Onboarding: First Impressions Count

Let’s start with the assumption that your organization wants to attract and keep top talent.

Did you know that orientation and onboarding actually starts from the first contact you have with your potential new employees? They start learning about your organization when they first read the job advertisement, browse your organization’s website, and talk to whoever conducts the screening calls and sets up the interviews.

You’ve already made a positive or negative impression on the potential recruit. They’ve gathered critical information about your organization’s branding, organizational structure, products and services, position in the marketplace, and key executives.

First Impressions – Setting The Stage

Once they show up for their interview, they continue to gather first impressions.

They can tell a lot about your organization while sitting in the lobby waiting to be interviewed. I personally look and listen for what I call the ‘laugh factor’. How much laughter do I hear? Are existing employees carrying on lively and interesting conversations with each other? Or, do the employees have their heads down as they walk down the hall? Are they are walking fast and ignoring others around them? The ‘laugh factor’ is typically not present in organizations that are not customer-focused and employee-centric. Or, it may be missing because the organization is not performing well and there are severe cost-cutting and/or downsizing measures taking place. This certainly kills the ‘laugh factor’.

Of course, you shouldn’t pipe laughter into your lobby’s sound system or hire smiling actors to walk the hallways, but you can select an interview location that best represents your organization. Real estate agents know the importance of staging a home environment to increase sales, why not stage your recruitment environment to start the orientation and onboarding process off to a great start.

Here are some orientation and onboarding ‘staging’ ideas:

  • Hang pictures or other informative signage about your organization (i.e., vision, mission and values, pictures of satisfied customers, and/or employees’ social events and/or fundraising activities).
  • Set up a television monitor with video (automated looping) of your organization’s key branding messages for new recruits to watch while waiting for their interview.
  • Put promotional materials about your organization on display for potential new hires to leaf through while waiting for the interview. Offer copies to take home.
  • If possible, provide or at least show samples of your products to try out while waiting or to take home (e.g., if you make consumer products like chocolates, candy, beverages, etc. offer them to potential new recruits).

First Impressions – Pre-Hire Candidates Reactions

As soon as prospective employees leave their interview you can very safely assume they will quickly send out tweets, emails, text messages and/or make phone calls to family and friends to tell them about their interview experience. For sure, friends and family are waiting to hear about your new employees impressions of you, the job, and your organization. What would you like to hear these potential recruits say?  What can you do to influence these ‘public relations’ messages about your organization?

First Impressions – Pre-Hire Information Sharing

Yes, your organization’s recruiters and managers need to conduct effective interviews. They also have the opportunity to ensure potential employees learn key information (beyond what’s publicly available on your web site and press releases) that gives them new and exciting knowledge about your organization. For sure, the interview needs to be about information gathering but your recruiters and managers can also act as ambassadors for your organization, fairly representing its best features.

What potential new employees see and hear during the pre-recruitment phase is actually the foundation of their orientation and onboarding process once hired. Knowing this, how would you treat these recruits differently?  What would you say to them about your organization?

Be prepared to share at least some of the following information:

  • Upcoming, exciting employee events
  • Employee success stories that helped your customers, organization, and/or community
  • Key ways your organization contributes to the community
  • Top three reasons existing employees give about why your organization is a great place to work
  • Little known facts about your organization that are designed to impress
  • Personal benefits you’ve gained from working for your organization
  • Importance of employee development and continuous learning at your organization

First Impressions – Continued

Of course, your new employees will continue to gain first impressions once they start the job and begin the more formal part of their orientation and onboarding process. All of these ‘firsts’ need to be managed well so your new employees, after joining your organization, can say with confidence, “I made the right decision!’.

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Getting New Employees Up To Speed

How fast is fast? How important is that your organization’s new employees become competent as quickly as possible?

A client once asked me to figure out how long it would take for a group of new employees, recently hired for a call centre, to become competent. My first question was, ‘How competent do you want them to be?”  My second question was, “By when?” Is it even realistic to expect 100% competence within a very limited amount of time?

For example, your existing employees are probably operating at a 70% competence level when it comes to computer software. They don’t know what they don’t know.  When learning new computer applications, most users learn the basics but miss out on a lot of features and functionality.  They learn what they need to know to survive. They may never learn what features and functionality could be really useful to them. They achieve a certain competence threshold and accept that threshold as normal and adequate.

Onboarding: What Is An Acceptable Level Of Competence And How Long Should It Take To Get New Hires To Optimized Productivity? 

