Just like with people, first impressions of a company are crucial.
During your customers’ initial interaction with your business, they’re looking to see if you’re reliable and trustworthy. Their evaluation of your company will have a significant impact on their upcoming decision whether to pay for your goods or services or not.
Similarly, new team members receive a first impression of your team as they come aboard. They are feeling things out during this period to determine if this is a place they’ll want to be for the long term. Thus, it’s important to keep first impressions in mind as you welcome new employees to your team. These first few days will often determine whether you’ve gained a loyal employee or you’ll be seeing the position vacant again very soon
We believe in getting things right from start to finish during the hiring process, and we want to help others do the same. We asked for onboarding tips from a variety of industry experts, and we’ve put together this guide featuring their choice wisdom to give you the opportunity to avoid some of the most common onboarding mistakes.
By reflecting on these onboarding tips, you can restructure or reinforce your onboarding process to ensure it becomes an effective retention tool.
When we asked our experts what the number-one onboarding mistake was, we received a variety of answers, but all of them shared a common theme: in one way or another, the mistake was in not providing sufficient guidance or training to ensure success. Across the board, experts agreed that this mistake led to longer time to proficiency, slow adoption of the company culture, increased frustration for the new hire, and ultimately, higher turnover rates.
Too many companies give the new hire some paperwork and leave it at that. Stacy Lindenberg of Talent Seed Consulting warns that organizations shouldn’t confuse new hire orientation with onboarding. “Too often, companies think that by providing orientation, they are ‘onboarding’ the new employee,” says Lindenberg, and she’s not alone in her opinion. According to Heidi Kurter of Heidi Lynne Consulting, “throwing the employee into the fire in a ‘sink or swim’ type of mentality . . . is the easiest way to chase an employee away.”
This is often the result of companies giving little or no thought to what their new hires might need to hit the ground running. Anyone who has seen new hires develop performance issues or watched them struggle to assimilate knows it takes more than just signing some tax papers and pointing out where the bathroom is. It takes forethought and preparation; onboarding success is predicated, as Kurter puts it, on “having a well-planned and structured orientation in place.”
It also takes involvement from the right people on the team, particularly the hiring manager, who should be involved in the onboarding process from the very start. Ricky Joshi from Saatva says, “Onboarding is the responsibility of the manager, and oftentimes, the biggest mistake I see is a manager not taking the lead on onboarding tasks.”
Ultimately, onboarding is about helping new employees understand their place in the company—what’s expected of them, what they can offer, and why they’re important to the team. Too often, they’re not given this sense of purpose and identity within the company. According to Bob Ellis, CEO of Bavarian Clockworks, that’s a serious mistake.
“I’ve seen a lot of small businesses that don’t have any process,” Ellis says, “formal or informal, for onboarding new employees. The new hire shows up for their day of work and they aren’t sure what they should be doing. They know they have a job to do, but they haven’t spoken with anyone from management or HR about company expectations and processes. It doesn’t leave a good first impression of a business.”
Oppressive First Days
On the other hand, onboarding programs that overwhelm incoming hires can be just as bad. With everything from stacks of paperwork to endless training materials, some companies inundate newcomers with information and responsibilities, sapping the excitement from the idea of starting a new job.
“Bar none,” says Melina Gillies of SalesUp! Business Coaching, “the biggest mistake that I see consistently made is poorly executed planning that sends employees home with a wealth of paperwork to be completed after the first day.” Despite the value most of us place on our own time away from work, it’s nevertheless a mistake that many make: assuming no one will mind spending personal time filling out three hours’ worth of documents for their new employer.
Ideally, most of the paperwork should be completed ahead of time, either by sending new hires hard copies before day one or by using an online document-signing program. This keeps their first day from feeling like they’ve taken a time warp back to their homework days.
But paperwork is usually the least of a new hire’s worries. More often, they are overwhelmed by the truckloads of information given to them right as they walk in the door (most of which they may never even use on the job). Tim Toterhi of Plotline Leadership puts it this way: “Many companies waste an insane amount of time by loading employees up with information they won’t recall, training they don’t need, and organizational commercials they don’t want. It is one of the least ‘customer focused’ processes that HR provides.”
It’s a common pitfall to stumble into, says Ketan Kapoor, CEO and co-founder of Mettl. “Information overload happened to be our deadliest onboarding mistake,” he says. Kapoor lists policy documents, employee code of conduct, and rules and regulations on his list of items that can overwhelm and suggests that “new hires expect their first day to be cordial and mostly reserved for friendly gestures.
It’s a sentiment shared by Stefanie Frenking of Spreadshirt. “Forcing too much information on new colleagues will raise pressure and can quickly overwhelm them. As an onboarding expert, you have to think of what will be important for the employee in the first week, in the next three weeks, and within the first six months.” Doing so will help you tailor the onboarding process to them individually, ensuring that they have the training they need when they need it.
