Onboarding has long-term impacts

Author: 
Tim Houlihan

I have a friend who started work at a new company recently. A week later, her daughter started her first post-college job. Their experiences highlighted how hiring managers can do better regardless of generation and how onboarding casts a long shadow for how employees feel about a company.

What worked

The mother, we’ll call her Maggie, started her first day with a project perfectly tuned to her background and skillset. Even better, it required her to meet people from other departments. Coworkers showed her the cafeteria, bathroom and office supplies area, and they gave her insider scoops on completing paperwork.

The daughter, we’ll call her Katelyn, was greeted warmly with a cubicle stocked full of welcome messages, office supplies and a computer. Her calendar was booked with coworker meetings, lunch with senior leaders, and a project estimated to take up the entire first week. In some ways, she said, “It felt like the first day of school,” with the classroom laid out to welcome her.

What didn’t work

Maggie was off to a good start, but her boss was difficult to reach when she had questions. She didn’t need much guidance, but she could barely book time with her boss. She found herself twiddling her thumbs after the initial assignment was done in three days. Coworkers recommended online self-guided training, but it was busywork. She felt bored and slightly ignored.

She was promised high-tech ergonomic furniture and a new laptop. The laptop took two weeks to arrive, then it was whisked to IT for a few days for configuring, and finally arrived with incomplete printer drivers and faulty authorizations. Moreover, more than a month into the job, there’s still no cool furniture.

Katelyn’s warm greeting turned into hours of nothing to do. Her first week’s project was wrapped up by 11 a.m. on day two. Her boss, “a busy control freak,” in her words, was stingy with assignments. She was enthusiastic about doing “real work” but was losing confidence every day.

These issues may be unnoticeable to the hiring manager but can become real bugaboos with new employees. Early experiences like these echo from the culture canyon and set the long-term tone. Good managers stay on top of them. Great managers prevent them from happening in the first place.

What to do

  • Give employees a chance. They passed the interviews, so give them a chance to do the work. Assign a project right away and be available for their questions. You want them to build confidence and get a small win right off the bat. Confidence goes a long way.
  • Give employees a good first impression. Culture dictates suitable welcome measures, but don’t skimp. A good welcome is less about hanging balloons and more about having a functioning laptop and a place to land on day one.
  • Get employees engaged socially. We are tribal and this is the new hire’s newest tribe. Improperly welcomed new hires will feel disengaged, making them more likely to push off for greener pastures sooner than later. Set up internal meetings with peers, subject matter experts, company historians, and fellow Star Wars addicts to help them feel like they belong.

Don’t ignore those who have been around a while. Give them opportunities to take the lead. Remind them how you value their contribution with the right training and the best technology for their positions. Always be inclusive with social invitations.

These simple but sometimes tricky tasks can have a tremendous impact on the people who report to you. As they say, you only get one chance to make a good first impression. Don’t flub it.

Tim Houlihan is chief behavioral strategist at Behavior Alchemy, LLC, blending applied behavioral science with experience and knowledge. He is also the co-founder of the podcast Behavioral Grooves.