A Practitioner’s Guide to Maximizing Onboarding


by Beth Jacobsen
December 29, 2016

You spend a lot of time and money on the interview process so the last thing you want to do is lose great employees! Your rookie is never more excited and engaged than at the moment they accept your offer of employment. It is your job to keep them engaged. Onboarding is a great start.

It is important that we begin with understanding one key concept. Orientation is an event; onboarding is a process. You will not complete your employee onboarding in one day. Ideally, it will take anywhere from several weeks up to a year to complete the onboarding process. To begin designing an onboarding process, you can break it down into five phases: preparation, orientation, engagement, integration, and evaluation.

Orientation is an event; onboarding is a process.
Tweet: Orientation is an event; onboarding is a process. @ThinkHDI

Preparation

Preparation begins with identifying your objectives. You will want the information to be engaging and informative, but it should also align new hires to your culture. I suggest you make a list of everything you want to include in your onboarding plan. The list should be long and include everything from company history and meet and greets to job shadowing and a mentorship program. Once you have your list, you can organize it even more by identifying what the must-haves are and what would be nice to have included in a future iteration. Then begin identifying who can do it. It is important to include your entire team in the onboarding process. What a great way for your rookie to meet everyone and for your staff to become stakeholders in the process as well.

The next thing you can do is make a schedule. You can and will tweak this as needed, but it gives you a baseline for how the entire process should be carried out. If you are overwhelmed with how this will all look, start small. Map out the first two weeks in detail and keep everything else very high level. This makes it easier to move things around as you progress, but still provides some guidance for your rookie on their first day.

The onboarding process for a new hire should really begin before their first day. Invite them to meet you and some of your team for lunch! This is a great way for them to shake off those first day jitters because it allows them to get to know you in a relaxed setting. Between their offer acceptance and their first day, send them an email. Let them know that you are excited to have them join the team and provide them with some fun facts or culture tidbits. You can easily include the team in this exercise and have them write emails as well. They could include a photo introducing themselves. If you do go this route, I suggest providing your new hire with a sneak peek at what their first two weeks will look like. If you already completed this step during preparation, it is easy to include and gives your rookie a chance to ask questions before their first day.

Orientation

This brings us to the first day, where the orientation phase begins. Everyone wants to have a great first day, and it is your job to make it as memorable as possible. Begin with a welcome email; ideally this will be the first thing in their inbox. Let them know how excited you are to have them on the team. Provide that initial schedule for them again along with any other introductions or expectations you have for the first day or so. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so be sure it is a good one! Greet your rookie without them having to ask to see you.

Do you remember the last time you had a first day at a new job? Do you remember how intimidating it was to walk into a place where everyone knows each other? Think about that and about how you wish you had been greeted on your first day. During the interview process, ask the candidate what their favorite candy bar is. For their first day, leave the candy bar on their desk with a hand-written note welcoming them.

Be sure to fill the rookie’s day. Take them to lunch or have others on the team take them to lunch. Keep them busy by introducing them to people, showing them around the office, having them sit in on meetings or shadow right away. They are in the sponge phase where they just need to soak it all in.

Orientation will typically be at least a week. When doing orientation, try to shake it up a bit. If you typically meet in a conference room to cover things like company history, vision, and mission, move around to different rooms to get them used to the whole environment. Bring in the experts! Pull people from other departments to talk about what they do in the company. They know more about their roles than you do, and it is a great way to introduce them to your rookie.

Keep your content fresh and engaging. This is the time to share your culture. Do you keep all those hilarious photos from past events? Dig them out! Let the culture shine through. This time doesn’t have to be all about policy, process, and procedure. You want your rookie to feel like they made a great choice in coming to work for you. Another idea is to create a scavenger hunt. Provide the employee with a list of questions and the time to seek out all the answers. Give them clues to help them locate the people who have the answers. This approach is another way for them to see the building and meet new people.

Engagement

The ideas shared above are the building blocks for the third phase. Engagement is a key ingredient during the entire onboarding process, so I will spend a little more time on this one. Employee engagement is at an all-time low. The last thing you want is to have an unengaged or disengaged employee within the first year of hire. We all know that staffing is expensive. Save your money and invest in your employees from the beginning. Bring them into the fold and fully engage them.

Save your money and invest in your employees from the beginning.

Here are a few ideas:

Mentorship Program. When you create a mentorship program, you are creating a connection and accountability between two people. There is a reason so many people choose a gym buddy. It is a person who can motivate them to exercise on the days they just don’t want to. The mentor-rookie relationship is just like a gym buddy. Yes, the mentor should often be the motivator for the rookie, but you will find it works the opposite way as well.

If you are new to the mentorship idea, a great exercise to begin with is to ask your entire team what a good mentor looks like. Make a list and you’ll find qualities such as someone who is knowledgeable, approachable, patient, and a good listener. Once you have the qualities of a mentor identified, ask your team to identify who they believe fits this criterion. You will have your own short list of people in mind, but by gathering feedback from the entire team, you are making them stakeholders in this program.

