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Onboarding matters: How to engage new starters before day one

Onboarding is crucial to a company’s success. A good onboarding program supports a new starter in their transition from their previous role to the next, with the ultimate goal of integrating them into their new team and workplace. What’s more, the benefits of a good onboarding program extend far beyond the initial onboarding period. One study found that 91% of employees who were onboarded effectively felt more committed to their new organization. 

Over the years we've helped a range of businesses, from startups to corporate giants, fine tune their onboarding programs. Here’s what we’ve learned about making a successful onboarding experience.

Start before the beginning

The hiring process doesn’t stop after a new recruit has signed on the dotted line. Let new starters know you’re excited to have them by making the pre-boarding process — the period before a new starter’s first day — as seamless as possible. In the weeks before they start, build excitement by providing an itinerary for the first week along with a welcome gift in the mail. Make sure they have everything they need to hit the ground running. If the entrance to your office is hard to find, send detailed instructions in advance! There’s nothing like getting lost on your first day. 

It’s also a nice idea to introduce new employees to their team before they start. You could provide a friendly bio from each team member so that the new starter can easily strike up a conversation or find common interests from the get-go. Managers can also ease the transition by introducing themselves on a video call. This will help calm any nerves and give new starters an opportunity to ask questions.

Remember the basics 

Get the basics sorted before your new hire walks through the door (or comes online). Sort out all paperwork in advance, send out and set up any equipment in good time, and don’t wait until the first day to spring a packed agenda on your new starter. It will lead to information overload. Instill confidence in your company by being as organized as possible. 

For team managers, clear enough space in your calendar to settle your new team member in. After all, 28% of employees leave within the first 90 days, so keep the process slick and flawless to really impress the new starter and ensure higher staff retention.

Take it slow 

Remember that onboarding is not a race. Many companies pack their onboarding into one week, which can be exhausting for new starters and may not adequately prepare them for their new role. There’s a balance to be found between launching straight into a new role and giving new starters time to get settled in. 

The best onboarding programs extend throughout the employee’s probation period and provide them with clear goals to work towards. Dedicate the first two weeks to a more formal onboarding program which introduces the company structure, culture and their role. At the end of these two weeks, the new starter should set goals with their manager to help them get up and running. People perform best when given specific and challenging goals that are linked to feedback based on tangible results.

Keep it varied

58% of companies report that their onboarding is focused on paperwork and processes, with only 12% of employees stating that they had a good experience. Think about how you can make the process more engaging and interactive. Although some self-driven admin and policy overviews are essential, make sure to mix these elements with team introductions, lunches and group sessions that focus on company culture. By tailoring onboarding to each person and the specifics of their role, new starters will feel more at ease and will be more productive as a result. 

When it comes to role training, encourage peer support by having your new starter shadow team members in similar roles. This will allow them to get to know both their job role and the people they will be working with. If you have a number of new starters beginning at the same time, you can also coordinate a mix of training and social events that will help them form friendships. You could use videos, eModules, quizzes, or seminars with an open forum at the end so new starters can ask questions.

Buddy up! 

“The research on the power of mentorship is pretty clear: People with mentors perform better, advance in their careers faster, and even experience more work-life satisfaction.” We all need someone we can feel confident going to for the ‘stupid’ questions. Not everyone feels confident going to their manager, especially if they’re new and trying to make a good impression. An understanding colleague who is dependable and empathetic can make all the difference during the awkward settling-in period. 

A buddy, who has time dedicated to helping new team members, can be there to guide and mentor. Support is a key aspect of the onboarding process and should continue well beyond the formal onboarding period. Plus, giving a more experienced team member the opportunity to be a buddy can help them develop managerial skills that could lead to their own career progression. It’s a win-win for everyone.

A two-way relationship 

While onboarding is designed to help new starters settle in and get up to speed, it’s also an opportunity for managers to get to know their new team members. In the new starter’s first few weeks, managers can sit down with their new starter to ask them about previous projects, the aspects of their work that they find most energizing, where they see their career developing, and their passions outside of work. This shows the new starter that their experience is valued, and crucially, gives managers the opportunity to identify their strengths and interests.

The onboarding process is also an opportunity for hiring and team managers to learn from their new colleague. During on-the-role training, ask your new hire to identify areas for improvement in the onboarding process. A fresh perspective brings new ideas and solutions to the table, so encourage your new team members to speak up and share their thoughts.

Culture is your secret ingredient

Perhaps the most important aspect to onboarding is culture. If you already have a great work culture in place, encourage your new starter to dive into groups, initiatives, and brainstorming sessions. Do all that you can to show that this is a fantastic place to work. It may seem like totally millennial to consider culture so important when there’s work to be done, but 77% of adults consider a company’s culture before applying for a job, and 65% say that their company’s culture is at least one of the main reasons for staying in their current role. Culture is what makes your company unique and what attracts people in the first place. It’s about more than just the activities you do — it guides team decisions and determines company and employee goals.

Building a strong community that supports new starters and existing employees alike will make your organization more resilient, and profitable, in an ever-changing job market. Executives who characterize their culture as extremely healthy are 1.5 times more likely to report average revenue growth of more than 15% over three years. Plus, a thriving culture leads to higher staff retention. With the average cost of turnover at $26,333 per employee, investing in culture is crucial for talent retention. 

So with job vacancies soaring, getting your onboarding on-point has never been more important. A well-planned, structured and varied program, with room for fun and peer support will lead to higher staff retention and a much more productive new starter.

Looking for ways to improve your onboarding program? Get in touch to book a consultation call.

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