From ‘yes to desk’

How do you get engagement from day one? David James argues that good onboarding is crucial

“You get one chance to do onboarding right, so pull out all the stops to make it a transformative experience for the employee… Do this well, and talent retention may just be less of a challenge.” Meghan M Biro, founder and CEO of Talent Culture

Why go beyond a standard induction?

If you want a highly engaged, loyal workforce, employee onboarding is something that you need to be making a priority. [pullquote]Onboarding is your big opportunity to connect your new employees with their new company[/pullquote]. And yet a recent report in Forbes stated that only 42 per cent of employees even know their organisation’s vision, mission and values, which is surely contributing to a massive 75 per cent of employees who claim they are not fully engaged with what the organisation is trying to achieve!

Add to this the growing propensity for job-hopping and getting employee buy-in from day one becomes crucial to building long-lasting engagement and achieving high retention rates (two hard-to-come-by assets in today’s economy).

Onboarding vs induction

Onboarding is a more all-encompassing version of an induction. Inductions tend to begin on day one, last around a week or so and are very process and policy focused. Onboarding, however, has bigger goals. It begins much earlier, from the moment a candidate says ‘yes, I’ll take the job’, and takes in everything from company culture and values, to requirements and expectations of the role, to the necessary evil of compliance training, to where the coffee’s kept. 

A successful onboarding programme should be able to acclimate, accommodate and accelerate your new employee in their role, and make them feel part of the team before they’ve even set foot in the office.

Expectations have changed

Businesses pour millions into creating responsive customer service procedures and tailored, personalised communications for their consumers. With advances in technology making all of this possible, a high level of personalised engagement has become the new norm and consumers now accept nothing less.

Employee expectations have similarly changed, as they become “savvy consumers of their organisations’ brands, culture and employee programmes”. They are more educated, mobile, and technologically enabled than ever and are looking for progressive organisations that will treat them as an individual.

Sadly, few organisations have an innovative employee onboarding programme that rises to meet these expectations. As a consequence, they are setting themselves up for low engagement and high turnover rates further down the line.

How to turn onboarding into a transformative experience

Often the typical response to hiring someone new goes something like this:

  • After interviewing all those candidates over several weeks, after whittling them down to a final few, after losing one of the outstanding candidates along the way and much deliberation… You’ve chosen your candidate, offered them the role and they said ‘YES!’
  • You advise HR to get the paper contract sorted and then ignore the candidate for 4-12 weeks while they work through their notice period
  • Day one arrives, you collect them from reception and show them to their desk. You give them a tour of the building and introduce them to EVERYBODY (relevant or not)
  • You send them off to HR to endure an induction event and supplement that with a thud (the sound of the company policies and procedures manual hitting their desk). That thud still happens in their head if they’re guided towards your policies on a SharePoint site.
  • Make sure they are all set up on the company’s computer systems and show them how to access the dreaded online compliance training (best to do this before they get overloaded with emails)
  • And then you let them get settled in without too much more interference – best not to overwhelm them.

It’s a common story – but not exactly inspiring is it?

There is a better way

The smart thing to do once you’ve hired someone is to keep them excited. Or better still, get them more excited. It’s in the period I’ve heard called: from ‘yes’ to desk, that you have the opportunity to tap into their excitement and equip them to have informed conversations with their friends and family about their exciting new role and their exciting new company. Oh, and while they’re preparing to tell those close to them, they’re beginning to prepare for their first day too.

Those few weeks, as your new hire eases themselves from their old life towards a bright new horizon, are the perfect time to feed them some engaging information on all the exciting things they’ve got in store, all the talented new colleagues they’ll be working with and to reassure them they’ve made the right choice in joining
your organisation.

Communication is key

Imagine you had just been hired to a new company and they asked you to download a mobile app to which you’ll receive notifications of updates, including a welcome video from your future CEO and some background on the company you’re joining – who they are, what their values are and the culture there.

Imagine receiving a video message from your new team, introducing themselves and what they’re working on, as well as an invitation to the next team night out.

Then you receive a tailored message from your new manager on what your first week will look like and what support you’ll receive, a virtual tour of the building, who you need to report into on your first day, where the coffee’s kept etc.

And finally, you receive a call from your ‘buddy’ who will be helping you to settle in during your first few weeks and who’ll be there to answer all those ‘silly’ questions as they arise.

How much more confident and excited would you be stepping into the office on your first day?  Doing this will not only set them up for a great first day, but will help you to get immediate value from them during those tentative early weeks.

Their first day on the job

There is a certain amount of responsibility that sits with your new hire. Aside from the information you’ve been providing them with, your candidate should have been doing some research of their own and preparing for their first day. They should be willing to ask questions and not just suffer in silence while they try to second guess what’s required of them.

Ultimately though, it is up to the line managers to create an environment that facilitates on-the-job-learning, and makes it easy for them to ask questions.

Let’s hold off from dumping them at their desk just yet and explore what you might do differently to ensure you hold onto the excitement you’ve created before Day One and reinforce the good feeling they have about joining your team.

When your new hire starts, it’s a good idea to hold a team meeting or lunch to introduce them in person to the people they saw on the video you sent to them – and with whom they’ll be working closely. Be sure to explain the relevance of each team member’s role to your new hire’s role, so everyone fully understands how they’ll be working together. This really benefits everyone in the team.

The next step is to give them the tools that will empower them to get up and running quickly. 

This means a few things:

1. Give them a clear outline of what they’ll be doing in their first month and some soft goals and targets so they understand what’s expected of them, without overwhelming them. Some great advice on goal setting from Amy Gallo in Harvard Business Review:

“For goals to be meaningful and effective in motivating employees, they must be tied to larger organisational ambitions. Employees who don’t understand the roles they play in company success are more likely to become disengaged…No matter what level the employee is at, he should be able to articulate exactly how his efforts feed into the broader company strategy.”

2. Assign a buddy – a peer who they can turn to for help without feeling embarrassed.

One organisation, Menlo, immediately pairs new employees with current ones, to carry out design and development tasks. Every week, the pairs are switched, so by the end of three weeks the new hire has access to three mentors, and is empowered to mentor someone
new themselves.

3. Give them access to relevant training topics and make them easily accessible for when they need them most. 

Relevancy is everything when it comes to training. [pullquote]If it’s not relevant, it’s not helpful and it’s a sure fire way to get your people not to engage[/pullquote] with any future training you send out to them as well. By creating bite-sized, relevant e-learning topics that are available anywhere, anytime, your candidates can access the right learning at the right time. 

It also means there’s no thud – because there’s no generic policies and procedures manual, and therefore, there’s no wasted time in having them read things they may never need to know. No long hours spent creating such a hideous manual and no need to have your people trawl through pages and pages for information they could instead have instantly accessible at their fingertips.

With low-cost, cloud-based learning platforms, it couldn’t be easier for you (or your team) to quickly create a library of engaging bite-sized learning/information topics that support your new starter in their journey from excited new team member to valuable contributor in less time than you imagine.

Your biggest opportunity

Capitalising on the excitement that somebody has for starting a new job is a no-brainer but not doing so has become the unfortunate norm. Think of what you want to achieve and go all out to make this happen.

You want an excited, well-informed new starter to join you and an excited, even-better-informed new starter to be coming back on days two, three, and four… You want to know that you are developing an engaged and enabled team member who grows in confidence because you’ve been preparing for it for weeks before they’ve joined.

All this takes is a change of mind-set and some foundational groundwork. Get your team together to build the pre-onboarding and onboarding experience they wish they’d had and that will immediately change your organisation for the better. 

A fully referenced version of this article is available on request.


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