Onboarding .. fast track to feeling at home

Onboarding – the action or process of integrating a new employee into an organization. A process of familiarisation with “how we do things around here”…


That definition would be recognised by most of us as the purpose of the company induction or onboarding period. However it can’t be as transactional as this sounds can it?  I personally have had some of the most well meaning but poorly structured ‘inductions/orientations’ to new organisations or job because people have focused on ‘what they need to tell me’ and not on ‘what I need to know’ or ‘want to know’ (often the unwritten ‘tribal wisdom’).


“4% of new hires leave a job after a disastrous first day, 22% of turnover occurs within the first 45 days – costing the company at least 3X the former employee’s salary”

Bersin by Deloitte’s industry study: Onboarding Software Solutions 2014: On-Ramp for Employee Success


The added complexity in our more matrixed organisations is the onboarding of team members to a project, secondment role or additional responsibilities in an established working group.  Often the need to quickly get new members up to speed is even more urgent, as they are expected and required to make a positive contribution and impact.

With this in mind how can we think about onboarding ‘joiners’ to our team, function, project or company even before they arrive?  How can we make part of the recruitment planning process  ‘how do we help this person feel at HOME’ even before their first day?


Start Before they Start

Building a relationship before an employee arrives could make the difference between someone turning up ‘head down’ and nervous to engage, vs. ‘head up’ ready to say hello to people they already know the names and faces of. This is often one of the most overlooked stages in employee engagement.


Don’t waste time, get in touch by e mail or call – or by something more creative that reflects your culture (could be a short e mail with a video welcome from specific team members?)  Whatever you do, make this personal. Making it meaningful to your new ‘team’ member will increase their confidence of fitting on from day 1. Here’s an image of my pre-boarding box from Leading Edge received before I arrived (my daughter is still crafting with the green stringy tissue paper)….


The first 30 Days

Helping new joiners feel at HOME, and that they belong, and have a purpose is key, so make sure you integrate the following within your onboarding programme.

HHuman Resources: whilst this can be process and policies driven it is important for all things compliance to be covered. Please don’t chain new employees to a desk and ask them not to move until the have read the ‘rules and regs’ (and signed on the dotted line). Find more innovative ways to engage them in this info and drip feed it as and when needed. Perhaps create games that can be played with existing team members around ‘what not to do’ and ‘how can we break the rules’ – the anarchist version (its amazing how quickly people engage when asked to break the rules).


OOrganisation Role: clarity and expectations is key here, taking what the job description says off the page and into the pragmatics of what this really means (and what this job looks like day to day, week to week and the seasonal variations). Let your new employee explore the ‘way things are done now’ and actively ask them to look at how they can bring their innovation and creativity to the role. This is why you hired them and could lead to a ‘this is how we will do things going forward’ – risk reducing and efficiency finding.


MMeet the Team: the cultural piece, make efforts to shift from ‘this is how we do things’ to ‘how can we do things together’. Balance the sharing of existing cultural norms, how these have come about, if these are fixed or evolving. The ‘formal’ and perhaps more important ‘social’ roles people play should be expressed. But lets not go around labelling people, lets create social opportunities for your new employees to ‘get to know’ their team in and out of work. This could be through real time problems solving in work and post work down time events.


EEmotionally Connect: here we are talking about ‘stickiness’. It is the bond/connection your new person makes with you as a leader, the organisational goal (purpose) and the team. Work to understand your new team member, help them find connections between their purpose and that of the organisations. Doing this together with build a bond from which you can work. Equally encourage formal and informal buddying, as it is in this space that the ‘tribal wisdom’ will be shared. The stuff that isn’t written down but is passed down between generations.


Taking advice from the sporting world

Dan Cottrell a practising RFU Level 3 Head Coach of Swansea Schools U15 and previously Assistant Coach on the Wales Women’s Team for the 2010 World Cup shares some thoughts on what this looks like in a team game:


1. Get to know your players – players care about what to know when they know you care about them. This means getting to know players (people) beyond the role they will play.
2. Make use of senior players – Ask them for guidance on integration approaches and techniques for new players. Pair these experienced player with the new team members to help them pick up the values and behaviours expected of and by the squad.
3. Avoid Cliques – connect players beyond the natural camaraderie that develops out of the game, vary who players work with (or in a business context undertake projects with)
4. Team meeting – spend time before and after training/games having team meetings (like a pre-briefing and debriefing of project in a business context). Use small groups to build confidence into larger group sharing. Have 1-2-1’s with new players before these meetings to give them time to prepare or understand what is expected.
5. Roles and Responsibilities – ensure be players understand their role (and their role within the team). Maintain clear and open communications for purpose of clarity (do you both have the same thing on your list of duties?)


“The integration of new team members into an established side is, therefore a critical issue”


Original article: https://www.rugbycoachweekly.net/rugby-coaching/team-management/help-new-players-settle-in/

Don’t forget me

Make time for informal chats, walk and talk or coffee conversations which balance social and formal conversation to support your new joiner. The following areas can help frame your conversations:


  • Organisational Identity – explore the employees connection to the organisational purpose and its impact on them (who they are)
  • Team Identify – explore the employees connection to the team, their place within it and its impact on the dynamics (as well as productivity)
  • Personal Identity – explore how the employees see themselves and the impact of others/the organisation on them (their evolution of self)


In these conversations celebrate the gains (which may be learning over output) as well as their plans for the future.  Don’t assume your onboarding job is done after a set period of time, have regular check-ins without too much prescription.   Welcome their outside-in perspective, and fresh eyes, encourage an enquiring mind, and enjoy the challenge and enhancement to the team and organisation that integration brings.



by Kurt Lindley