To Build Great Teams, Get Onboarding Right

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Many companies think of new hire onboarding as the logistics of getting people a desk and a computer. Yes, it is that, but it should be a great deal more than that, too.

Onboarding should be about how a candidate becomes part of the community as an employee. It should be how they learn the real culture and philosophy of the company. During the interview phase, you establish that a candidate will be able to do a particular job. During the onboarding phase, you show that person how to do that job within the context of the team and how to begin navigating company norms.

Of course, the coronavirus made this whole process that much harder. It used to be that a new hire could sit near their teammates or designated buddy and learn a lot of the unwritten stuff by osmosis. That’s logistically harder when teams work remotely. Given how many organizations have said they’re not returning to the pre-2020 office arrangement in favor of remaining remote, this onboarding challenge is here to stay.

Just how important is it for us to solve this problem? Consider this:

According to O.C. Tanner, 20 percent of employee turnover happens in the first 45 days.
• Finding and onboarding a replacement can cost up to 9 months of the departing employee’s 
• Employees are significantly more likely to stay with a company for 
three or more years if they have a great onboarding experience.

That said, let’s look more closely at the current situation in most organizations.

The Big Void

The whole hiring experience — for successful candidates — follows an upward trajectory from application to interview, then to the offer, and finally to a real or virtual handshake. It’s pretty exciting stuff, and a newly hired candidate savors sharing the news with friends and family. High fives all around!

Then — nothing.

Organizations spend thousands of dollars to find and hire someone and tens of thousands or more to employ them. Organizations expect each new hire to contribute tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in value. Organizations will spend generously on ice cream for the new employee — and they’ll spend no time or money on onboarding.

It could be weeks between someone accepting an offer and starting the job, so that crescendo of hiring activity and positive emotions kind of cruises off a cliff into nothingness for a while. That is, until a short email arrives, telling the candidate to show up on Tuesday at 9 a.m. and bring their passport.

It’s not necessarily a big surprise that this abrupt break happens: The recruiter’s job is done, and the hiring manager is waiting for the employee to show up to work. But what’s going through the new hire’s mind in this vacuum? The afterglow of the good news begins to fade, replaced by a simmering anxiety: Did I take the right job?
 What am I supposed to wear on the first day?
 Where do I go when I get there?
 Will I be able to find the bathroom? Will people be nice?
 Am I going to make a new friend soon?

Avoid That Void

We’ve all been in the position of that new hire, so it’s actually not that difficult to predict their questions. Be prepared to answer them in different ways.

When it comes to highly specific questions about the job, the hiring manager can send an email or deliver a short, personalized video to answer them. That takes care of all those details about where the candidate should go, where they’ll sit, who their buddy will be, or even that your company has a start class. (A “start class” is a group of people starting at a new company at about the same time. In a large organization, there may be many start classes of a few dozen people in any month, or it may be just one class each month. The hiring manager can indicate when and where the start class will get together.)

For the larger questions about whether people will be nice or what the culture is like, you could have the new hire’s buddy send an email or video. Of course, the purpose is not to do some deep dive into the culture of the company. Rather, simply sending a friendly welcome message can get most of the job done. The buddy can explain briefly that they’ll be scheduling some times for the new hire to chat with them and with other people, and that they’ll be available to answer questions.

You can also think about sending a short video from the CEO or department head. That video may not be customized to each particular person who’s starting, but then again, consider the effect it would have for the big boss to take the time to record a 30-second personalized welcome video for a new hire. How many people might the new hire show that video to? How proud would that person be that the boss actually mentioned their name, talked about how important the role is, and expressed excitement about meeting them soon?

Behind the Scenes

Right after a person is hired, someone from HR should be in contact with the hiring manager so all the documents and details get transferred from the candidate’s application to the forms that need to be filled out. Typically, HR systems need to talk with other systems once a new hire is involved. You may or may not have interfaces built to transfer that data. Preferably you do. Even if that’s not the case, you can use the time gap between offer acceptance and first day to prepare documents with information you already know about the new hire.

Instead of handing the new hire a pile of forms asking for their name, address, and so on — which makes it appear you don’t even know who they are — you can fill out all that already gathered information for them. This telegraphs that your company was actually listening when the new hire gave you all their details earlier in the process. Think what a better day-one experience that’ll be for a new hire. Plus, you can get that person past the paperwork and on to productive work that much faster.

The point is to make the new hire feel they are a valuable part of a team, and all it takes is great onboarding and a culture of excellent communication.

Daniel Chait is CEO and cofounder of Greenhouse. Jon Stross is president and cofounder of Greenhouse. Together, they are the authors of Talent Makers: How the Best Organizations Win Through Structured and Inclusive Hiring 

By Daniel Chait and Jon Stross