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  • Writer's pictureJeff Tudhope

Onboarding: Heard about it.

If you attended any HR related training or seminars in the early part of the last decade, let’s say 2009 to 2013 (maybe earlier), you likely heard the term onboarding. Did you write it off as some HR types rebranding training Did you incorporate some of the characteristics of onboarding into your business?

I’ve worked with businesses of varying sizes and have found there’s no way to predict the likelihood of a company having strong or weak onboarding practices based on industry, sector, size, demographic, union status, or any other factor. It’s a mixed bag. The one thing I have found, however, is that the companies that do it well are glad they took the time, and the employees appreciate it.

Like many things, solid onboarding is not difficult to do, but it takes some time and dedication.

So first of all, what is it? I consider onboarding to be the process of interviewing, hiring, orienting, and incorporating a new employee into a company or organization. The process, of course, can be tailored to meet the specific needs of the business or the job an individual is performing.

Based the description above, onboarding seems to focus solely on the employee, but it can have significant benefits for the employer as well. The primary goal of onboarding is to expedite the process of getting a new employee up and running to the point where they can perform their job, or at least the most important parts of their job, without assistance or regular oversight. Developing an onboarding procedure requires employers to identify the most important tasks in each role, and build the process with those tasks taking priority. Many employers are so caught up in completing the work of the business that they’ve never considered identifying the key work in each role because at the end of the day, it all has to get done (sound familiar?). But if you want your new hires to be productive as soon as possibly, you need to identify the most important work a new hire needs to learn as soon as possible. Individuals who start a new job without a clear path toward competency can become confused, feel lost, worry about their performance, and at worst, develop low morale and become disengaged.

So, if onboarding starts with interviewing, how can you incorporate it at that stage, and perhaps change what you are currently doing? Some ideas include ensuring the candidates have an opportunity to review the job description (not just the posting, if they are different) prior to the interview. During the interview process, clearly state the main priorities in the role and what you expect of the successful candidate in their first 6-12 moths post-hire. These priorities should reflect the orientation and training process.

After an offer is accepted, provide the employee the documentation with which they need to be familiar in their job. This may include policies, manuals, sample reports, etc.

Things kick into high gear once the employee starts. The two goals of onboarding in the role are to make the employee feel welcome and to minimize the learning curve. Making the employee feel welcome can be done in a variety of ways and many are organization specific. A simple way to look at it is to do your best to shorten the amount of time that they’re the “new guy/girl”. Make sure they know their colleagues and encourage interaction.

Minimizing the learning curve takes us back to identifying the key tasks/responsibilities. Most, if not all jobs are bigger than what’s on the job description, but it’s not helpful to dump all of that on a new hire in the first 2 weeks. In most cases, a more experienced employee will be tasked with showing the new hire how to perform various tasks. Set an itinerary for this training so that work is phased in and can be learned thoroughly before something new is added (say, 2-3 things per week).

If you have multiple options, choose your trainer carefully and have them be the go-to person for the duration of the onboarding process. If the work is seasonal in nature, and certain tasks are only performed at a certain time of year, keep this in mind when you develop the onboarding process and extend it until the new hire has had an opportunity to learn all of the key work from an experienced co-worker.

There is a lot more to onboarding than has been included here, but these are some simple steps which, if you take the time and follow up, you’ll likely agree were well worth it.

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