It was the beginning of a new chapter and the gorgeous Seattle weather was proof it was going to be a phenomenal day. But when I arrived early to the office for my first day at work, I was told my boss was out for the entire day. So I spent my first day of a new job… in an empty office… by myself… scrolling through the company’s website. Suffice it to say, I felt neither valued nor welcomed.
Onboarding is a critical aspect for organizations to prepare new staff members to be successful in both the performance and social components of a new role. While often misconstrued as orientation, onboarding is a process that begins with recruitment and typically continues through the new employee’s first year on the job. Tayla N. Bauer researches best practices for onboarding and provides Four C’s that she calls the building blocks of successful onboarding:
Compliance. Policies are outlined and explained.
Clarification. Job expectations are understood.
Culture. (In)formal norms are clarified.
Connection. Interpersonal connections are formed.
The challenge for smaller organizations is that they often do not have the resources available to create an onboarding process that addresses each of these elements. Instead, they provide a 2-day, jam-packed orientation to fill out the necessary paperwork and check off the legal boxes.
In 2018, a Seattle-based financial management firm brought our consultants at Scontrino-Powell in to review their current approach and provide research-based recommendations. The firm had several strengths including a strong team, a commitment to best practices, and a willingness to make changes. After reviewing their current approach, we worked with them to make the following five changes.
We revised their onboarding process to address each of the Four C’s and aligned each of the elements below to address Bauer’s recommendations.
- Compliance – The company still provided a two-day orientation to explain the policies and procedures, but now included a checklist for the new hire to complete over the first two weeks of the job. This gave the new employee time to digest the information, self-manage the checklist of tasks, and still allow the company to meet legal requirements.
- Clarification – A key element of employee retention and job satisfaction is their supervisor. To provide consistency across supervisor approaches, we developed supervisor guidelines to ensure that all new staff shared a common set of experiences and the supervisor had realistic expectations for the new hire’s first 90 days.
- Culture – To help the new hire have a place to learn the (in)formal norms of the company, we created a new role for onboarding, the Orientation Buddy.
- Connection – Given the small size of the organization, they made time for the new hire to meet with each staff member over the course of the first 90 days. Prior to the new hire’s first day, a weekly meeting was put on their calendar with a different staff member each week. The new hire and staff member had flexibility to determine what they wanted to do (e.g., grab lunch or coffee, take a walk, etc.) as long as it occurred in that week. The Orientation Buddy supported the new hire to ensure these meetings were on track.
2. RedesignWe worked with the leadership team to develop a clear timeline that addressed the simultaneous steps for the new hire, human resource staff, the supervisor, and the Orientation Buddy over the first 90 days.
3. Orientation Buddy
One of the challenges in the organization was that a new hire did not have someone to go to with informal questions when they did not want to ask their supervisor (e.g., Where is the meeting at 10:00 a.m. going to be held? May I use my phone at work?). While a supervisor can provide this information, it can sometimes be intimidating for a new staff to ask their supervisor who participates in their 90-day review. The Orientation Buddy would briefly check in every day with the new hire for the first two weeks and then once a week until the 90-day review. The Orientation Buddy was not a part of the 90-day review.
Supervisors were not sure when and how to support onboarding and setting performance expectations. We designed a set of guidelines to clarify their role and ensure they did their best to integrate new staff members consistently.
The organization needed a useful and quick way to receive feedback about the new onboarding process. We developed a set of five questions that could be answered by the new hire, the supervisor, the Orientation Buddy, and the human resources staff that provided useful data.
This project was completed before the firm hired a new staff member and implemented the new process. The revised approach allowed the staff to identify what did and did not work as well as how to improve the process for the future. Almost a year later, the new staff member is integrated well into the organization and steadily expanding responsibilities as well as supporting their newest hire in a second round of the onboarding.