4 Tips for Increasing Authenticity in your Onboarding Program

 

For several years now, I have had the (insanely fun) opportunity to consult with organizations and speak at conferences about the need for strategic, impactful onboarding and improving the new employee experience. I’ve had conversations over countless cups of coffee with HR leaders, training facilitators, talent development professionals and other industry friends about how to develop or reshape their organization’s onboarding program. Inevitably, the question arises:

I just want our onboarding program to be like yours! Can you just share your materials so I can use them?

(“Yours”  = the day job)

It’s true, our team has implemented an award-winning, internationally-recognized, results-minded onboarding program that has been the cherry on top of our Organizational Development sundae. And, yeah….I suppose I COULD just hand over our agenda, slide decks, templates and resources for you to plug-and-play at your day job.

But you would be lacking something. Something important. Something that your new employees and stakeholders would surely feel.

Your program would lack authenticity. 

Sure – imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, or so the saying goes. And perhaps certain elements of one company’s program could be integrated seamlessly into yours. I don’t claim that any of our organization’s onboarding program is unique by itself, but rather the intention, support and consistent execution coupled with innovative methods and a laser-focus on driving results are what truly determines our program’s long-term sustainability and success.

But as a longtime Talent Development geek professional (maybe I had it right the first time?), I know perfectly well that we all beg-borrow-and yes, steal ideas from each other all. the. time. The concept of idea-sharing is the very backbone of this blog, and so many others! So, how can you leverage some awesome ideas from other programs while ensuring yours is authentic? Here are 4 tips:

>> Don’t force it.

Maybe you learned about a super-cool idea that a colleague has implemented, and want to include it in your own program. Before jumping in immediately based on the cool factor, consider these factors to ensure relevance for your audience:

  • What is your colleague’s industry?
  • What are the employee demographics, schedules, geography, age and skill level?
  • What size is their organization?
  • Is it realistic for your program?

Ensuring that activities, events or other onboarding elements are a good fit are necessary to prevent content from feeling forced or misaligned with the audience.

>> Showcase what’s special.

What is unique about your organization or culture? Help your new employees forge a connection to the company, the team and their new roles. Maybe it’s the end-of-quarter Mimosa Monday celebrations, the annual Habitat for Humanity build or a commitment to diversity and inclusion. Find ways to share what your organization is doing, and how new employees can jump in and get involved.

And while you’re at it….

>> Who are your storytellers?

Whether it is your CEO personally welcoming your new employees on their first day, engaged employees sharing their personal experiences or hearing success stories from loyal customers, identify your raving fans and make their stories come alive during new employees’ crucial first days and weeks on the job. Deepen their attachment to the organization through a balance of relationships and results.

 

>> Align to your values

Someone once told me, “The only mission statement that matters is, ‘Have fun and make money.'” While a shred of that may hold true for most organizations, there are typically core values that serve as a compass for how organizations do business and make decisions. Aligning the content of your onboarding program with those unique drivers will help new employees embrace those values in their daily performance – both in those early weeks and months on the job, but also throughout their tenure with your organization.

 

There you have it, friends….beg, borrow and steal all the ideas you want, but make sure they make sense for your organization and people, and then make those ideas your own. Like spotting a bad toupee or a knockoff handbag from a street vendor, new employees can tell when a message isn’t genuine. And if they don’t figure it out in their first days on the job, they’ll discover it soon enough, which could put their long-term engagement and potential success on shaky ground.

Now, it’s your turn:

How do you ensure your new employees receive an authentic experience during their early days, weeks and months on the job? Please add a comment to share your ideas!

 


 

Wanna work together in 2018?

Between the launch of my book, Talent GPS: A Manager’s Guide to the Employee Development Journey, speaking engagements and consulting projects, 2017 has certainly whizzed by in a blur….and things are quickly ramping up for 2018. If an onboarding overhaul is on your to-do list for the coming year, let’s talk.

Now booking onsite workshops, retreat facilitation, conference sessions and more – availability is limited, so reserve your spot now!

