Onboarding is not new, nor is it the latest technique: So why are we still talking about it?

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name tagHello? Does anyone know where my desk is? If this is how you started your first day at work, read on.

As Allen has just returned from the ASTD conference where we gave a presentation with Wachovia on new hire training, it seemed an appropriate time to discuss this issue. It seems every place I have worked at frets over their onboarding process—is it enough/too much, does the employee feel connected/disjointed, does the training help/hinder, etc. And yet, onboarding isn’t a recent idea or the latest craze, so why are we still talking about it? Is it one of those mission critical issues that seems to be overlooked?

Well, that’s the rub. For most companies, onboarding has been a part of the company for years but hasn’t been updated. Or, it has been updated and now includes everything you will ever need to know—everything—oh, and you need to complete it in two days. Isn’t there a happy medium?

As we all have been a newcomer at one time, we know what would make an employee feel welcome and a part of the team without feeling overwhelmed, but it seems like common sense. And while it might seem like common sense, how many of you can say that your company does all it can to help their employees? After working with Wachovia and seeing their determination to make onboarding a success, I’ve written up a top 10 list for companies to consider when thinking about their onboarding process:

10. Yes, update! Think about it like this—how would you feel if you were a new employee and you were just given information that is no longer relevant? Would you feel welcome? Updating isn’t just about looking less ‘70s. So while the bellbottom pants in the scenarios may need to go, the current legal information on your policies and procedures is what is most important. And check your forms, especially ones that need to be signed, to be sure you are handing out the most up-to-date papers. Wachovia even took it a step further by making sure they could update their systems training so it would always reflect their current updates.

9. Prioritize. Does all information need to be given at once? Can it be spread over a few weeks to allow for retention of the material? While some items, like certain training or safety issues need to be addressed immediately, other issues could be extended over a week or two while the employee is settling in.

8. Provide a welcome front. Don’t just show new employees their desk, the bathroom, and the lunchroom. Introduce them to others in their department, those sitting around them, or those with similar interests. You did read about their other interests on the application—didn’t you? On a similar note, don’t talk poorly about clients or other employees in front of them. This just looks bad on you and your company—period.

7. Set goals. For you and for them. If possible and if there is a lot of training and an assessment, ask them when they believe they can complete the tasks. It might help them to already get a feel for completing something on time and it might give you an indication of their work ethic.

6. Allow for feedback. While they may not know your company’s procedures and processes, it might be a good time to help this transition for them to be able to discuss what they liked about the training at their previous company. This could give you an idea of what was working and even allow you to apply some really creative ideas to your training.

5. Lunch? It’s their first day and they probably don’t know anyone. Why not take this time to invite them to lunch with a few others to give them a space other than work to get to know each other. This could make them feel more comfortable and they will definitely appreciate the offer. If you have to eat at the company, make sure they have people to sit with.

4. A room with a view—or at least a space. Before they arrive, try to be sure they have a desk, locker, or whatever it is that they would need for their day to proceed smoothly. Make sure that if they are replacing another employee, the other employee’s belongings have been removed and the area has at least been wiped down.

3. Make time. As busy as you might be, make time to see for yourself that your employees are settling in okay. Then, check back with them later in the day to be sure they are busy enough and don’t need anything. This shows you are genuinely interested in the investment you just made by hiring that employee. And let’s face it—you are or you wouldn’t have hired him/her. Something Wachovia worked on was a blended training solution that allowed time with instructors as well as a one-on-one mentor.

2. Reward reward reward. This can go both ways. Have a timeline for 1 week, 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, etc. to check in with your new hires to see what they feel is missing and what they like. Find out how they would like to be rewarded for exceeding their goals and reward them accordingly. While many like financial bonuses, others like dinner certificates, awards at luncheons, or just acknowledgements at the next staff meeting.

1. Be honest. While this might sound like something you’d find in Cosmopolitan magazine, it’s at the top for a reason. Be honest about the job qualifications and the expectations from the beginning. Know what you want from your employees and clearly define those expectations. This was one area Wachovia excelled. They included specific expectations in the training as well as communicated the vales and visions their company believes in. Along these same lines, allow your employees to be honest with you. If they see something that can be improved, they should feel confident they can be honest about it—not rude or impolite—just honest. You and your employees will be much happier if you start with a true open door policy.

So this is my wish list on the top ten things a company could do to ease their employees into the company smoothly. I know there are still some companies out there that don’t have a process and believe onboarding really isn’t important to their success. I say talk to companies like Wachovia where they saw the value in onboarding because of its intrinsic connection to employee retention. Ask them how much money they’ve saved since they began this new training. Then, take a look at this list again and see if there isn’t room for change within your own company.

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