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Onboarding New Employees

The selection, recruitment and onboarding of new employees is a critical organizational process - probably one of the most critical given that it shapes initial employee attitudes and can have a significant influence on motivation and productivity.

Matching an employee’s talents with the organisation’s values and objectives while optimising the person-organisation fit requires purposeful and methodical effort along three fronts: relationship building, scoping the support and resources required for the new employee, and establishing effective communication processes. Typically, new hires need help with job preparedness, assimilation, networking, and career planning. Many CEOs and senior managers regard such activity as a mundane part of filling positions, not as a strategic opportunity to renew the company and its prospects. They feel that issuing a new computer, handing out an employee manual and giving some training on communication and document management tools, is enough to get someone started. And by the way, they may task the employee to complete an urgent report by the end of the week!

So, there is no shortage of organizations that regard some cursory procedural steps as onboarding and they are setting themselves up for failure. One the other hand, those organizations which handle this process well, reap a range of benefits.

Let us now examine in a bit more detail what is meant by the terms onboarding and socialization.

Onboarding, is a process through which new employees move from being "outsiders" to becoming "insiders." It involves the socialization of the new employee by helping him or her acquire the knowledge, skills, and behaviors that are needed for successfully navigating their new work environment. So, just as in any new relationship, setting realistic expectations for a successful start to the relationship, can have a long lasting positive impact.

Recruiting, hiring and training new employees expends considerable organisational resources. It costs money and can be very time-consuming. So, onboarding and smooth “socialization” are absolutely critical to the proper functioning of organizations. Failing to handle the process in the right way can have very negative consequences: Sub-optimal engagement due to disillusionment, low productivity and, often, high turnover. Indeed, in the absence of well defined expectations and support, an employee may choose to simply seek employment elsewhere. In which case, all that initial investment goes wasted.

If done well, onboarding, can create a lasting bond between the employee and the organization. This is important in that an initial positive disposition can go a long way towards creating heightened energy and motivation that in turn leads to more quality and purpose in one's work. Indeed, the positivity it infuses into the relationship with one’s manager and co-workers has multiple benefits.

An effective model for onboarding is the 30-60-90 framework whereby goals and expectations are set early on. Virtually all such plans consist of an initial learning phase. This is geared towards understanding: the company culture, workflows, tools and key stakeholders. Once familiarity sets in and one is well-grounded in the role, skill gaps and areas of improvement can be identified. This can be the time to set "SMART" objectives which are:

S- Specific M- Measurable A- Achievable R- Relevant T- Time Bound.

Learning the nuances of one's new role and responsibilities in the span of three months isn't easy but it is doable with the right mindset. Crafting a strong 30-60-90 day plan is your best bet for accelerating learning and skill acquisition, while successfully adapting to one work environment.

My advice to managers is usually to customise the process so as to leverage the new hire's unique strengths. Don't go for a one-size-fits-all strategy. People have unique identities and talents, so find ways to leverage them.

My advice to young people embarking on a career is to first listen and absorb - get a feel for the "lay of the land" and the cultural norms: "the way things are done around here." Jumping the gun with ideas on how to do things differently can wait until you've understood the culture and the various personalities involved - and until you've acquired some of the knowledge and skills that will support your credibility.


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