 

 

 

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Why “Lean In” Made Me Step Back for a Moment

Over the past few years, the Lean In movement has become a highly influential, inspirational voice for professional women around the world. As a professional female, I appreciate the message and encouragement. As the mother of a teenage son (today, at the time of this writing, is actually his 15th birthday!) and a college-aged daughter, I appreciate that these conversations are happening, to hopefully provide an equal, empowering career experience for her, and that my son has an educated perspective as well. I’ve read the book and follow posts on social media. I would say that I’ve been in agreement with most of the points I’ve seen.

Until last week.

If you know me, you know that I am hardly a confrontational person. This blog, while sometimes a source of tough love for hiring managers and those who are responsible for creating learning experiences, is not typically a platform that seeks out debate because, quite frankly, it’s exhausting, it rarely yields change, and it’s just not my style. However, in defense of my passionate stance for the new employee experience, I was unsettled by a post and New York Times article I read the other day on the Lean In Facebook page:

lean-in-facebook-post

Specifically, this line from the post:

Office Housework.PNG

Please hear me: I am not disagreeing with the overall premise of this article. I fully believe that women often do more “office housework” than their male counterparts. I have seen (and experienced) it time and time again during my 20+ years in the workforce.

My issue, and what struck such a nerve with me, is that this post described “training new hires” as OFFICE HOUSEWORK, suggesting that it is an inconvenience. A mindless task. A chore.

Then I thought, “Okay, Michelle. Before getting all worked up over a Facebook post, maybe you should read the article and then form an opinion?” So I did.

And in the first paragraph, I read this:

lean_in_article

 

Right there, among suggestively trivial items like helping improve a presentation and planning a holiday party, I saw it: “trained several new hires…”

Now, I can accept that fact that whoever wrote the Facebook post, and the authors of this article probably did not intend to minimize the importance of onboarding. Of the thousands of people who read the post/article, I am probably the only one who is reacting so passionately to something that wasn’t even the main point (I could argue how sad that is, but I’ll let it slide). But since the Lean In organization has such influence over so many professionals in countless organizations and industries (and kudos to them for it), I am distressed over the notion that such cavalier word choices may cause readers to dismiss an organization’s need for intentional, results-driven onboarding.

If you treat onboarding like an inconvenience or a low-priority task, then don’t be surprised if your new employees aren’t feeling connected to your organization.

A study by Aberdeen has shown that as many as 87% of new employees aren’t fully committed to a new job for the first six months. Eighty-seven percent. Let’s put it this way: out of 100 newly-hired employees, 87 of them are still subscribed to emails from Indeed and Glassdoor and may still be following up about other submitted job applications or calls from assertive recruiters. Those talented employees that you have invested time and money to hire and train are not entirely sure that they want to stick around for the long haul. If your partners in the onboarding process don’t realize how important their job is, then it is your job to communicate it.

Who are your partners?

Regardless of who “owns” the onboarding experience for your organization, there are a number of key stakeholders who should be involved in the new employee experience. Just a few include:

  • HR/Talent Acquisition
  • L&D/Training/Talent Development
  • Hiring Managers
  • Peers and teammates
  • Support staff (IT, administrative roles, etc)
  • Executives and senior leaders
  • Clients and vendors

Everyone involved touches a new employee’s experience in some way. If they treat this responsibility like an inconvenience, an afterthought or a “nice-to-have” during a busy time, then your new employees feel it. It potentially stunts their development, performance, engagement, and connectedness. You must educate your organization on how onboarding impacts the bottom line of your business.

Wait, what? You don’t know how onboarding impacts your business?

Find out.

What story is your company’s data telling about your new employees’ performance, retention and engagement? 

Depending on your organization’s goals and priorities, some essential metrics could include:

  • Sales within the first 30-60-90 days of employment
  • Number of errors or accidents on the job
  • Reasons employees leave within the first year (exit interview data is a gold mine for this!)
  • Number of internal promotions within the first year
  • Productivity – particularly for those in a very metric-driven role (think call center data, customer service, assembly line, etc)

 

Onboarding and new employee training can make a significant impact on business results – during Orientation, in a training environment and through on-the-job experience. People, male or female, who are involved should know how THEY are contributing to the bottom line. Give them a chance to take ownership of their role and recognize onboarding as a need-to-have. To lean in to the privilege of serving and contributing to a new employee’s success (see what I did there?).