Once you have identified your qualities of a mentor and your list of mentors, pull them together and begin brainstorming what the mentor program will look like going forward. You should identify what the mentor will be responsible for reviewing with the rookie. Create a job shadow plan and include how long the mentor and rookie will be matched up.

Introductions. It is one thing to do the formal introductions of your rookie to the team, but it is quite another to have them write their own. Don’t put a lot of rules around it; just allow them to write something about themselves to deliver to the team. Some will share information about their work background and others will expand on telling their story by sharing a bit about their family. Whatever the case may be, allow the rookie to put it in their own words.

Up the ante and allow them to get creative with their delivery! You may have someone who is fantastic at creating videos, and they can make a commercial about themselves. Perhaps the rookie has awesome baking skills and they decide to win everyone over by bringing in chocolate chip cookies conveniently located at their desk. Encourage creativity!

Culture Immersion. Your rookie should be given as many opportunities for culture immersion as possible and not just within your support center. Provide them access to all areas of the company, especially in ways that will allow them to see the impact their role has. If you are able to include them in a leadership meeting, do so! They do not have to have a full understanding of what is being talked about, but just seeing how leaders in the organization interact with each other can be eye opening.

If your company has a training department that has direct interaction with your customers, have your rookie sit in on a class. They should not be focused on the actual content being delivered, but on the questions that people ask. This will give them an insider perspective about how your customers are using your product or service.

Do you have fanatical customers? If so, you should be able to create opportunities for your rookie to shadow them. This is especially helpful if the market you are in is entirely new to them. Exposing your rookie to your culture is a sure-fire way to get them invested.

Integration

The nuts and bolts and formal training plan will fall under the integration phase. This looks different at every company. Some have month-long classroom training while others rely heavily on job shadowing. Whatever training looks like for you, the focus should be on how you are going to integrate your rookie into your current process and procedures.

Beyond the actual job function and product training, use regular team meetings as an opportunity to present training materials. If you have a daily or weekly stand up meeting, have a member of the team present for five minutes on an area that everyone can benefit from learning more about. This has three benefits: training for your rookie, training for the entire team, and a learning opportunity for the person presenting the material.

Everyone has different learning styles, so it is important to keep that in mind during this phase. If you are able to, provide your rookie with a combination of classroom, hands-on, discussion, shadowing, and mixed media.

Use your database of past tickets to create mock tickets for your rookie to work on. This gives them the ability to apply what they have learned in a safe environment. If that’s not possible, have them work tickets under direct supervision of their mentor. Their mentor can review all written communication before it gets sent to the customer and allows them to coach to best practices before bad habits set in.

Evaluation

You should not wait until the end of the onboarding process to begin evaluating your rookie for comprehension and fit. Evaluation should really happen throughout the entire process. You can begin by providing the mentor with a checklist of items to go over with the rookie. Think of all the things that you expect people to know by the time they have been on the team for three months. Turn that into a checklist and have the mentor review those items during their one-on-one time with the rookie. Some they will already know, but other things they won’t.

Take this process a step further and have a more formal evaluation at the three month mark. Have your team leads or more senior members of your team sit down with the rookie for an evaluation. Take that checklist that the mentor went through and have the rookie walk them through identifying everything on the list. Be sure to document everything. Create three columns on the list. 

  1. Yes, they know it.
  2. They needed a little guidance.
  3. They did not know it and did not try to figure it out.

 You can assign a point value to each column and score it upon completion. Now you have a metric that you can use to evaluate your rookies as a whole. This will help you look for outliers and identify if certain things you are expecting your team to know are not being covered properly.

Once the rookie has been on the team for about six months, it is a good time to gather some feedback from peers. If you already have a peer feedback survey that you use on an annual basis, send that out. Gathering peer feedback is a great way to hear about all the things you do not have the ability to see. Ask questions that will help you identify if they fit in with your culture, work well with others, and are committed to doing the right thing for your customers and your team. Pull all of this information together and review it with your rookie. This is the time to give kudos for a job well done and create a plan for the next six months that includes areas to focus on.

Final Thoughts

Do you remember what your first day at a new job was like? Do you remember what the first three months were like? Take everything you know about that experience, both good and bad, and create an onboarding program for your team. Successful onboarding begins before the first day on the job and ends long after the routine is established. Get your team involved and make them stakeholders in the process. Engaging, integrating, and evaluating your rookie throughout onboarding will set them up for a successful future.


Beth Jacobsen has more than eighteen years of customer service experience, eight of those in the technical support realm. Beth is fanatical about the customer experience and passionate about recruiting, onboarding, and mentoring staff. She shares her passions every day as the Team Manager of Technical Support at LeadPages. Beth currently serves as President for the HDI Minnesota local chapter. She received her BA in sociology from St. Catherine University.


Tag(s): coaching, culture, employee engagement, employee satisfaction, human resources, job descriptions, leadership, motivation, people, relationship, staffing, supportworld, team building, training, workforce enablement, workforce enablement

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