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How to get onboarding right: 5 common mistakes to avoid

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For new employees, the first few days and weeks on the job are crucial. So much of their future job performance can be determined by how well they’re set up for success during the onboarding process. Ideally, by the end of this onboarding period, a new hire will feel like they’ve been welcomed, trained, and integrated into the culture of the company. The enthusiasm they bring into the workplace should have been nurtured so that their fresh perspective and ideas can begin to propel the company forward.

However, important training and onboarding responsibilities occasionally fall through the cracks. HR managers and team leaders sometimes miss the mark, dulling their new employees’ shine instead of polishing it. New hires need support and guidance throughout the first few months on the job; when they’re only given cursory instruction before being left to figure everything out alone, the results are bound to be underwhelming.

If your company wants to get onboarding right, here are a few common mistakes to avoid:

Waiting until the first day to start building relationships

Every interaction any person has with your company gives them a taste of your corporate culture. From the moment your new hire saw the job posting, they got a taste of what it might be like to join your team. The application, interview, and hiring processes should have helped add color to the picture. If your company’s culture, values, and expectations have been communicated effectively through these early conversations, your new hire’s first day should feel like the continuation of existing relationships.

Consider putting some serious thought into how your company presents itself in these first few touchpoints, and make necessary changes so that new hires walk into the office confident in their ability to contribute and fit in from the start. This approach has the added benefit of taking the pressure off the new hire and managers on the first day of work; instead of an abrupt crash into a role, your new employees will be able to ease into their position smoothly.

Spending the whole first day on paperwork

Many companies devote most or all of an employee’s first day on the job to getting paperwork filled out. Not only is this bad for your company’s productivity, it can be a real bummer for the new hire. Instead of getting to spend their first day getting acquainted with their colleagues and settling in, they’re stuck in a corner repeatedly writing their name and address on different documents.

While this information does need to be collected and assembled, there’s no reason to waste reams of paper and hours of productivity getting it done. Most of these tasks can be automated and handled prior to the first day. With an all-in-one HCM system, HR managers can give new employees access to a portal where they can finish filling out all the necessary documents before they even start the job, freeing up valuable time and creating a more engaging first day.

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Not spelling out all the details

Nothing makes someone feel more out of place than having to figure out simple things like where to park, how to get into the building, where they can store their lunch, or any of the other dozens of quotidian considerations that most of us put on auto-pilot after the first few weeks on the job. While it may feel silly to write out things that seem like common sense to you, remember you had a first day too. Giving ample details and setting expectations up front can help your new hire settle in quicker.

Here are a few things to address before a new hire’s first day:

  • What they should bring on the first day (remind them to bring two forms of ID so you can verify the documents they’ve already filled out)
  • Where they should park
  • What time most people eat lunch
  • Whether most people bring lunch from home or go out to eat with colleagues
  • Who will greet them at the door (and at what time) on their first day
  • Where they can find the restrooms, copy machines, office supplies, etc.
  • Who they should ask any questions that come up

Not getting and giving feedback

While it may feel awkward to give performance feedback to someone who is just getting their bearings, it’s important for the first few days and weeks on the job to be a time where new employees learn the lay of the land. By the end of their first month, they should have a clear idea of which of their job tasks they will be evaluated on, and what constitutes a job well done. Let them know what kinds of feedback to expect on formal performance evaluations by giving them lots of informal mini-reviews in the first few weeks. It’s easier to build good habits in the early days than to try to course-correct after several months or years of performing job tasks incorrectly.

Likewise, it’s a good idea to check in with your new hires about their perception of the onboarding experience so you can make any necessary improvements. Whether you’re in a growing company, your turnover rates are higher than you’d prefer (or some combination of the two), hiring and onboarding new employees will continue to be an element of your job. Optimizing and streamlining your processes so employees can feel integrated and productive as soon as possible helps build loyalty and engagement.

Going it alone

Between managing compliance tasks, handling routine employee issues, and creating a strong company culture, HR managers have a lot on their plates already. Accepting responsibility for the total onboarding process is unrealistic. Instead, HR and company leaders should work together to strategize about what can be done to create a smoother, more productive onboarding process for new hires. Examine your existing practices to see if any of these mistakes show up in your company, and create a game plan to move away from them so that new employees can start adding value from day one.