Am I going to stop following Lean In because of this? No, of course not. The mission and work of this organization is important; it invites productive conversation and adds immense value to our professional society. In fact, had it not been for confidence gained through the stories of passionate female leaders and influencers, maybe I would not feel comfortable sharing my opinion through this platform? Who knows…

As a champion of learning in the workplace, I firmly believe that we need to pay attention to the direct and indirect messages we are sending, and use our influence to shape learning experiences for employees in the organizations we support. This article was a powerful reminder.


 

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5 Onboarding Challenges Hiring Managers Face (and how to overcome them)

5 challenges hiring managers face - and how to overcome them

Let’s face it, hiring managers: Onboarding a new employee is a tall order. Its importance is acknowledged by most, but busy managers often struggle with providing a solid experience for their newest team members.

I know, I can get a little preachy with hiring managers sometimes…like here, here and here (to name a few!). But today, I’m giving you all some love. I know you’re busy – I’m a manager at the day job, too. I know how many directions a manager is pulled. I know what challenges you face when bringing a new employee onboard.

Here are 5 of those challenges, and a few thoughts on how to overcome them:

1. Challenges with role clarity – both their own understanding and the new employee’s understanding.

When bringing a new employee to the team, it is important to review the job description with a fine-toothed comb. Is it current and accurate? If not, clarify the specific duties and responsibilities for the new employee so it can be clear during the interview process, and openly discussed upon hire. Ask the new employee questions about his/her understanding of the role, and engage in early, frequent dialog about it.

2. Challenges with setting expectations.

Over-communicate with your new employee. Devote ample time to meet with the new employee, and make an effort to discuss your expectations for everything – communication, meeting cadence/frequency, involvement, working hours, tasks, performance and results. But it doesn’t stop there – ASK your new team member what his/her expectations are for his relationship with you, the direct supervisor. It’s a two-way street – the sooner you start talking about expectations, the sooner you’ll find yourselves on the same page and in a partnership of trust and open communication.

3. Challenges with being too busy.

Yeah, yeah, yeah…there it is again. The Busy Excuse. In spite of the busy-ness, it is imperative that a manager spend plenty of time building a relationship with a new employee. If this doesn’t happen, the onboarding process (and ultimately the success of the new employee) is at risk.

The truth is, you don’t have time NOT to provide a sufficient onboarding experience for your new employee.

The good news? It doesn’t all have to happen in person. It doesn’t even have to fall entirely on YOU as the manager. Here are a few tips for busy managers:

  • Find a consistent, regular time to meet – during the first week, this should be at least once daily
  • If face-to-face meetings don’t always work, due to travel, remote locations or other reasons, leverage collaboration favorites like Yammer, Skype, conference calls, IM, or other tools to make connecting easy
  • Delegate some of the communication to others on your team – hook the new employee up to an “onboarding buddy” for the first few weeks
  • Use checklists or other job aids to ensure that important components of the process don’t fall through the cracks!

4. Challenges with the rest of the team embracing change.

Inevitably, when a new person comes onboard, the dynamic of the team changes. This can be particularly true if the new employee is in a leadership role, or if an existing team member interviewed for the position, but did not get the job. Stay ahead of the change from the moment the new position is posted – be communicative. Changes within an organization are more widely embraced when the team is built on a strong foundation. As the manager of the team, set the new employee up for success by creating a welcoming environment. Talk about the changes before the new employee arrives; discuss any apprehensiveness and answer questions, then involve the existing team in preparing for his/her arrival:

  • Enlist someone with organizing a team lunch or social activity during the new employee’s first week
  • Get assistance with training on job duties or department procedures
  • Ask someone to be the “onboarding buddy” or mentor for the first few weeks
  • Have everyone sign a welcome card or email a team “selfie” photo to the new employee prior to his/her first day…be positive about the change!

5. Challenges with communicating the company and department culture to the new employee.

As managers, we’re often really good at communicating the cut-and-dry topics: policies, procedures, tasks, projects. Step one, do this. Step two, do that.

