Rethinking onboarding – with idealist leadership

We all know that a great onboarding experience sets new joiners up for a fulfilling career. According to Mark Murphy, managers can achieve this by adopting an 'idealist' leadership style:

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Jun 14, 2024

When it comes to onboarding new employees, it’s common sense that how its managed (and the initial experience managers create), can directly impact employees’ future engagement, productivity, and retention.

The problem however, is that (traditionally), onboarding has mostly been about the operational setup — filling out forms, setting up email accounts, and going through company policies.

But in the modern workplace, where employee growth and adaptability are highly prized, leaders need to rethink their approach to onboarding.

One particularly effective strategy is adopting an “idealist” leadership style right from day one.

Why Idealist leadership?

The idealist leadership style is all about nurturing growth, fostering creativity, and encouraging a positive outlook among team members.

And, based on more than a million takers of the What’s Your Leadership Style? test, this is the type of leader that employees most want to work for.

This style is characterized by a visionary approach that not only aims to inspire but also acknowledges the challenges that come with new roles.

For new employees, who may feel overwhelmed and under a lot of pressure to prove themselves, this can be incredibly reassuring.

For than all this however, an idealist leader is akin to a coach or a mentor who tells their team, “It’s okay not to know everything right off the bat.

For these leaders, they see the employees’ growth as paramount – and what they can do to help staff leverage their skills and contribute to goals.

This approach helps to create an environment where new employees feel safe to express their concerns and admit their unfamiliarity, without fear of judgment.

So, if you’re onboarding staff, and want to develop more of this leadership style, here are some practical steps that CHROs/managers can make:

Making a ‘first-day’ Impact

Leaders should personally welcome new hires the moment they step into the office. This immediate engagement (from the leader and not a member of the HR team) helps set the tone for a supportive and inclusive workplace. As leaders, showing up for your new team member — not just physically but also emotionally — can make a significant difference. It’s about communicating that their role is crucial to the team’s success and that their contributions are valued.

Fostering open communication

On their first day, it’s essential for leaders to foster a culture of open communication. Encouraging new hires to ask questions and express their thoughts freely contributes to a more dynamic and innovative workplace. Leaders should emphasize that it’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed and new joiners the team is there to support their journey.

Integration through real projects

Instead of spending their first day buried in paperwork or in passive orientations, new employees should be integrated into real, meaningful projects. This hands-on approach not only helps them understand their role better but also allows them to immediately contribute their ideas and energy, reinforcing their sense of belonging and usefulness.

Assigning a ‘Buddy’

Pairing new hires with a “buddy” can be incredibly effective. This buddy — ideally a peer who can provide guidance without the dynamics of hierarchical pressure — can help the new employee navigate the first few weeks, answer practical questions, and provide social support. This system not only aids in quicker integration but also helps in building interpersonal relationships within the team.

Feedback and adjustment

Leaders should end the first day with a check-in. This doesn’t have to be formal; a simple conversation asking how their first day went can be enough. This check-in should aim to understand their initial challenges and to reassure them that the team will adopt strategies to help them succeed. Continuous feedback in the following days is crucial to refine their integration process and to reinforce the supportive nature of the leadership.

Adopting an idealist approach to leadership in employee onboarding can transform a new hire’s entry into a powerful starting point for long-term engagement.

It’s about moving beyond the logistics of onboarding to create a more human-centered approach.

By doing so, leaders not only help new employees settle in more comfortably but also lay the groundwork for a dynamic, supportive, and innovative team culture.

This approach assures new hires that while the beginning may be daunting, the journey ahead is promising and rewarding.