How to Set New Employees Up for Success From Day One

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After weeks searching for, assessing, interviewing and checking references on a promising candidate, you finally have a signed offer of employment in hand. The stress of finding that perfect mix of skills, experience and fit is finally over, and you can rest easy with your new superstar employee safely inside the building. Or can you?

Too many employers mistakenly believe that once a new worker begins their job, the hard work is done. But that’s a dangerous assumption that can cost you productivity, money and perhaps even your shiny new staffer. Studies suggest an employee’s first 90 days on the job are critical to their future success within a company. The Wynhurst Group found that 22% of new employees quit their jobs within the first 45 days, while the Human Capital Institute says a full 77% decide within the first six months whether or not they plan to stay with an employer for the long haul.

How well and how quickly a worker acclimates to their new position, environment and team will determine whether they or not they make a quick exit. It’s up to you to ensure that your new hires are properly set up for success.

Here are five crucial tips for creating an effective onboarding program.

1. Don’t confuse onboarding with orientation

In most instances, bosses will spend at least part of the morning with a new hire—indicating where to sign on the paperwork, giving the grand office tour, making introductions to new colleagues, and most importantly, explaining the fastest route to the coffee machine. But while these orientation activities are welcome and necessary, they do little to prepare an employee for the actual work and challenges that lie ahead. Onboarding is helping integrate an employee into your team, and decreasing their ‘time to productivity.’

2. Train for fit, not just performance

Plenty of new employees don’t work out because they don’t fit a company’s culture, rather than because they aren’t performing to expectations. If your recruitment and hiring process emphasizes fit—and they should—then integrating them into your organization should be an easier task.

A good onboarding program encourages employees to understand and adapt to your workplace culture, and instills in them the values you consider to be important. Encourage new hires to ask ‘why’, not just ‘what.’ Company management should also be leading by example, and mirroring the desired behaviour that you want to see in your new employees. For example, if you value honesty, openness and transparency in your team, demonstrate it by sharing both good and bad news with them without hesitation.

3. Set clear goals and objectives

At organizations with a weak or non-existent onboarding program, new employees are often left to their own devices to figure out what’s important. With no clear plan or goals to meet and no definition of success to strive towards, new employees can quickly veer off course, focusing on the wrong priorities and failing to build strong relationships.

Be sure to set clear objectives and milestones that you expect your new hire to reach at regular intervals—for example, at 30, 60 and 90 days to overlap with common probationary periods. Schedule time weekly to sit down with the recent recruit to track their progress, and proactively address any issues or questions they may have.

4. Assign a mentor

The first few weeks of a new job are a stressful time for any new employee. Having the supportive and empathetic ear of a colleague who’s been through what your recruit is experiencing can make all the difference in the world.

On their first day of work, pair each new hire with a mentor. Don’t simply default to the relevant manager—you don’t want people to stew in silence because they’re afraid of asking their direct supervisor a stupid question. The best mentor in these cases is an established employee who has successfully completed the onboarding process in the not-too-distant past and knows enough about the company to offer useful advice and guidance.

5. Speak the language

Onboarding plans can often be dry and unsexy, so it’s vital to inject a little fun and creativity into your program to make learning more enjoyable and ‘sticky.’ A two inch-thick employee handbook with org charts and forms to fill out is unlikely to go over well. The millennial generation—who are likely to make up a good number of your new hires—want visual, interactive, and portable content. A number of software platforms ‘gamify’ the onboarding process, making it more entertaining with badges for completing specific goals, and incorporating dynamic feedback mechanisms that alert management when new employees begin to feel frustrated or overwhelmed.

• • • • •

A well-planned, well-timed, and well-executed onboarding program can increase employee engagement, improve performance, and lower the risks of turnover. Once your onboarding program in place, don’t hide it—market it. Talk about it proudly and openly at career fairs and client presentations, in job postings, on social media, and every other channel you can. It’ll be a powerful magnet and differentiator for the top-notch talent that you’re hoping to attract.

Glenn Nishimura is the Principal and Chief People Strategist at Nishimura Consulting, based in Toronto. As a consultant and advisor to entrepreneurs, startups and small business owners across North America and Europe, he helps to build strong company cultures and smart people practices. He also sits on the advisory board for Venture for Canada, and mentors young entrepreneurs through Futurpreneur. You can email him here, or follow him on Twitter here.

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