Whether you call it onboarding or induction, it means the same thing – it’s all about how we get new employees bedded in and working effectively as quickly as possible. Or so we think. A mate of mine recently joined a large corporate organisation; I asked him how his first week had gone and he replied, ‘Oh, you know … the usual onboarding hell’. What a shame he had the typical, shabby experience.
“a one-size-fits-all sausage machine”
Let’s analyse what we do when we onboard new employees. Do we make them feel welcomed, valued, and excited about being part of our enterprise? Do we treat them as individuals with their own backgrounds, preferences, and personalities? No, we put them through a one-size-fits-all sausage machine. Usually this involves some kind of death by PowerPoint experience crammed with bullet points from all the departments who have managed to crowbar their way onto it, a cursory tour around the offices, and finally the ceremonial signing of countless pieces of paperwork. Welcome to our organisation!
“the entire process is geared towards encouraging conformity”
The entire process is geared towards encouraging conformity: ‘Don’t imagine your individuality or creativity is valued here’, it says. Rarely does it make people feel special or celebrate the fact they’re joining the company. Going back to how we all felt when we started at our places of work, what mattered most to us on the first day was getting to know whom we were working with, finding out where the coffee machine was, and identifying that one person in the department who always seems to know where everything is kept. And yet our onboarding processes ignore these simple, human needs and focus instead on the company’s expectations of the new recruit.
Recently I helped a client redesign their onboarding process, and in doing so carried out some research with 15 of their graduates who’d joined a few years earlier. I asked them to think back along their entire experience, from the moment they first got their offer letter through to when they actually started the job, and it was amazing to hear what they had to say. They’d been through a hell of a lot to actually get the position – gaining their degree, going through the gruelling assessment process – so when that letter of acceptance at a prestigious company finally arrived on their doormat they were ecstatic. How special and proud a moment that was for them; parents were phoned (possibly for the first time in weeks) and drinks were bought all round. And yet how quickly this joy dissipated once they were channelled through the sort of onboarding process I described above. A time which could have been incredibly positive, had they been given some consideration as individuals, was turned into a series of instructions about what the company wanted them to know. Of course there will always be things people have to be told when they join, but why don’t we take as much care over how we want them to feel?
“creating a more welcoming and impactful experience takes some imagination”
Creating a more welcoming and impactful onboarding experience takes some imagination and creativity. You need to put yourself into the shoes of a new recruit and think about how you can make his/her first few days and weeks special. I’ll give you some examples of companies doing just this so you can use them as inspiration for generating your own ideas.
Bazaarvoice is a Texas-based tech company which runs a week-long scavenger hunt for recruits comprised of a series of tasks and questions the newbies have to find the answers to. The hunt takes them into all areas of the company – its structure, history, departments, and cultures. This means they see as much of the company, and meet as many people, as they can; it also enables the new recruits to find things out for themselves as adults instead of being spoon fed information like children. Some organisations ask employees to induct each other. Southwest Airlines, for instance, invites people from all levels of the company, to talk about their jobs to recruits. Whole Foods, the US grocery retailer, actually gets its employees (not the HR manager or the store manager) to decide whether a new starter should stay or not. After 90 days the team is invited to vote on whether to keep the employee; this sounds quite brutal but actually makes a lot of sense given they’re the ones most likely to know if the person is right for the company.
“with companies increasingly wanting better and faster deployment of new hires and better retention, this critical period deserves a re-think”
Commerce Sciences, a Silicon Valley tech start-up, has a tradition in which the last person to join the team is responsible for creating a starter kit for the next person. This means each kit is different and personalised, and springs from the originator’s creativity. How different this is from the standard corporate information pack produced by HR. Other companies are also finding ways to make new employees feel socially connected. At Bonobos, the US e-commerce clothing company, the hiring manager (not the HR manager) sends an email to the entire company introducing each new employee. This includes a brief biography and photo and also a trivia game called ‘Two Truths and a Lie’. Only two of the three facts about the employee are true. In order to work out which is the lie the existing employees are encouraged to meet the person and find out, with the first to get to the truth receiving a $25 store credit.
Google’s HR team sends an email to the hiring manager of a new recruit the day before he or she is due to start, reminding the manager of five things. There are no prescriptive rules when it comes to these things, and the manager owns the process, but the HR team reckons by doing this they reduce the time it takes for a new recruit to become fully productive by a month. So what are these five things?
We want you to have a discussion about their role and responsibilities.
We want you to match them with a buddy so there’s always someone they can go and ask.
We want you to help them build their own social network, because they’ll perform better if they’re well connected within the organisation as quickly as possible.
We want you to set up a check-in with them once a month for the first six months.
We want you to encourage open discussion and dialogue with them from day one.
A business process outsourcing company in India has a great way of getting to know its new starters. It gives them a problem-solving exercise and encourages them to reflect on how they approached it. This helps both parties analyse the recruit’s particular strengths, which leads to a discussion about how those abilities could be applied to their job. They’re not expecting their recruits to conform to them – in fact, quite the opposite. They’re seeking ways to adapt their approach so they can help their people bring their best selves to work.And the result of all this? They have a 32% higher retention rate in the first six months, and it’s led to better customer satisfaction levels as well. How different this is from the one-size-fits-all approach most other companies adopt.
So how can you onboard new employees for greater impact?
Whilst it's often easier and cheaper to implement one-size-fits-all processes, they rarely deliver results. If we are going to genuinely change behaviour, we need to become the human not process experts. In this blog we explain how.