First Impressions: Why Onboarding Employees Is Like Going on a First Date

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I arrived early excited about my first day and my first real job from college. I just could not believe how disorganized they were. It was like nothing you said. As a matter of fact, they were not expecting me until the following week. When I showed her the letter, she had to make phone calls to HR. It was a total mess. I knew then that I would not be here long.”

That short message was told to me by my daughter, who after finishing college, got her first “real” job. Because of my background in HR, I told her what the first day would probably be like since this was a well-known brand.

I had flashbacks of that encounter a few weeks back as I gave a presentation around that theme at the Global HR Summit in Doha, Qatara  last week.

Going on that first date

New employees starting with your organization is like going on a first date. You want to put your best foot forward in the hopes that they feel that they indeed made the right decision to join your organization.

During the recruiting process we go the extra mile, especially when we feel that we have narrowed it down to the finalist. We leave no stone unturned for our respective organizations.

That first official date should be the icing on the cake. The most important question that they will be asked at the end of the day is, “How is the new job?” When they arrive back home, that will surely be asked that question more than once.

Direct family members and close friends will all want to know just how it went. If you are a well-known brand, they will ask even more.

It should be a celebration

Onboarding is NOT about paperwork. Forms and paperwork could efficiently be done pre-onboarding. Those first encounter should be a celebration based on the theme that we are glad YOU chose us.

Today people are looking for more than a job; they are looking for a connection to your organization. In my days in HR, I designed a program which was chronicled in a book titled “Creative Onboarding Programs.

Our onboarding program was broken down over two days. That first day was about onboarding into the organization, while the second day was onboarding into the new employee’s respective department.

We put all hiring managers through training, and each had a guide book in how to welcome their newest “family member,” from the introductory email to their department’s pictorial org charts. In addition, each manager was asked to take their newest member to lunch or do a team lunch on the company.

The unique factor about our program was that it focused not so much as what we did as a business, but on how we engaged our employees. Our head of the corporate foundation was a part of our program in describing our philanthropic activities in the community, while our career development specialist talked about opportunities, career paths, development opportunities, etc.

Giving time to volunteer

My department didn’t spend time asking about forms and signed documents because those were done pre-onboarding, but we did talk about our volunteer activities. Each new employee from Day 1 was given three (3) volunteer days as an opportunity to give back.

My role as the Vice President of HR was to walk them through our businesses and how we made money. We described the company’s strategic goal for the upcoming year and how we planned to make it happen. We tried to cover all the major points of how we do business.

Since one of our businesses was TV, we had a 15 minute video done which spoke to the narrative of how we started up to where we are today, and, the destination we were aiming for.

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We scoured the company to try to match up alumni from their schools with new employees. This person was invited to have lunch with the group, which made even a stronger connection.

Create brand ambassadors from Day 1

My goal was that, at the end of those first two days, that the new person will have a very good feeling knowing that they did make the right decision to join the company. Our corporate goal was that we were creating brand ambassadors to keep an eye out for talent throughout their sphere of influence.

Employee onboarding is just as important as any other company initiative build around your employees. The importance of getting it right increases the brand of your organization.

When new employees join the company, their engagement level is basically at 100 percent. At no other time during their lifecycle will it ever get that high again. It is your job to make sure that you connect with them strongly to make sure that you further strengthen that bond.

That is why it is important to think beyond those first few days and use every opportunity to keep the embers burning.

At the six-month mark, we would have a new hire luncheon and invite as many as we could back for a check-up. Our goal for the luncheon was to ask one simple question, “How are we doing so far?”

In a free-wheeling format, we would have an open discussion on what they like or did not like during their new hire period. Before the lunch was over, we asked, “What can we do to make new hires more welcome into our company?

The onboarding should never stop

Why ask them? Because they are the experts. They have just been onboarded for approximately six months and their experience is fresh in their minds. This had the beneficial effect of allowing us to consistently tweak our program over time.

In other words, the tweaking — the onboarding — should never stop.

There is a saying that you never get a second chance to make good first impression. That, ultimately, is what onboarding is all about.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.