What happens when you don’t take care of something? It gets dusty. It develops an odor. It rusts. It rots. It dies. For example, a new car: it sure looks awesome driving off the lot, but it doesn’t stay that way. You have to wash it, change its oil, and bring it in for maintenance to keep it running smoothly. You may also need to clear out the garage so there’s room for your new ride or pack differently for vacation. How about a refrigerator? Plant life is another good illustration. Even the most robust of greenery needs occasional watering and proper exposure to sunlight to survive.
Whether we’re talking shiny new cars, factory-sealed refrigerators, or flourishing plant life, all require care and attention after the initial purchase.
It’s no different with new hires in your organization, both young and seasoned professionals alike.
The recruitment and talent acquisition team has invested a lot of time, energy, and expense to vet job applicants through the hiring process and deliver to you a capable individual likely to fit in with your organization. But the work has really just begun because what you do to keep new hires engaged, productive, and satisfied matters.
Onboarding shouldn’t be a one-and-done activity; rather, it’s ongoing and onward. It includes ensuring new hires are well-acquainted with documented policies, procedures, and performance metrics, but also the unwritten codes of conduct and organizational culture. It doesn’t stop there—leadership and professional development make a huge difference, too.
Read This, Sign That
Ugh. Sigh. Eye roll. That’s the general reaction I have to paperwork. It’s a necessary evil, as they say. Filling out I-9s and W-2s, reading the employee handbook, and signing a contract are all good things in their own right. But very, very, very boring. (Unless you’re my husband, a lawyer by profession, who actually takes pleasure in dissecting the rules, regulations, and contracts in various situations). It doesn’t have to be that way, though!
Think of a new hire’s initial days on the job like a first impression—those days set the tone for the work environment, organizational culture, and your work group in particular. Remember your first day of elementary school? There were icebreakers so you could get to know your classmates; fun songs and games that secretly taught you useful knowledge or skills; and quiet time where you could read a story, color, or nap. While HR paperwork and employee guidelines are important to cover early on, you can certainly break up the monotony with other activities.
My first week at Select included meet and greets with various department leads, a team lunch at the PGH Taco Truck, and an “all about me” photo collage (that was later hung on our office’s Pear Tree wall mural…which is just as amazing as it sounds). These activities gave me time to mingle with others in the organization, learn about departments outside my own, and opened my eyes to a life-changing local lunch venue (mmm, tacos). At the same time, I also had the opportunity to recharge while getting that paperwork signed, sealed, and delivered.
Bottom Line: Mix up paperwork and reviews of the employee handbook with activities that showcase your organizational culture and help new hires break into the “insider” employee circle (trust me—your current employees will appreciate the chance to learn new hires’ names, too!).
Can I Get That in Writing?
Aside from documented policies and procedures, there are a lot of unwritten codes, behaviors, and expectations that exist in an organization—all of which shape the way people interact with each other and how they get work done. New hires are not privy to these unofficial (and unclear) rules, so it’s your job to help them fill in the gaps appropriately.
For example, our department hosts a monthly lunch-and-learn. At other organizations where I worked, these types of activities were optional and generally not worth the time. As a result, I assumed (1) the lunch-and-learn at my new job was likely not interesting and (2) I wouldn’t be missed if I skipped out. Thankfully, one of my colleagues mentioned the lunch-and-learn to me a few days in advance and debunked my errant assumptions. By showing up and listening attentively at the lunch-and-learn, I avoided a faux pas and didn’t appear to be a lazy, irresponsible millennial.
Bottom Line: Give new hires a mentor, not so much for the work tasks, but for the unwritten, unofficial, cultural aspects of the organization. At the very least, make sure their team is looking out for them (teaching them the lay of the land, so to speak).
Recipe for Success
Sometimes things go sour, even for companies with excellent hiring processes and stellar orientation programs. New employees don’t live up to the hype or they leave within the first few months. They must have been bad hires, right? Not necessarily. Think of it this way: you can go to the fanciest markets and buy the best ingredients, but if you don’t have a working kitchen or you can’t cook, then you still won’t succeed as a chef. In the same way, promising candidates are disadvantaged when the environment is unsatisfactory and the onboarding or training processes are deficient.
Reviewing exit interviews is a great place to start digging, but you’ve also got an excellent focus group right in your own backyard—existing employees! Consider asking about…
Work environment: What is unpleasant, inefficient, or burdensome to current employees? (Are there small changes you can make or perks you can offer that will make it better?)
Onboarding and initial training: What gaps do current employees see in the onboarding or training process for new hires? What do they see new hires struggle with? (How can you fill those gaps and support new hires during their first few months of employment?)
Job satisfaction: What aspects of the job are satisfying and dissatisfying to current employees? What do employees finding enjoyable or meaningful in their work? (Is there a way to emphasize the satisfying and enjoyable aspects while mitigating the unsatisfying and less enjoyable aspects—either on a group or individual level? Can you connect employees’ work to the greater mission and vision?)
At the very least, gathering this data can help your recruiting team set expectations upfront. Providing candidates with realistic information about the environment, the training process (e.g., structured, on-the-job, self-directed), and the job duties is particularly beneficial to candidates (who can self-select out during the hiring process) and new hires (who will have accurate information and no surprises on Day 1).
Bottom Line: Listen to your existing employees. Use their “lessons learned” to benefit new employees. Work isn’t all fun and games, but you can still find small ways to brighten each day.
Look to the Top
Of course, some of the answers to the questions above may indicate a bigger problem—a lack of trust in or respect for leadership. How leaders treat others in the organization, how they do their work, and what they prioritize trickles down to the rest of the organization. A leader’s values and work philosophy impact the entire team. A study by Dale Carnegie Library revealed that 80% of employees who were dissatisfied with their direct manager were disengaged. Whether it’s showing appreciation for each individual, advocating for what’s right, or finding ways to support the team’s endeavors, leadership matters. A leader who lacks those essential skills or traits is a demotivator for your employees, even causing some to leave outright. Of course, that’s not groundbreaking news to anyone; but determining whether there is a problem with your front-line supervisors, middle managers, or even senior leaders can be a tough pill to swallow.
Bottom Line: Culture is top-down. Putting the right leaders in place and then investing in their leadership development can seriously impact your organization’s ability to retain, engage, and develop employees under those leaders.
Room to Grow
Now that your new hires aren’t “new” anymore, you can think long-term. Eventually, these employees will want to increase their contributions, expand their responsibilities, solve new puzzles, and engage in new challenges. When there’s no clear path forward for them within your organization, they have no option but to look outside your organization to reach the next step. If you don’t know what your associates’ career aspirations are, then ask! Understanding their career goals allows you to plan ahead, so you can empower them in their quest to expand a skill set, master a trade, climb the ladder, or bust through the glass ceiling. Employee development and learning opportunities certainly look different depending on your industry and the level of position, but it’s important to support employees’ professional goals all the same.
Bottom Line: Figure out what employees are looking for and where they want to go professionally; then find a way to get them there!
In the end, the message is simply to Nurture. Facilitate. Foster. No fancy gadgets or “razzle dazzle” required—just people helping people, takin’ care of business.