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Jul 19, 2022

Put yourself – if you will – in the shoes of a person on their first day of a new job.

Imagine they’re in their first ever team meeting. Things appear great.

But…very quickly things then start to unravel.

The leader is late, then the technology for running the meeting doesn’t work properly. Then there’s nobody around to fix it. Then it’s decided the meeting should be delayed to another time.

It’s probably by about now that this new joiner is starting to wonder exactly what it is they’ve joined. They’re probably thinking that to succeed there, they need to be a very different type of person to what they actually are.

Onboarding: An overlooked tool for business success

Unfortunately, this type experience is not uncommon. According to research by Gallup, only around 12% of employees say their company onboards effectively. Meanwhile a full one in five new employees report having received ‘poor’ or ‘nonexistent’ onboarding.

This is truly shocking.

What employees are exposed to during their first formative few days/weeks/months will cement in them their longterm view of that organization. It is this perception that will determine whether or not they are likely to up-sticks and try to find something better elsewhere.

The small but invaluable window of time

In this invaluable window of time, new hires are extremely impressionable because they not only have a desire to succeed, but also a desire to fit in.

So how can organizations onboard better? I would argue it’s only by leveraging both desires mentioned above – and doing so simultaneously during the all-important onboarding process.

In recognition of this, here are three key ways the most successful leaders ensure can not only ensure new hires become high performers, but high performers who actually stick around for the long term:

1) Immerse new hires in excellence

Identify three-to-five of the most successful behaviors of your top performers, and expose new hires to them in the early days of employment. Think of it as positive peer pressure. Npt only does this push new joiners to achieve great results, it also helps them feel accepted as a member of the group.

 There are two basic methods for accomplishing this:

  • Push: Planned, structured and proactive

Curate the emails of your top performers, point out their behaviors or simply share stories about them. Tell legends of your most successful employees and the specific moves they make. Transform their names into verbs. New employees will draw on these stories for guidance and aspire to their level of excellence.

  • Pull: Observational, occurs in real time

Communicate the behaviors your organization values the most, then instruct new hires to follow your top performers around during the workday to observe their actions and report back where they saw the behaviors appear. Then, check-in with their peers to ensure they’re exerting the right kind of pressure on the new person by validating and remarking on valued behaviors. (For example, if they noticed a new hire didn’t speak up during a meeting, encourage them to support that behavior in the future.)

 By showcasing company veterans who face the same challenges and opportunities as anyone (and yet succeed wildly through specific behaviors and mindsets), new hires will internalize those habits into their new identity as a successful member of your organization.

2) Plan and do

 You don’t want new hires to merely reflect on these successful behaviors. You should want them to plan and take action based on what they’ve learned from this experience. So:

  • Plan: Have a conversation comparing the excellence they observed with what they’ve experienced in the past. Ask them if they ever exhibited those behaviors in past jobs. If not, ask them how they plan on making sure they do in this one.
  • Do: This is where the rubber meets the road. Now that you’ve talked through how to implement high-performance behaviors, new hires can essentially write their own manual for success in your organization. Hold them accountable with regular check-ins and be sure to remark whenever you see them engaging in valued behaviors.

3) Call out both poor and positive choices

If a new hire does something counter to the norms of your organization, don’t let it go unmentioned, even on their first day. Say something to let them know what’s expected behavior – even if it means pulling them aside after a meeting. By framing your feedback in the normative sense (as in, “what’s normal here”) versus a critical judgment one, HRDs can leverage new joinees’ impulse to be included as a member of your organization.

But an even more powerful tool for encouraging successful behaviors is praise – that is specifically, recognizing when people make even the smallest positive choices, naming them out loud and connecting them to a better outcome.

For example, say a successful behavior in your company is the ability to speak up. When you notice a new hire respectfully offering a differing opinion during a team meeting, remark on that choice and reveal its impact. You could say, “Hey, I noticed your contribution to today’s meeting. Because of that, we were able to have an open discussion and create a better solution.” Even if the discussion was about using paper straws versus plastic in the break room, the impact of the recognition is the same.

 Do this, and not only does the employee begin to take on the persona of a successful contributor, but when they realize that someone actually notices their effort, however small, they’re more likely to repeat that behavior. The best bit about this, is the fact managers don’t often need to do anything really ground-breaking. In fact, the tinier, the intervention, the better. Just make sure managers keep feedback specific and do it often – whether face-to-face or in writing. Bonus points should go to those recognizing people publicly. This will inspire the same motivation and positive growth in their coworkers. Remember: it feels good to be recognized by the boss and feel like a success. People will feel it’s worth it to go above and beyond. Now, they’ll continue speaking up and gain more recognition, sparking a virtuous cycle of growth.

Imagine what you would like to see

We started this piece by asking for some imagination. It’s only logical to end it by simply imagining what you – an HRD – would like to see.

Onboarding doesn’t have to be a highly structured process, but it should set the tone throughout the first year of employment.

During this highly impressionable period, every social cue, or lack thereof, counts for setting expectations and influencing behavior.

By immersing new hires in valued behaviors, helping them plan for success and holding them accountable to organizational norms, you can help them become more productive members of your company, faster, and prevent them from running for the door.



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