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Five Questions For Onboarding (That Employers Should Ask Themselves)

June 19, 2019
Once recruited and hired, how does an employee who just walked through your company’s doors become “one of us”?

You can take a variety of approaches to onboarding new workers based on your organization’s culture. Some companies focus on building social bonds, while others leave people to figure things out on their own. Some follow a set process for orientation, while others have a “sink or swim” approach.

The goal of onboarding should be to introduce foundational elements that employees can build on throughout their career — those that influence their performance over decades, not quarters.

First impressions matter. They set the tone for the employee’s career, and it’s never easier to influence employee behavior than when they are a blank slate and eager to learn and change.

Yet while organizations have paid great attention to improving onboarding processes, only about 1 in 10 employees, managers, and leaders strongly agree that their organization does a good job of onboarding. And roughly 4 in 10 employees are engaged in their first six months of employment — when engagement is typically at its peak.

Why does early attention fail to result in lasting impact as people progress through their tenure? Do you and your new employees have a clear view of your organization’s purpose, desired brand and desired culture? Here are five questions you must answer for every new employee to have a successful onboarding program:

1. “What do we believe in around here?”

The first thing new employees need to know is your organization’s stated purpose — your shared beliefs. Then, you can frame everything else as an expression of what the organization stands for and is trying to achieve.

Naturally, you must communicate a lot of “nuts and bolts” information during onboarding — the basic benefits, rules and policies that govern all employees in your organization. These seemingly pragmatic matters are actually expressions of your organizational culture.

How leaders practice and reinforce details like safety, family leave and reporting ethics violations says a lot about your culture as a whole. For example, if you have a stated policy of flextime and send messages that you value employee wellbeing, can employees really leave their desk to go to the gym or leave the office early to attend a child’s event? Do your benefits, rules, ethical boundaries and culture align with your organization’s stated purpose and brand?

2. “What are my strengths?”

To become “one of us” and to be productive, employees must know themselves. But organizations almost always overlook this crucial early step.

Your organization has a vested interest in making sure that all your new employees approach their roles using their strengths. When employees know their strengths, they can take conversations with their managers to a deeper level. And when team members know one another’s strengths, new members can quickly assimilate into a team and everyone can better collaborate to get work done.

Effective orientation needs to provide opportunities for employees to explore how they use their individual strengths to achieve outcomes. New employees also need to be aware of what they don’t do well so they know when they need to rely on others and ask for help.

But strengths training isn’t only about performance. It’s an upfront investment of time and money in employees as individuals. Offering strengths training shows that you care about developing your employees and demonstrates that you’re interested in their long-term growth. We’ll discuss the science of strengths in the next chapter.

3. “What is my role?”

According to Gallup’s global study of workplaces, only about 50% of employees know what’s expected of them at work. Most employees get a sense of the demands of their future job during the recruitment process. Too often, however, reality doesn’t match what was advertised. Being clear and accurate about the responsibilities of the job and how you evaluate performance seems basic, but this step is often overlooked.

The next step is to figure out how new employees can use their strengths to achieve great things for themselves and your organization — and how their work connects to your mission or purpose. Strong fit-to-role is predictive of performance and longevity.

It’s critical for new employees to quickly gain the confidence that they can master their role. New employees should be able to look back at their first six months on the job and name their successes.

4. “Who are my partners?”

New employees need to feel like they belong. They need to know that their superiors and peers accept them. They also need to know who they can depend on to support them as they experiment and learn their role.

Each new hire should develop a strategy for building partnerships in the organization — a “relationship map.” Social network analysis in the academic literature illustrates how someone’s influence in an organization is determined based on their first, second, and third-degree connections.

First-degree connections are the people you know personally and trust — your friends. Second-degree connections are the friends of your friends, and so on. Second and third-degree connections can have a big influence on an employee’s reputation and influence, because the second and third-degree connections multiply their influence through others.

In short, your relationships at work determine how much work you get done and reinforce that you belong in the organization.

5. “What does my future here look like?”

All people need to learn and grow. Younger employees in particular see new jobs as learning and growth opportunities. Regardless of their age, however, all employees need to be able to see a plausible path forward in their career at your organization.

Nearly 9 out of 10 people say that the last time they switched jobs, they switched organizations. That means that nearly all organizations made an investment to hire and train their workforce — and then could not provide a plausible career path for it. In contrast, employees who have an opportunity to learn and grow at work are twice as likely as those on the other end of the scale to say they will spend their career with their company.

A note of caution: Your onboarding employee experience must align with your real culture. After six months in a role, the honeymoon starts to fade, and your new idealistic employee has probably met a few veterans who are quick to share “how things really work around here.” If the values you preach on Day One do not match the true values that your structure, benefits and recognition, and leadership exhibit, your new employees will suffer long-term shock as they realize that what they thought they signed up for is something quite different.

Excerpted from It's the Manager by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter, Ph.D. Copyright 2019 Gallup, Inc. Reprinted with permission from Gallup Press. All rights reserved.

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