Onboarding for Engagement

For each of your new team members, the first days of a new job set the stage for many months and years to come. In these first moments, new hires and the original team develop their first impressions of each other.

A well thought out new hire onboarding and orientation strategy can help decrease the learning curve and reduce the time to full productivity for your new hire. Your efforts can contribute positively to performance within the first 90 days while increasing retention and engagement of new team members.

The onboarding experience will determine if your new employee feels welcomed to the organization, empowered to do their job, and connected to your team’s mission and goals.

Why it matters: 


Your Role in the New Hire Onboarding Process


As a manager, it’s easy to be impatient during the new hire onboarding process. After months of resumes and interviews, you need the new hire to level up fast! After a couple of weeks, managers may expect their new team member to be able to carry their own weight and fulfill the original need of the job requisition.

Without a terrific onboarding and orientation process, these expectations are difficult for a new employee to meet.

As a manager, you are in a unique position to set every new team member up for success as they get started in their role.  

By setting aside time to intentionally think through your onboarding process, you can help new individuals quickly become valuable members of your team. A strategic onboarding process includes access to the resources they need to be successful in their role:

  • A list of any tools, software or processes they may need

  • A clear understanding of company culture and norms

  • An introduction to the organizational structure and important stakeholders in their work

  • A review of the company and team goals and performance metrics

  • A review of their role and responsibilities and expectations for success  


Creating an Intentional Onboarding Experience


This email serves as a guide to help you create a more intentional onboarding flow for every member who joins your team.

As you read on, consider the four C’s of onboarding:

  • Clarification: Reviewing the roles and responsibilities.

  • Compliance: (Usually handled by HR) completing any forms, permissions, or access needed.

  • Culture: Learning the norms and behaviors of the organization.

  • Connection: Developing relationships and networks.

While your HR team will typically cover a good portion of orientation and may even help in parts of the onboarding process, it’s really up to you to ensure that your new team member has everything they need to be fully onboarded into the organization, their team and their role.

How to Use This Email: As with each of our Management Series emails, we recommend reading through this email once and then saving it in a handy place for the next time you consider adding a new member to the team.


Before The Interview Process

Clarifying Expectations with Relevant Stakeholders


As you consider the recruitment process (from job description through interviews and onto an offer), think about how the information you are communicating might shape expectations of team members, leaders in the organization, and (of course) the new hire.

As a hiring manager, it is your responsibility to go out of your way to ensure all stakeholders understand the expectations of a new team member.

Before you start asking around, consider your own expectations:

  • What do you hope to achieve by bringing on a new team member?

  • Which responsibilities will they own? Which ones will go to other members of the team?

  • What do you expect them to accomplish?

  • How much time do you expect them to need in order to ramp up?

  • What obstacles might get in their way? How do you expect them to navigate these obstacles?

  • What will they need to know or learn in their first few weeks to be successful in their role?

Then connect with other team members who will interact with this individual. What expectations do they have about this role? 

You can also use these conversations as an opportunity to gain a clearer perspective of how your team members are feeling about their own roles.

  • How do they see their own role changing as you bring on this new team member?

  • What value or impact do they feel this new role will bring to the team?

  • Are they concerned that this new team member will take responsibilities they hope to hang onto?

  • Do they expect to offload their least favorite tasks to this new team member?

  • Is this a role they would like to apply for? 
    Note: This potential situation is often overlooked by managers but if your team members are vying for an open position and someone else fills it, it can create a poor onboarding experience for your new team member and cause tension. Identify these situations early and communicate clearly.

Resetting Expectations

Once you get an idea of what everyone is thinking, it’s time to align the expectations of all stakeholders.

You may find that you need to adjust your initial expectations given the information you received from your team. If that’s the case, it’s up to you to go back to each team member (especially if they’re part of the interview process but even if they’re not) to communicate to them how you envision the role of any new team member you bring on.

These can be challenging conversations but by making sure everyone is on the same page, you’re building a strong foundation for your new team member.

Note: While you should start as early as possible, it’s never too late to have a conversation around expectations. If your new team member has already started and you have noticed tension between them and other team members, it may be time to have a conversation with all of the stakeholders.


During the Interview Process

Setting Clear Expectations With Candidates

During the interview process, your job is to help candidates understand their prospective role in the clearest sense possible. If a candidate is unclear or misaligned on the role, they are more likely to become unhappy, unengaged, and potentially leave the company (or become a lower than expected performer).

