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Jul 8, 2010

I have a good friend who is starting a new job this week. Being the interested HR person that I am, I always inquire about the onboarding process. In the past, this was part voyeurism and part competitive intelligence. I wanted to know if they did anything worth using myself. Or, if they did anything spectacularly awful.

If you’re like me, you have had all kinds of onboarding experiences. When I started one of my jobs in retail, I walked in and before I could do anything (fill out paperwork, orient myself), I was pulled back to start unloading the biggest truck I had ever seen. In another job, I was brought in with a cushion allowing myself to get comfortable with my new role, meet all of the people I would be working with, and start thinking about my objectives going forward.

I don’t know if good onboarding practices ultimately lead to success (it seems like it would), but I do know it doesn’t hurt to get employees started on the right foot. Here are some tips to consider as you examine any onboarding process:

Communicate early and often

Are daily phone calls to your new hire or promoted employee too much? That may be, but using the interim period between when the offer is accepted and when the person starts is a huge missed opportunity that many onboarding programs miss. Leadership blogger Dan McCarthy talks about starting the onboarding process even before an offer is made to an internal candidate. That can be true for external candidates as well. Getting a person used to and excited for the possibility (and then the reality) of their new position is an easy way to get started on the right foot.

Feel out your newbie for pace

“Recruiter Guy” Chris Hoyt blogged about his experience of onboarding at his new position with PepsiCo. While your new employees blogging about their onboarding experience may not be for you, what Hoyt has done is show how the pace of his onboarding matched his experience and comfort levels. While many folks wouldn’t be comfortable traveling on business right away, it was obvious that it helped energize him and maximize the overall experience. I don’t know how intentional it was, but it shows that a rapid onboard isn’t necessarily a bad one.

Intentionally expose them to culture

Amy Gallo at the Harvard Business Review writes of the downfall of focusing on simply supplying information to new employees. You have to be intentional about exposing them to your culture, too. Her advice is to focus on bringing on the right people, getting them connected with the right people, and then getting them into their day-to-day routine as quickly as possible. There’s no arguing that cultural changes are a big step in the right direction.

Use technology responsibly

We all love technology, right? Well, I did — until my onboarding experience where I sat in front of a computer for my first day to fill out forms, do mandatory training, and probably supply some clueless vendor with more validation data. I hated it. Many companies sell technology onboarding platforms as productivity drivers (like Taleo does here) but onboarding is more than just getting me up to speed and producing widgets for you in record time. It is also about your first efforts in retention and culture. You’re not getting that from a computer.

Harness that new hire energy

Capitalizing on new hire energy is one of the most vexing things about the onboarding process (as Jessica Lee at Fistful of Talent rightfully points out). The problem is that all of these new people don’t have the institutional knowledge necessary to use that energy constructively. If I can combine the point from Gallo’s piece in HBR, partnering that boundless energy with some of your most experienced people can be a huge win. Of course, finding the right experienced person is as important as the decision itself.

How do you ensure a smooth and productive onboarding experience?

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