We talked last week about the need for HR and leaders to be on the look-out for employee potential – a real-time alignment between the business’s needs, new employees in the onboarding and hiring process, and existing employees who may have unrecognized potential.
So it’s natural to go back and look at the first piece of the puzzle – onboarding – to see where companies can improve an employee’s first days and weeks on the job with the goal of creating long-term employee engagement and growth.
As with so much else in the world of work, long-term employee engagement tracks back to the right cultural fit. The 2013 CandE survey, which assesses candidate experience in at leading companies, found that nearly 50 percent of prospective employees looked to company materials to get a feeling for the company’s values, a good indicator of cultural fit.
So it makes sense to ensure the story you tell in your marketing materials, on your career website, and through the recruiting and hiring process should be consistent, values-based, and accurately reflect your company’s unique workplace culture.
Where this can break down, of course, is during the onboarding and hiring process, where employees are too often emailed a packet of intimidating forms to fill out and told to come back when it’s done. Some companies take the additional step of providing videos describing how to fill out the forms, and still others gather new employees in a room for a day to fill out forms, ask questions, and get to know one another – creating a little ‘team’ which will then spread its enthusiasm into the company as people move to their departments to begin work.
I’d argue for thinking of the onboarding process as a team-building exercise rather than simply a time to get all the necessary forms filled out properly. For example, tech giant Red Hat brings new employees to its Raleigh headquarters for an intensive multiple-day program in which new employees are taken through the company’s brand book – its cultural ‘Bible’; introduced to a range of employee ambassadors, and given an iconic team-building tchotchke – a red Fedora. The company shows it cares from the get-go, not only explaining its brand and culture in between form-filling-out-sessions, but also branding the new employees as its own by providing with them with the beginnings of a Red Hat uniform. In tech, you can go a long way towards making someone happy by giving them a good t-shirt, so the Fedora is clearly going the extra mile. But it doesn’t end there: the company does challenging work, is very engaged with its community of users, and is growing rapidly, providing employees with opportunities not only for personal growth but also job satisfaction. The story plays out on Glassdoor.com, where Red Hat gets four out of five stars from current and past employees, and where one employee posted ‘Choose your own adventure’. Not bad.
But does all this front-work pay off in long-term employee engagement? It appears it does. The company has won Computerworld’s coveted ‘Top 100 Places to Work’ award and been recognized by Forbes as one of ‘America’s 200 Best Small Companies’. The company is lauded for its workplace flexibility, its culture, the caliber of its employees, and its challenging, interesting work.
Maybe the most telling aspect of the story related above is how personal it is. The onboarding experience is a personal one, from the act of bringing people together, to the team building, to introductions to brand advocates. New employees are treated as people from the outset, increasing the probability that they’ll be engaged immediately, and remain engaged, as they disperse throughout the company to their respective offices.
So the lessons of successful onboarding might include:
Focus on team-building: Group new hires in teams to begin to build teamwork, but bring the teams together frequently to reaffirm the company’s focus and purpose.
Make it as personal as possible: This is a great opportunity to learn more about the employee than was possible during the interview process. Assign each new hire a mentor to help the new employee make the transition into the company smoothly. The mentor can not only provide guidance on simple things – who’s the best person to go to find out about x – but can also suggest training that may help the newcomer fill in skills that will make his or her life easier.
Reinforce employer brand: Chances are the new hire was drawn to your firm by its reputation, including its brand. If you position your company as a cool place to work on the web and in marketing material, ensure that feeling is built into your on-boarding process.
Invite your employee to use their personal brand: This is also a good time to tell your newly hired employee where he or she can help reinforce the employer brand, and where opportunities exist to amplify employer brand with their personal brand. Note this isn’t appropriate for all companies or all employees; be thoughtful about this. I know many companies are still hesitant or do not encourage employees to engage in social media or branding. It’s still largely case by case.
Audit your onboarding process with check-ins: Don’t’ assume onboarding is a one-and-done thing. To make sure you live up to the promises you made to your new employee, check in regularly to ensure the onboarding experience is consistent with the employee experience. Use surveys, informal one-on-ones between HR and the employee, team building exercises and follow-on conversations with assigned mentors to ensure your new hire is still on a good path.
You get one chance to do onboarding right, so pull out all the stops to make it a transformative experience for the employee – then go back and do periodic checks to ensure everything stays on track. You’re building a company, yes, but you’re also building a team of employer advocates. My mom used to say anything worth doing was worth doing well. Do this well, and talent retention may just be less of a challenge.
A version of this was first posted on Forbes.