Onboarding is much more than creating a good first impression, says Nerissa Chaux, Co-Founder at outsourcing digital and commerce talent firm, Filta.
It’s about laying the foundations for a strong, lasting and productive working relationship.
“If you have someone cemented in your business, who understands your business goals and objectives – and who understands their value to the business and culture and is rewarded accordingly – they want to come to work, they treat the business as if it’s their own,” she says.
When onboarding goes wrong, Chaux says, you’re leaving your business at risk financially and competitively.
“We invest considerable time and money to finding the right person for the business outcomes we need achieved,” she explains.
“So, it’s critical for employers to create a thorough and deep onboarding process to fast track your new starters to help embed them in your culture and equip them for success.”
There are many reasons why you should onboard, but the how is where things can go wrong.
Here are five key onboarding mistakes to avoid.
Treating onboarding as training
One of the most common mistakes people make, says Emily Wilson, Managing Director and Co-Founder of FutureYou Executive Recruitment, is confusing training and onboarding.
“Training is on systems, terms of business, on the product they may be being asked to sell,” says Wilson.
“Onboarding should focus on the building blocks of the company – the vision, values, culture and relationships.
“They are two very different things, and they shouldn’t be tied together.”
Forgetting the ‘human’ element
The practical side is necessary: from explaining where the coffee machine is to the organisational structure of the business. But the key to onboarding success, Wilson says, is in relationship development.
Be wary of putting the new recruit in a meeting room for three days and having different people present them with information.
She says your time would be much better spent taking them to meet colleagues, team leaders, suppliers or other key stakeholders to develop those relationships early.
Wilson also recommends incorporating a social gathering during a new recruit’s first week – even if it is just for a sandwich in the coffee shop. It helps them understand the motivations of the team and its culture, so they can start to find where they fit and what ideas they can bring.
Chaux suggests connecting the new person with a mentor or a buddy. It doesn’t have to be someone in their team, it could be the receptionist or the head of the social committee. Ideally, it’s someone who knows everyone and who can point the new person in the right direction when they need information.
It's also important for that person to fill them in on workplace traditions. For example, if you follow casual Friday, give the new person a heads up. Chaux says to put yourself in that new person’s shoes – it would feel pretty uncomfortable turning up in corporate wear while everyone else is in jeans.
Not taking enough time
Onboarding isn’t something that’s over within a day. A good process, says Chaux, begins the moment that employee signs the contract and continues for 3–6 months into their employment.
She suggests a quick phone call the week before the employee starts to go over the basics, such as parking and starting hours. This can settle new job nerves and let them know you value their arrival to the workplace.
As Chaux points out, you don’t know what your new hire’s current employer is doing to try to keep them. Setting up a good relationship with your new employee before they start can ensure you don’t lose a good employee before they’ve even begun.
“I heard a story about someone who started on a Monday to find their manager was away sick, and no one in the company even knew who they were or what they were there for,” Chaux says. “They didn’t even know their name so they sent them home – can you imagine how that person was feeling?”
Wilson says job seekers often have two or three opportunities in the pipeline when they accept a role. So, if you don’t take the time to ensure they’re settled in and excited to be part of your company, you could find they’re lured away by another job offer.
Not checking in regularly
Wilson says onboarding should be the manager’s responsibility.
“Outsourcing it to someone else, such as an EA, is a wasted opportunity for that employee to develop a good relationship with their manager,” says Wilson.
She says too often people assume everything is making sense and don’t bother to ask the new recruit what else they need to know.
“At the end of the first week ask them how they are feeling, what they have learnt and if they are coming back next week,” says Wilson. “If they are, it won’t be because they were shown where the coffee machine is, but because they have made strong connections.”
Chaux says you should check-in with your new employee regularly: at minimum, 30, 60 and 90 days. That way, you both can flag any potential issues early on, recalibrate if needed and set new goals for the next review.
Talking to them about a career development plan can show that you’ve invested in them as a person and believe they have a solid future with your company.
It's also a good opportunity to get a fresh perspective on the company and if there are any suggestions for how you can improve things.
Everyone should be given the same onboarding treatment, Chaux says, no matter their role. “Everyone should feel they have a purpose and a place and be kept aware of the business goals. Everyone should understand where the company is headed,” she says.
Forgetting the first impression
Making sure your new team member has the space and equipment they need to do their job is an obvious step, but it’s often overlooked.
Chaux tells the story of a man who turned up to work for a senior position to find no business cards had yet been ordered for him.
“It doesn’t look professional and it doesn’t reflect well on the organisation,” says Chaux.
As a contrast, Chaux says the promotions company that left a bunch of flowers waiting on the desk of their new employee found that small gesture was still being talked about years later.
“Little things matter,” she says.
Andrew Jewell is the Principal Lawyer at Jewell Hancock Employment Lawyers, a firm specialising in employment law.
He says during dispute resolution, the employee’s first impressions are often raised.
Legally, he says it’s very important to clearly define what the role requires, and make sure the employee has enough training to fulfill those requirements.
If you don’t get them integrated before their probation period is up, you might find they decide to take another job offer – and legally they have the right to walk out on you with a maximum of a week’s notice.
“I’ve been told it takes about three months before an employee is really profitable, so to have them walk away because you didn’t go through the process properly sets the business back a long way,” says Jewell.
“We hear a lot of things during a claim such as ‘I didn’t have somewhere to sit on my first day’ or ‘the role wasn’t what I expected’.
“If you onboard properly you can avoid these disputes at the back end.”
Avoiding these five common mistakes can help you get onboarding right. By treating onboarding as its own process – separate from training – you’ll give it the time and attention it needs. Make sure to cover the basics, and include a human element to create a true sense of welcome and connection. Lastly, check in regularly across the first few weeks and months. This way, you’ll be laying the groundwork for a positive and lasting experience for your new employee.