The squishier topics are harder to explain: culture, vision, mission, values. The unspoken pulse of the organization.

How do you make those squishy topics come alive for a new employee? Simple. You live the squishy topics.

Be deliberate – tell the new employee, “This is HOW we impact the company mission statement,” “This is HOW we impact the customer experience,” — and ASK the new employee his opinion on how s/he thinks s/he can embody those characteristics in his/her new role. Make it an open conversation. And if you’ve never had that deliberate conversation with your existing employees, this would be an ideal time to initiate it with everyone!

 

There you go, hiring managers. 5 onboarding challenges, and some practical solutions for overcoming them. It’s your responsibility to provide a positive, nurturing environment for your new employees. Will you accept the challenge?

Your turn: Hiring managers, what have been your biggest challenges when onboarding a new employee? How have you overcome those challenges? Share your thoughts in the comments!

 

Know of a manager who would benefit from this post? Be kind and share it!

 

Onboarding Rules for Hiring Managers….the workshop!

Bring phase(two)learning to your organization to deliver the Onboarding Rules for Hiring Managers workshop! Partial and full-day session options are available. This workshop is the perfect supplement for any management training program…send an email to learn more!

Onboarding Table Stakes for Hiring Managers

onboarding-table-stakes-for-hiring-managers

A little tough love today…and I’m looking at you, hiring managers:

Welcoming a new employee on the first day is your responsibility. Even if it’s not spelled out in big, bold letters on your job description.

Last week, I was having a nice conversation with someone on the subject of onboarding. He said this to me: “The general ‘onboarding’ that the company provided was fine, it was my supervisor who didn’t have a clue.”

{sigh}

Within a couple of days, I heard this story from another organization: A recent graduate was starting her first professional job. Her supervisor, who was supposed to take her to lunch on her first day, walked into Orientation, told her that “something came up” and handed her a local deli delivery menu and left her on her own.

Trust me, I get it. Things “come up” – snafus happen, the proverbial fires must be extinguished. But let’s be honest…

We can do better than this, can’t we?

Hiring managers, the impression you are leaving starts quite some time before the new employee arrives on the first day. The first day should simply be confirming that impression. How are you interacting with him/her during the interview process? How about during that period of time between the offer acceptance and the first day? Are you responsive? Are you clear and forthcoming with information and expectations? Joining a new company is just as much the new employee’s decision as it is the manager’s/organization’s to select the best candidate. Be mindful of this and set a goal to reaffirm your new employee’s decision in every interaction.

This is the price of admission for a hiring manager. Table stakes. It’s one of the key differences between an individual contributor and one who manages people.

Here are 3 ways even the busiest manager can make new employees a priority:

1) Set expectations with your team and manager.

Let everyone know when the new employee will be arriving, and that you will be blocking your calendar at times throughout his first days/weeks on the job to spend adequate time together. Make it abundantly clear that your new team member is a priority.

2) Set expectations with the new employee.

Everyone is busy – you know that, I know that. Even your new employee knows that. Set aside time to spend together, but if there are pressing projects, meetings or other duties that are on your plate, simply let him/her know. If possible, make arrangements for the new team member to spend time with someone on the team – whether getting acquainted, job shadowing, participating in training…just make sure that it is relevant for the role and would be considered a valuable use of time.

3) Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

This really doesn’t need explaining. During the fragile early days of the manager/new employee relationship, trust and credibility is being established (yes, on both ends). If you set expectations, be sure that you follow through.

 

Recently, I shared an eBook, Onboarding Tools for Hiring Managers, as a thank you for your support of the first 100 phase(two)learning blog posts. Do you know a hiring manager who could use this? Download the PDF and share it, or reach out directly to purchase printed copies – they make a terrific resource  or workbook supplement for your managers! Whether you’re looking for one copy or many, we can hook you up.

Download the PDF here: Onboarding Tools for Hiring Managers – phase(two)learning eBook Download

 

Your turn: If you are responsible for onboarding in your organization, leave a comment and tell us how you engage hiring managers in the onboarding process. If you’re a hiring manager, how do you welcome your new employees and set them up for success when they join your team?

