Motivations:  Dan Pink synopsizes this concept brilliantly in his book Drive.  He says everyone is motivated by 3 things; Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.  Discover your staff’s motivations and how you can provide what they need in each of these areas.
  • Strengths: According to Gallop, teams whose members play to their Strengths most of the time have significantly better job satisfaction ratings and significantly lower turnover rates.  Work with your staff to determine what their strengths are and how you can help them to use more of them and less of their weaknesses.

It’s important to set the tone and structure for this communication framework at the end of the new hire’s first week.  Begin conversations in each of these areas and let them know that these are concepts you would like to explore more deeply through the coming months.

Give them an opportunity ask any questions or express any concerns that they may have.

Go over their first week project.  Did they complete it?  Was it to your expectations?  It is imperative that you provide honest, open feedback on this.  This will establish a bar as to what you expect, help you understand how they work and set the foundation of your work together.

It can also be a great base line evaluation for their 90 day probationary period.

Praise them for what they did well, but if they did not measure up to your expectations tell them why, show them what you expect and have them complete it to that expectation the next week.

Having conversations like this on a small project is much easier and less scary (for you as well as the staff member) than having conversations about a larger, more complex project later on in their tenure.

First 30 Days

Their first 30 days are crucial.  Make sure they are given enough work to really help them become engaged and productive.  Use this time to gauge how much autonomy they want and need, to evaluate additional training requirements and to monitor their work style.

Meet with them weekly for the first month and then, if they are doing well, move to monthly unless weekly meetings are required or desired.

Have them start any functional or technical training along with any soft skills such as communications, diversity or company culture.

Monitor their progress, get them involved with other teams and co-workers and help them settle in as quickly as possible.

First 90 Days

Follow probationary period guidelines and continue to have open, honest feedback sessions.  Review and resend KPI’s for the next quarter, 6 months or year.  Then evaluate their completed and scheduled training, making changes as necessary.

Although, at first blush this might seem like quite a bit of work, if you follow this structure you will save both time and money in the end as every new hire will be able to become more engaged and productive much earlier.

About the author

Kim Seeling Smith is an international speaker, trainer, coach, mentor and author on career management and employee retention issues. For further information visit www.KimSeelingSmith.com or email Kim@KimSeelingSmith.com or phone 0402 773 286 (tap to call).

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