So, when it comes to new employees, it’s really important to identify what’s an acceptable level of competence and by when.

To figure this out, you need to answer a few additional questions:

  • What is your new employees’ current competence level?
  • What are your new employee’s knowledge and skills ‘gaps’, i.e., the difference between the new employees’ expected performance and their current performance?
  • How much time and effort will it take to raise the new employees’ competence level?

For most new employees, the average time to basic competence is three to six months (unless, of course, they were hired fully competent from a competitor that uses the same systems, policies and procedures). It takes time to learn different computer systems, new performance requirements based on specific policies and procedures, and how to use organization-specific tools and resources. Some jobs may take even longer due to their level of complexity.  Is six months a reasonable amount of time?  What if it takes twelve months to become even 80% competent?

A possible solution? An orientation and onboarding process that focuses not only on WHAT needs to be learned but on HOW WELL and BY WHEN.

Training costs time and money, but the cost of re-training costs even more. Without the proper orientation and onboarding process your new employees could be making mistakes that negatively impact customer service and/or jeopardize your customer accounts. Money that should or could have been spent on orientation and onboarding is now spent cleaning up costly mistakes due to lack of new employee knowledge and skills. Either way your organization is paying for training.

So, why not put more time and energy into bringing your new employees up the learning curve to perform at the needed job performance level from the very first day on the job. Don’t wait until your new employees are not performing as needed to start training. Re-recruiting costs even more than an effective orientation and onboarding process.

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The Hopes And Dreams Of New Employees

High Hopes – Is Your Organization Delivering?

Every new employee has high hopes and dreams for their new job, otherwise they wouldn’t have accepted your organization’s employment offer. As an employer, your organization is offering certain things that employees’ value like good compensation, a stable work environment, an employee-centric culture, and future career growth and opportunities. The employee is offering their current and future knowledge and skills gained through education and employment experiences to further the goals and objectives of your organization.

Before the beginning of the first hour of the first day of their new job, your new employees are saying to themselves:

  • I hope I like it here.
  • I hope my new manager is good.
  • I hope I get along well with the other employees.
  • I hope I can do a good job.
  • I hope there’s a future here.
  • I hope I’ve made a good decision!!!

They’re often gambling big time about their future health, wealth and happiness when joining your organization. It’s not quite like getting married, but it is a very significant decision in their lives that can last as long as a happy marriage.

They have certain hopes and dreams about what this career transition means to them and their families. It’s also not like a purchase from a store that can be taken back the next day if they have buyer’s remorse. Your new employees are typically leaving a very well-known situation (current job/career) for a somewhat uncertain new future (new job/career) that carries a certain amount of risk.

For some of your new employees, the risks involved in changing jobs and organizations are very significant. They may need to relocate their home and family to a different city or even country for a job in a new or different industry. They may be asking themselves if it’s going to be worth the commute to a new job in an industry that can be impacted by an uncertain economy. Was it wise to accept a position working for your organization at this time in their lives? So, after making sometimes difficult job/career decisions, your new employees have high hopes in their new manager, their new job and your organization.

Hope Dashers

Unfortunately, that hope may soon be weakened or destroyed by the actions you or others take during the orientation and onboarding process. Within hours of starting the new job they may start to lose hope, especially if they:

  • Are ignored and left on their own to fend for themselves.
  • Find out that their manager is too busy or they feel like they are bothering him or her.
  • Are given work that’s not meaningful / doesn’t match what they expected based on the interviewing process.
  • Receive inadequate training and coaching support.

When someone doesn’t feel hopeful about a situation, what do they do? They start looking for ways out. They look for other options to reduce their feelings of hopelessness. New employees may start looking for another job immediately or within a couple months. Even if they stick it out, you’ve got a less motivated employee whose employment expectations have not been met.

Hope Fulfillment

Managers are the primary hope fulfillers and even hope enhancers for their new employees. They are the key to reducing new hire turnover. Their words and actions impact the ‘hope’ levels of their new employees, for better or worse.

Some of the new employee hope fulfillment activities managers can do is to:

  • Talk to their new employees. Managers need to make it a high priority to chat with their new employees about their new job expectations and experiences at the beginning and end of their first day, first week, second week, third week and first month.
  • Help them make friends. The more connected their new employees are with others in your organization, the less likely they are to feel alone.
  • Give them a well-planned orientation and onboarding process to follow. Each well thought-out learning activity is a hope fulfiller and/or enhancer.

New employees are making a significant commitment to your organization. It’s time to keep their employment hopes and dreams alive and well.

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