 

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Too Busy for Onboarding?

onboarding-programs-for-startups

Startups are interesting little things, aren’t they? Growing a product and company, often from nothing more than a whim:

“Wouldn’t it be cool if we……….” (and a startup is born.)

Before my current day job, I worked for a tech startup. The company was about 8 years old when I joined, so they weren’t exactly brand new, but still young, still entrepreneurial, still growing at an alarming rate. During my 3.5 years with that company, I learned a lot. I was surrounded by extremely smart, innovative people, and led training for some really exciting brands – Microsoft, Home Depot, Coca-Cola, L’Oreal, Spanx – just to name a few.

I also received quite an education on how many different types of organizations, including startups, view workplace learning. It’s often an afterthought (sigh). Somewhere between the “Wouldn’t it be cool if we……” stage and the “oh my gosh, we have 150 employees – now what??” stage is the “Maybe we should be training these people?” stage. As an advocate for workplace learning, it really kind of stinks, but it’s reality (queue the sad trombone).

Earlier today, I had a great conversation with a fellow learning professional who has been implementing an onboarding program at her company, another startup. Besides getting acquainted with someone I can only describe as an onboarding kindred spirit, I was reminded of my days at that former job. They have developed a terrific onboarding process. A process that involves hiring managers. A process that is championed by the CEO. A process that welcomes new employees to the company, team and role.

And it’s a process that many of their hiring managers claim to be “too busy” to follow.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that…

Managers, everyone is busy.

Trust me, I get it. I’m a manager too. I know how many directions we’re pulled. So, please know that I’m saying this with nothing but respect: Please stop using the “I’m too busy” excuse. The truth is, you are too busy NOT to provide a sufficient onboarding experience for your new employees.

I’ve directed several posts toward hiring managers – like this one, this one and this one. I know I can be a little tough, but only because coaching new (and seasoned) employees is part of your job. It’s the price of admission for a manager. Even if there isn’t a specific nugget on your job description that tells you to do it. This is a key distinction between an individual contributor and a manager…it’s not all about you anymore. You have people to look out for; people who are looking to you for guidance.

So, back to being busy. Like I said, I understand. I really do. Here are 3 simple ways to incorporate onboarding into your daily routine, when a new employee joins your team:

1. Make him your shadow.

If you already have meetings to attend, bring your new employee along to observe (when it makes sense). At the start of the meeting, introduce your new team member and briefly explain how he will benefit from observing the meeting. Don’t expect him to participate (unless he has something to add); it’s okay if he just listens and takes notes. He is learning about the topic of the meeting, sure…but also about how meetings work in the organization, how teams and roles interact and other culture lessons.

2. Leverage lunch.

Chances are, you eat lunch most of the time. Whether it involves leaving the building or brown-bagging it, make an effort to eat with your new employee once in awhile. Invite others along. By doing this, you are building camaraderie and integrating your new employee to the team. During these informal moments, so many topics are discussed. It’s a great way to encourage dialog and open communication.

3. Always answer “why”.

Whenever you meet with your new employee, explain something, answer questions or provide information, make sure you explain WHY things are the way they are. It takes time for a new employee to gain context, and they don’t always know what or how to ask. We don’t know what we don’t know.  Pretend the new employee is asking “Why?” like a curious preschooler, and tell them.

There you have it – by doing these three things, you are immersing your new employee into your culture. You’re proactively communicating. You’re providing context. Three things that are absolutely critical in a new employee’s first weeks on the job.

And you don’t have to add a single item to your lengthy to-do list. Even better!

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Need to engage your hiring managers in the onboarding process? The “5 Onboarding Rules for Hiring Managers” interactive workshop is now available! Download the brochure, then send a note to learn more about bringing phase(two)learning to your organization in 2014!

 

A Few Words About Onboarding Jargon

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I always get a kick out of articles that summarize the year’s most popular corporate jargon. Having worked in a corporate setting for many years, I have heard (and, admittedly, used) many of the terms at one point or another. Come on, you have too. Admit it!

