Five Keys to Successfully Onboarding a New Employee

You know the drill. You had a need. You waited too long to fill it. You then had to divert a lot of your time and attention from other items in order to hire the new person. And now that you’ve finally hired them, you’re ready to get back to all the tasks you’ve been putting off in order to find that new employee.

The last thing you really want to think about is onboarding them. You’ve hired them. You’re the boss. You’re paying them. They can figure it out on their own. End of story. And moreover, no one “onboarded” you.

However, let’s be honest, that argument quickly falls to the side  since no one “onboards” the founder of a business. But, more importantly, it’s not the way a great leader thinks.

If you’ve been following me and my writings for some time, you know that leadership is about producing results through other people. It’s not about what you do. It’s about what your people do. Which means that the way to evaluate your performance is NOT to look at what you’ve done, but to look at what your people have accomplished. Once you own that, you’ll realize that “onboarding” isn’t just a nice idea. It’s essential if you and your business want to be successful.

So, how can you do that? Well, here are five ideas you can use to be a better onboarder of new employees.

1. Be Clear on Exactly What You Expect

If you ask a typical employee, “Do you know what’s expected of you?” their answer will be overwhelmingly, “No.” In fact, Ken Blanchard (of One Minute Manager fame) estimates that 90-95% of the time he asks employees that question he receives a, “No,” answer back. That’s amazing.

Note: if you think he’s wrong, just have someone else ask your employees to write down what they think is expected of them. While they’re doing that, make sure you write down your list for them. Then compare the lists. You’ll quickly realize that most employees don’t know exactly what’s expected of them.

Furthermore, most job descriptions (or position profiles), are written so generically—or were last updated so long ago—that they really don’t serve as good blueprints or guidelines for employees. Instead, make sure you clearly outline exactly what you expect of someone in that position.

For example, a typical admin position might say, “Compose correspondence for owner.” Okay, but what exactly does that mean? What kinds of correspondence? How often? In what style? How quickly? What kinds of language or fonts to use? Handwritten or typed? Physical letter or email? Etc.

If you’re thinking, that’s a lot of work. Exactly. Now imagine what you’re admin is going through. The first several months on any job the vast majority of employees feel like they’re behind a glass wall trying to figure it all out. So, don’t make it hard on them. Take the time to explain exactly what you want from them—and they’ll produce better and faster for you!

Note: If you missed my last post on how to create systems that actually produce the results you want, click here >>

2. Don’t Delegate Out the Vision Part

There are a lot of things you can delegate out (depending on the size of your business). You can delegate out the HR stuff about forms and policies. You can delegate out the IT stuff about servers and email. You can delegate out admin stuff about keys and where to find things. But there is one thing you should never delegate out—the vision piece.

Everyone is wired to want to be a part of something bigger than just a job. So, take advantage of that. Make sure you carve out time to sit down with each new employee (or group of employees if you’re leading a larger business) and share your vision with them. Let them catch your heart. Let them catch your passion. Let them see that they’re a part of something big and important. Because if they catch that, they’ll always perform at a higher level.

Note: Make sure this is done on DAY ONE if at all possible. Then keep recasting vision over and over again. Why? Because vision leaks fast.

3. Clearly Explain the Culture of Your Business

If you haven’t read my post on creating your idiosyncrasies list, make sure you do so today. The basic storyline is that every business has a culture. The problem is that it usually takes most employees 6-12 months to figure that out—which is a huge waste of time.

So, instead of making your new employees try to figure out what your culture and idiosyncrasies are, why not make them clear on day one? If you, like me, are an excellence junkie, let your new employees know that. For example, I would say things like this.

“Just so you know, I’m incredibly passionate about excellence. And this comes out it several ways that you’ll want to know. For example, misspelled words or bad grammar are unacceptable around here. Use your spell checker. Re-read everything before sending it out. Use correct capitalization … Why? Because what you send out sends a message about our company. And if you send out something with misspelled words or incorrect grammar, there are a lot of people who will interpret that as an indictment about the character and quality of our company (or about you, specifically).”

So, if you want to be great at onboarding, make sure you take the time to figure out your culture. Write it down. And then walk each new employee though it. Both you and they will be glad you did!

4. Think Process, Not Event

One of the classic mistakes that most businesses make about onboarding is that they tend to limit onboarding to the initial week or two of an employee’s employment. Owners will think, “Hey, I did the vision talk,” and move on. HR will think, “I checked their paperwork and went through the policy manual with them,” and move on. IT will think, “Their email works and they’re on the server,” and move on. And with that kind of thinking, within the first week or two, most employees are on their own.

But a week or two is not enough for someone new to be fully integrated to a new business. It takes a whole lot longer, and a whole team of people to be involved, to fully integrate a new employee.

That’s why I encourage you to not think of onboarding as an “event” (something done over a day or a couple of days at the start of a new employee’s tenure), and instead, to think of onboarding as a “process” (something that occurs over a longer period of time, maybe 3-6 months … or longer).

Just because someone has their forms filled out, has their keys, knows how to use the phone system, and can find something on the server, does not mean they’re assimilated. To me, someone is fully onboarded when they’re assimilated to the culture and successful at their job, not when their paperwork is filled out.

So, what does the end product look like for you? If someone was fully onboarded to your company, how would that person think? How would they behave? What would they need to know? Who would they need to know? Etc. Clearly define the endpoint and then create a process that engages your new employees over a 3-6 month time period to make sure all of those things are true.

5. Use Your Employees to Perfect the System

This may be obvious, but it’s rarely practiced. During your regular meetings with new employees, you need to use them to help improve your onboarding process by continually asking them questions like

  • So, what have you learned this week about how we operate as a company that you didn’t know before?
  • What do you wish someone had told you before you came to work here?
  • What has surprised you the most since you’ve started working here?
  • What are you having a difficult time figuring out?
  • Where are you stuck?
  • What can I do to help make you more successful?

No matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to create the perfect onboarding system on your own. Why? Because once you know something, you can never fully remember what it was like to not know that thing (it’s called the curse of knowledge). That means that you need your new employees help in creating a successful onboarding process.

In this way, not only will you be helping them (by prompting them to tell you what they’re having trouble figuring out so you can solve that issue faster than they could on their own), they’ll also be helping you continually adjust and improve your current onboarding system. It’s a win-win for everyone.

So, what do you need to do to improve your current onboarding system? If you don’t have one, that’s the first thing you need to fix! If you do have a system in place, what’s the first thing you need to change to improve it? And finally, if you have hired someone over the past year, is there anything you need to help them with to be better assimilated and productive in your business?

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you have any other great ideas about onboarding, make sure you add them  in the comments section below (or click here >> if you’re reading this by RSS or email)