Remember, the goal is to get them ready to contribute to the company quickly, and that requires being efficient with the information you give them.
There is nothing worse than having an employee start a new job, just to find out that no one knew they were coming and they have no tools or workstation to begin their job.
Failure to Launch
Few things are as frustrating for a new hire as showing up on day one only to be confined to a room signing paperwork or twiddling their thumbs all day. On a regular basis, however, that’s exactly what happens. Not only does this stall their progress, but it also leaves a bad impression.
It’s a problem Gillies makes a point to avoid. “Everything from supplies to computer logins to security access should be pre-planned, and the employee should be allowed some dedicated time to explore and feel comfortable in their workspace (or even take a breath) at some point during the day.”
Lois A. Krause, of KardasLarson, LLC, agrees with Gillies. In her words: “There is nothing worse than having an employee start a new job, just to find out that no one knew they were coming and they have no tools or workstation to begin their job.”
Lack of awareness seems to be a theme, and some believe awareness is at the heart of the solution. As Rosina Cherry of Tresta puts it: “In my experience, this has been where we had no idea they were starting. Therefore, no materials, orientation schedule or sign-on information has been prepared.” Pointing out the effect of failing to keep related parties in the know, Cherry adds, “This is the best way to show a new hire why they should not have joined your organization.”
Rachel Craig of Lamps USA has learned that having everything ready on day one is an easy way to earn a new hire’s trust. “Having all the required tools and equipment ready for the first day is crucial in leaving a positive impression of how the company operates—organized and professional while being respectful of what the employees need to do their job.”
Giving Them Second Thoughts
Just as the company gets to choose the employee, the employee also has to choose the company. It may seem like they’ve made their choice when they apply, or at least when they agree to a start date, but starting a new position places them in the honeymoon phase, and under most circumstances, they have the freedom to “annul” the union at any point.
That’s why connecting with and engaging them is an integral part of the onboarding process.
According to Toterhi: “On day one, employees want comfort that they have made the right decision. That comes from time with their manager, clear goals, and an agreed first 90-day plan that will help ensure they are successful. They don’t need training on systems they won’t use for 6 months or an 80-page slide deck on the company history. They want to know their kids have health insurance, their 401(k) transfers, where to go for lunch, and well, where the bathrooms are located.”
It’s not all about answering questions, though. A lot of it has to do with making them feel part of the team. “It’s essential to make them feel home even at a new place,” says Kapoor. “Have friendly conversations, crack jokes in groups, ask them about their interests, likes and dislikes; so that they can gel up and break out of their cocoon.”
However you go about it, the goal is to avoid poisoning the well in the early days so their commitment to the company remains strong over the long-term. Here’s how Craig puts it: “The biggest onboarding mistake I’ve witnessed is the lack of understanding that the company needs to leave a positive impression to the new recruit from the very first contact, right through to their first weeks/months in the company. Don’t lose morale early on, as it will be difficult to get this back again.”
Isolating Instead of Involving
Lastly, perhaps the most important part of the onboarding process is connecting the new hire to the rest of their team.
Joining a company means starting all over with work relationships, knowing who to talk to about concerns or who to lean on for extra help, and understanding your place in the organization. It also means having to memorize a long list of new names while everyone else only needs to remember yours. It can be a socially taxing situation.
Don’t leave the new addition to fend for themselves. Help them through the transition by facilitating their introductions and by assigning mentors who can help the new hire incorporate themselves into the larger team.
For Kapoor, the buddy system is more than a piece of advice; it’s a critical step in the onboarding process. “Assigning a buddy remains our topmost priority whenever someone joins in. New hires have a million questions revolving in their mind that they hold back for the fear of judgment or other apprehensions. Having a dedicated person or a buddy to reach out is a great option that new candidates can exercise whenever they feel like.”
Krause agrees. “After the orientation paperwork is complete the first thing on the onboarding checklist is pairing the new employee up with an enthusiastic, valued peer to show the person the ropes and the unwritten rules—who to see if there is a problem, etc.” Once you’ve given them someone they can approach when they have questions (like, “what’s the name of the guy in accounting?”), that’s when team introductions will be most effective.
Ellis believes that team introductions are critical to inducting the new member into the organization’s culture, regardless of size. “At larger organizations, this may include giving the employee a tour of the office or facilities while greeting other team members. At small businesses and startups, this is likely to be more personal such as organizing a company meeting or lunch so the entire team can meet the new employee at the same time.”
Whatever fits your company’s size, make sure newcomers know the people who they will work with and learn from. It’s called a “team” for a reason and any new employee will struggle to see it as such so long as their teammates remain strangers.
Onboarding is a difficult process, but, done right, it can set up an employee to succeed for years (or even decades). Done poorly, it can result in disengagement and turnover. The difference largely lies in how well you treat new hires as valued members of the team and how effectively you anticipate their needs.