"You might be losing employees before they even start because of this mistake..."

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Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: Employee Onboarding is a topic that’s getting a lot of attention these days by HR. What in your experience is the biggest mistake companies make when designing their onboarding process?

Stijn de Groef, CEO & Founder, Talmundo: When we think about welcoming our new hires there are some aspects of the process that happen regardless of whether your organization has a structured onboarding process or not.

Getting email setup, filling out forms, getting payroll setup – these are administrative tasks that have to get done. Then there are certain onboarding activities that companies organize to try to go above and beyond by giving their newcomers a warm welcome – company swag, team lunches… but those are more show and dazzle and their effect isn’t lasting.

Most organizations don’t realize that there are actually four fundamental aspects needed for your onboarding process to truly be successful and not just waste a lot of time and money for your company.

These building blocks are what we call the 4 Cs: Compliance, Clarification, Culture and Connection.

Compliance – Complete all paperwork and administrative tasks involved with bringing a new employee into your organization. This step covers everything from setting up direct deposit and benefits to creating logins for email and other company tools needed for the job.

Clarification – Expand the new hire’s understanding of the job. The goal for this step is to clarify performance expectations and responsibilities both for the new hire and for his or her manager and team members.

Culture – Teach employees the spoken and unspoken “rules of the game” at your organization. As they absorb your culture, they will discover ways to navigate and successfully achieve their work.

Connection – Make new hires feel like part of the family. In this step employees integrate into their new team and begin contributing to the company’s mission.

The above-mentioned examples of administrative tasks and swag speak to the first and last, Compliance and Connection, and most companies with an onboarding program do something to address those areas.

However, Clarification and Culture are the two blocks that more directly affect a new hire’s long-term likelihood for success.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: So, focusing on one of those important but often “forgotten Cs”, Clarification, tell us what it involves.

Clarification is essentially about matching expectations about the role and the company. HR is more like a marriage counselor these days, there to ensure that the relationship between company and employee is a happy and healthy one, and more specifically that an employee’s direct manager has the knowledge and tools to play a lead role in that relationship.

We’ve all heard how people leave bad bosses, not bad companies. This is 100% true in my experience.

A manager is responsible for setting responsibilities and objectives and providing feedback on how well their team members are performing against those expectations. An employee is responsible for playing an active role in defining how those objectives can be reached and developing as a professional so that they continue to bring value to the organization.

There are some essential questions at play here that both employee and manager need to be aligned on for a new hire’s role:

  • Which of my responsibilities are most critical right now to the company’s overall strategy?
  • What does being successful at my job look like?
  • What would being truly outstanding look like?
  • What should happen if I need help to be successful?
  • What happens to me if I’m not successful?

Just like in any relationship, both parties need to be clear about what they expect from each other or there will be disappointment down the road.

Open and clear communications is key.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: Role clarification is surely also about getting the employee's perception of the role too, so how can you make the onboarding process more 'pull' as well as 'push?'

Indeed, it’s a two-way relationship. That’s one of the biggest shifts that HR is facing in more recent years.

Employees spend more of their days connected to work through mobile technology and the cloud – the Monday to Friday, nine to five isn’t a reality at many companies anymore. Happy and engaged employees often create what is almost like a second family for many.

So when you’re onboarding new joiners into “your family” the expectation from them is that the company will listen to them and want their feedback as well.

Having regular and structured, even if informal, feedback mechanisms in place are important, but even more so, employees need to see their feedback being taken into account and ideas implemented for it not to become a handicap.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone:  What parts of the role (cultural, social, influencing v task-based) should be included in the role clarification parts of onboarding? Are there any parts that are more likely to slip through the net?

Making generalizations for all organizations is difficult, but if I would highlight any part that is more likely to slip through the cracks, I would say that organizations rarely address all aspects of the role in the clarification process.

Organizations generally do a good job clarifying parts of the role – what an employee’s responsibilities are, or what exceptional performance looks like, but then forget to clarify how one is expected to go about getting cross-functional buy-in for a project, let’s say.

So the organization that does a good job clarifying culture, maybe doesn’t clarify responsibility well, or leaves out what is considered appropriate social interaction, or vice versa.

Companies need to ensure they take as holistic an approach as possible to the clarification aspect of onboarding. You avoid misunderstandings when things are clear to all from the beginning.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: Should all role clarification onboarding be delivered by the line manager? What about the new joiner's colleagues to encourage collaboration from the beginning?

I don’t think that a line manager should be solely responsible for clarification because an employee’s success doesn’t rely 100% on their line manager.

The manager of course plays a key role and thus should take the lead in ensuring clarification happens, but doesn’t have to do it all his/herself. A new hire’s colleagues certainly can, and should, help the new joiner quickly learn the lay of the land.

That being said we’re talking about people here, and each individual will have his/her own style for getting things done. It’s not always a bad thing that a new employee comes in and shakes up the status quo if it benefits the team and the company.

Clarification is good, but let’s not confuse it with making all new joiners bend to the company’s will all the time.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: Do you have any insight into the types of content/comms that work well with role clarification onboarding? Do companies send mostly articles and text-based content?

The format isn’t that important as long as the content is as relevant and personal as possible.

Instead of writing out all the policies and expectations into an employee manual, or providing extensive written job descriptions, if you give your new hires examples – real life examples – of colleagues that embody what a great employee in the same role looks like, what they do, how they interact with customers and colleagues, then they are more likely to model that behavior and become a great employee themselves.

Have them shadow your best employees for a day so that they can see what being great looks like first hand!

Personal stories are always more powerful regardless of whether they are given in written, visual, interactive or in-person formats, so make sure that whatever you do, it’s about the people, not the procedures.

We’ve put together a great resource that helps explain what a great onboarding program looks like if you’d like to learn more. I invite you to download our Onboarding white paper for more great insights and tips!

About Stijn De Groef

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