Many questions during the interview process can help you glean an understanding of what your candidate might be expecting. But nothing beats a clear question. 

Ask your candidate what they think would be expected of them in this role.

  • What is their understanding of what success looks like for this role?

  • Do they know who they will be working with on a regular basis? Have they had an opportunity to meet these individuals?  

  • Do they understand how much (or how little) support or guidance they will have in this role?

  • How do they expect the position to change over the coming months?

  • Do they understand how promotions and pay increases are done in your organization?

  • Do they understand your management style at a high level?


Bringing on Your New Hire

Set Your New Team Member up for Success

There are countless stories of new hires who arrived at their job on their first day just to meet members of their direct team who had no idea what their role would be or how senior they are.

It’s in these early days that you can begin to set the foundation for how your team will perceive this individual.

Conventional wisdom and research have shown that new team members get about 90 days to prove themselves in their new job. That’s really not very much time. You have an opportunity to ensure that they get the best opportunity to exceed expectations in these first three months.

As a leader, you have an opportunity to lend the necessary credibility to this new member of your team. Your tone and excitement will be perceived by others and can help in making sure this individual has the shared respect of their team to start off on a clean slate.


Introductions

Here are a few ways to introduce a new team member before they start:

  • Send an Introductory Email: As soon as the new team member has accepted their offer and given notice in their current job (unless you’ve received their permission to announce earlier), send an email to your team, department and/or entire company (depending on the size and culture of your team). This email should support the reasons why you hired this new individual and set clear expectations for how others should interact with them. Be careful not to set unrealistic expectations of this individual. It will take them a few months get fully up to speed and they’ll need everyone’s support and cooperation during that process.

  • Send a “Day-Before” Reminder Email: It never hurts to send your team a reminder the day before your new team member starts. This email can remind them to greet your team member and remind them of this person’s role in case it’s no longer fresh in their minds.  

  • Announce the New Team Member in Team Meetings: People need to hear information regularly and some people aren’t great with their email. In addition to emailing your team, we recommend bringing up their role during relevant team meetings. These are opportunities where you can say, “Yes, and Susie is going to play a key role here when she starts next week. Let’s make sure to loop her into this subject.”


Takeaway

Make sure all stakeholders understand the following:

  • The date the new hire will start.

  • The new hire’s role, responsibilities, and seniority or reporting structure. Who will they be reporting to? Who will be reporting to them? Will they have authority on specific projects or clients?

  • Clear expectations for how the stakeholder should interact with the new hire. Should they be reaching out for a meeting with this individual the first week or should they expect the new hire to reach out to them?

  • Reminder to act as a mentor and represent the company brand and culture. Some companies even give a few individuals a free pass to buy the new hire coffee during the first two weeks and get reimbursed.


Our New Hire Checklist

Check-in Before Their Start Date
As a manager, consider reaching out to your new team member to have a call before they begin their role. Communicate the onboarding process, give them an opportunity to ask any questions, and give them any updates on projects they’ll be working on. This conversation can help ease nerves and remind the individual why they took the role in the first place. 


First Days
Start with how you and your team will interact with them during the first few days.

  • How will you interact with them? When will you meet? What are the objectives for these early meetings?

  • Will you have a pre-planned schedule for them or will they need to start getting this set up on their first day?

  • What tasks or projects do you want them to complete in their first week?

  • What does a successful onboarding process look like in these first few days?

    • For example, what would you like them to know?

      • They should have received a full orientation, including tours of the office, introductions to key stakeholders, and the resources they need to do their job (i.e., a computer, internet access, etc.).

      • They should have clear opportunities to ask questions and dig deeper into areas they may not full understand. Often this information comes at them quickly.


First Weeks

After your new team member has started to settle in, they’ll hopefully begin to have a clearer vision of their new role. These early days can be overwhelming. It’s up to you to help ensure that this new team member doesn’t spin their wheels and lose momentum. It's imperative to check in with them to make sure they have clear objectives and all of the resources they need to achieve those objectives and offer support. It's also important to encourage them to share in the responsibility of creating a successful onboarding process by asking questions and seeking out information they need.

  • Workstyle, Communication Style, and Feedback Style. Take the time to learn how your team member works. This will be a work in progress as the two of you (and other stakeholders) learn how to work together. Start the conversation early and remember to check back in.