Jargon isn’t limited to conference calls and status meetings, friends. Even the most prepared, knowledgeable, well-intentioned facilitators have used this lingo while delivering onboarding and training programs.  Here are a few to ponder:

Variations on “talent”:  Talent Management. Talent Acquisition. Talent Retention.  If I were to ask ten people what these terms mean, I’d probably get ten different answers.  Unless one is actually in the “talent” business (and I’m not referring to America’s Got Talent, friends), one does not necessarily care about understand the “talent” business.  If your organization has these roles, please make sure you explain to your new employees what they mean to your organization. Roles and functions and job descriptions and teams and objectives and priorities vary from company to company, from industry to industry.

Bootcamp:  When did everything become a “bootcamp”?  By definition, a true bootcamp should be an intense, über-structured program, as the military requires. I have seen light workshops, webinars and even team-building events, titled “bootcamp”.  Really?  A couple of years ago, at the day job, I was asked to develop a 2-day – you got it – bootcamp, for some employees who would then be delivering their own – yes – bootcamp to another group of employees. The smart aleck in me couldn’t resist, so I lovingly (and a little sarcastically) titled the session “Bootcamp Bootcamp”. Fortunately, my crew had a good laugh about it!

My point? Not everything is a bootcamp. Title your offerings accordingly.

Any internal terms or acronyms that new employees have no context to understand: In the first days on the job, your new employees are lucky to remember the first names of the people on his/her team, let alone understanding all of your internal systems, processes, projects or industry terminology. If you can’t eliminate all of these terms from your onboarding program, define them as clearly as possible. Even better? Create a glossary of terms as a quick, go-to resource for new employees to refer to in a pinch during their first weeks.

The term “onboarding” itself: Like “talent”, this is a made-up word that means little to those who are neither passionate nor involved in it. Many of our organizational stakeholders do not understand the difference between “orientation” and “onboarding”. HR systems refer to the automated paperwork process as “onboarding”, so it has morphed into this catch-all word that is used for pretty much anything related to the new employee experience.

If we can’t explain the process clearly, how can we expect our stakeholders to support, or get involved in, the process?

Communicate your program’s objective. Its purpose. The value it brings to your organization. Use clear language that anyone in your organization – entry-level to C-suite, new or tenured – will understand. If it’s been awhile since you’ve communicated the objectives of your onboarding program to your organization, maybe it’s time to have that conversation.

Your turn: What jargon is common around your organization? How do you clarify this jargon for your new employees?

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Improving Training Programs with Feedback

employee-training-feedback

As learning professionals (or whatever hat we might be wearing at any given moment), it is our responsibility to assess a learning need and provide a solution. And, tipping my cap to my passionate learning cohorts around the world, I’d say we do a fine job.

But, you know what? We don’t always have the answers. Or the perspective. Or even the right questions to ask. So we need to engage others.

This might be a pow-wow with a SME or project manager, to learn more about a task, process or system. It might be meeting with a supervisor to better understand a team’s skill or knowledge gaps.

But what about the employees themselves? How often are we asking them what they want out of training? What they need? How we can help them become a stronger employee today…and maybe-just-maybe, help prepare them for future opportunities?

The same goes for orientation and onboarding programs…consider doing a brief survey to poll your workforce, and see what you can learn about your new employee experience. A few questions might include:

  • When you started with (company name), what was the most helpful part of your onboarding experience?
  • What was your biggest challenge when you started in your role?
  • What advice would you give a new employee starting with (company name)?
  • What tools and resources are the biggest help to you?
  • Who was your go-to person when you were getting started in your role?
  • How can we improve the new employee experience at (company name)?

These simple questions can give you perspective that can help you strengthen your process and program. You can use these questions as a foundation, and tweak or expand them based on the program – these examples focus on the new employee experience, but just imagine how a few strategic questions can help you evolve your other training initiatives, leadership development programs, employee transitions and more.

The important thing is to stay curious, friends. We should continuously seek out feedback and suggestions from our various stakeholders, from the executives to the end users, and from all cubicles in between.

Your turn: How do you engage your organization beyond the standard needs analysis or evaluation process? What information have you gained from employees that have impacted your learning programs?

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