Human Resources News & Insights

Onboarding: First-week tactics that pave the way to success

Easing new hires into the job is important. And the best way to do that is give them real responsibilities —  and expect results — in the first week.

Ideally, after a banner first day of introductions, special events and a great lunch, the rest of the week is time to have them roll up the sleeves. Good people are usually eager to prove themselves.

Bringing in a mentor

No one should have to go it alone.

Having some sort of mentor relationship can be beneficial to new hires right out of the gate.

But there are many routes you can take for the designated contact within the department. Choosing the one that’s right will require getting to know the employee and matching him or her with someone who can fill the roll.

  • Peer mentors. Some people will be naturally comfortable working with and talking to an employee who’s around the same age and experience level. For instance, a recent college grad might be more at ease if their contact is a younger employee who had started working for your company recently as well.

Likewise, someone who has been working in the field for a while but is new to your organization might respond better by being paired with someone who is also more experienced.

  • Veteran mentors. If you feel like a new employee could use an expert to consult with and get guidance from, a veteran mentor could be a better fit. Find someone who is knowledgeable about the industry and your company, has a solid track record and is willing to spend some time giving guidance.
  • Shadows. If you don’t think an employee needs a formal mentor, a shadow may be the next best bet. Have new employees follow and observe someone while they around and help observe the new employee, as well, once he or she’s ready to start doing work solo.

Again, shadow employees should be ones who are patient, sticklers for following procedures and who have proven track records.

  • Independent mentors. Sometimes, it can be uncomfortable for new employees to be paired with someone they’ll be working closely with.

Short-term mentoring

It’s not always possible to have a mentor devote a lot of time to bringing a new employee up to speed. Many organizations have found that making the mentor-mentee relationship for a short time only is helpful.

Try this: Instead of asking an employee to take a few days to help out a new hire, ask for just two shifts to be on call for help.

It’s much more likely to get an enthusiastic response, especially if you make it clear those two shifts will be the extent of the formal relationship.

Consider having a veteran employee who isn’t necessarily on the same line or in the same department check in with the employee once a day about 15 minutes before quitting time.

This mentor can be a trusted, confidential person to talk to about any concerns a new hire might have. It’ll also boost the new employee’s confidence by giving him or her someone to ask questions to without fear of looking “dumb” or confused. It’s also a good way to get questions answered that aren’t so crucial they need to be asked immediately.

Getting started again

You’ll want to greet the new employee on their second day just like you did on the first. Then get them started on a simple assignment right off the bat.

For instance, if they’ll be working with customers, have them call up a few current customers and give them a quality survey to complete over the phone. If they’re going to be working on the floor, have them observe the goings on and answer questions about what they observed after the shift ends.

These smaller assignments will help new employees get a feel for your company and a taste of the kinds of things they’ll be doing when they’re starting in full.

Note: Your company may have specific safety, privacy or other training that needs to be completed before work is to begin. Obviously, these should be completed before work begins.

Start with the hardest parts

Some employers are reluctant to give difficult projects to newer hires. But the truth is, experience is a great teacher. Within the first few days, new employees should be trying to tackle more difficult tasks.

After the initial assignment, get them to work right away on something bigger and more complicated.

Why? For one thing, it’s why they were brought on. If you spend too long getting them up to speed with busy work or smaller assignments, you’re not getting the most out of an employee. This isn’t a summer intern.

It’s someone you’ll be trusting to propel your organization to greatness.

Besides, it’s what good employees want. Believe it or not, a big reason many people leave their jobs is that they don’t find them challenging enough. If they feel the job is going to be nothing but simple introductory tasks, workers will be unlikely to think it’s on their level of expertise.

On the other hand, compare that to telling a new worker: “We’re about to give you a big project. We know you can do it, and we’ll give you the tools and help you need to be a success.”

This puts trust in the worker, inspiring him or her to rise to a challenge.

It’s much more rewarding to hear you’re trusted than to feel as if you need to earn the right to be trusted.

Group projects or individual assignments?

There are two schools of thought on the best kinds of assignments for new employees.

  • The first is that it’s best to start them with a group project. This will help them get to know their co-workers, contribute to the team and start working on a big assignment right out of the gate.
  • The other is that individual assignments are best. These are an opportunity to see what workers can do when they’re given individual responsibilities. It’s a good way to find out what they’re capable of.

Which method is best? It depends on the worker. But both methods should be given a shot, if possible.

It’s a good way to evaluate a new hire’s strengths and weaknesses – and to find the best fit for him or her within the company.

Getting them involved

In addition to the first work assignments they’re given, this is an ideal time to get employees involved in the company’s culture.

Make sure fresh employees are educated and recruited to some of the opportunities not directly related to their jobs.

Do you have a company softball or bowling team? Does your organization support volunteering or charity opportunities? Is there a safety or party-planning committee?

These are the kinds of things that get employees to stick around. If they started shopping around for a new job or decided to leave, they wouldn’t just be leaving a company – they’d also be leaving responsibilities and fun events behind.

Even better, these little bonuses get employees to want to stay with a company.

When you’re on a committee or a team, you build bonds with co-workers that can be difficult to form just by chatting on coffee breaks or between tasks.

Some companies will make joining extracurriculars mandatory. But coercing someone into volunteering their time won’t win you much goodwill.

A better approach is to sell them on the benefits. Many new workers are naturally a little shy at first, but getting employees to sign up for a program doesn’t have to be a tough sell.

Let them know it’s not only a good way to get to know their co-workers and the company, it’s also a good opportunity to show they’re team players and take a real interest in the organization.

It never hurts to point out that if nothing else, it’s a good way to get in some face time with higher-ups.

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