  • Fresh observations. Your new team member has a super fresh view of how things are running in your organization. Don’t miss this! Invite them to share what they see.

    • What did they think of their onboarding process?

    • What improvements do they think could help with productivity or efficiency of your team? Often a new team member can see barriers that maybe don’t make sense but others overlooked because “it’s always been done that way.”

  • Set clear expectations. We’ve already talked about clarifying expectations. During the first two or three weeks, set aside time to set clear expectations with your new team member. At this point, they should have a clearer idea of what their scope of work will be. Have them repeat this back to you. Discuss what success should look like and agree to any check-points. Note: It’s helpful to have them talk through how they plan to achieve the key metrics you’re intending for them to achieve. What do they need to do? Who do they need to speak with? What resources might they need? What information are they still missing? The more you can get them to discuss their plan, the more likely they will be able to make progress toward it. This visualization can also help them identify blind spots before it’s too late.

  • Set a cadence. Do you need to meet twice a week for the coming months until they’re able to move to weekly 1:1s?


First Months
After the first few weeks, it’s far too easy to forget that your new team member isin fact a new team member. This individual is discovering norms, expectations, and patterns that they didn’t know existed. It’s after the first few weeks wear off that they start to realize new obstacles. Perhaps they don’t have the resources or support they thought they had. Perhaps they don’t know how best to communicate with a key team member. Whatever the case, the first few months are critical for ensuring that your team member becomes an engaged and dedicated member of the team.

Aside from regular 1:1s, put real check-ins on the calendar to discuss progress, obstacles, areas for improvement, and opportunities for growth.

Monthly Check-In
Before your first monthly check-in, take time to reflect on how things are going from your perspective. Is this new team member where you thought they would be? Were there unexpected obstacles out of their control that held them back? What wins can you celebrate? Are they as productive as other members of the team or do they have a ways to go (normally it takes 3 to 6 months to get a team member fully ramped up).What would you like them to do over the next months?

6-Month Check-In
At 6 months, your new team member is hopefully feeling more comfortable in their role.They’re trying to figure out if this is what they wanted and whether or not it’s going to work for them. Take this opportunity to reflect on the past 6 months and help them visualize the next 6 months. Whether you have a formal performance conversation or an informal checkin it is important to prepare. If you have been doing monthly check-ins, nothing during in this meeting should come as a huge surprise.

12- and 18-Month Check-In
At this point you should have clarity on their performance, capabilities and potential. You have an opportunity to pull them back in, engage with their role and start thinking about the future.

  • What makes them excited to come to work? What are their goals, values, and motivators?

  • What are they looking for in terms of professional growth over the coming months and years?

  • Where do they see their careers moving.


When onboarding is complete, managers transition to continued engagement, retention and growth. A well thought out and strategic onboarding process sets an employee up for success. Hiring is a lot of work, but the work really begins on the first day. Investing the time up front can lead to more productive and higher performing employees who are engaged and driven to do the work.

Yep - It's a super long email. Save it in a good spot to read when you need guidance on how to manage your team of individuals.


Resources

Onboarding New Employees - Full Guide (SHRM)
Description: An important way leaders can combat these challenges is to implement a
robust employee onboarding program [...] This report,
Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success, will provide the tools you
need to create an effective onboarding process in your company. 

Your New Hires Won’t Succeed Unless You Onboard Them Correctly (HBR)
Description: new research shows that spending as much as a year helping new employees get up to speed in the workplace is necessary to capitalize on the skills, knowledge, and excitement they bring to the organization.

Getting New Hires Up to Speed More Quickly (MIT) 
Description: The key to making new employees productive quickly, known as “rapid on-boarding,” is to help them immediately build an informational network with co-workers.

New Hire Onboarding, The Role of the Manager (Interview with Jennifer Farris) (Marlow Podcast)
Description: Jennifer Farris joined us to discover how managers can level up in onboarding their new team members. Jenn explains why managers play a key role in new hire onboarding and she walks us through specific strategies for thoughtfully onboarding every individual into your organization.

The First 90 Days (Michael Watkins)
Description: In his bestseller The First 90 Days, which The Economist recognized as "The On-boarding bible" Michael D. offers proven strategies for conquering the challenges of transitions and identifies the most common pitfalls new leaders encounter and provides the tools and strategies you need to avoid them.

Marlow