By John Borrowman, CPC
Borrowman Baker, LLC, BV Staffing + Consulting
Gallatin, TN

Thank goodness that’s over!  You’ve sweated your way through finding the right employee and getting the starting salary negotiated.  Now you can turn your full attention back to those other items on your “to-do” list.

Not if you want to risk the loss of all you’ve invested so far.

Put yourself in the shoes of your new-hire, just getting started at your practice.  You’re most likely taking an entirely different route to work and most certainly arriving at an entirely different office.  (Multiply this impact exponentially if the new-hire has relocated to a new city.)  You’re adjusting to new faces, new procedures, new everything.  Tiny glitches can seem like big problems, and the pull of the familiar can engender “buyer’s remorse”.

At the same time, your existing employees are asking themselves: Who is this new person?  Will they be successful?  How does their arrival impact me and my job?

Smart practices can incorporate “onboarding” as a way to navigate potentially rough water.

Onboarding is a relatively new concept in the world of human resources.  For its success, it relies on paying attention to the simplest of human emotions: the desire to be welcomed and appreciated.

Think for a minute about your own new employee orientation process.  Does it typically consist of a short walk around tour with brief introductions, followed by a sit-down with the personnel department to review company policies, procedures and benefits?  If so, you may be missing one of your best opportunities for culture building.

Effective onboarding can be divided into two phases, the first beginning immediately after the candidate accepts your offer.  Here are some steps to consider building into your process:

Send a welcome package that opens with a warm, personal letter from the top person in your practice/firm.  Include copies of all the employee policies and benefits, along with all the forms (e.g., W-4) necessary to trigger payroll and benefit enrollment.  The more of this paperwork you can get done ahead of start date, the easier it will be on your new-hire and your own admin staff.

Make office announcements about your new-hire’s start date.  Include the new-hire’s email address and/or phone number, and encourage your employees to make their own “welcome” calls.

Make an industry announcement in local papers, or through industry publications.  (Taking this step immediately also reduces the potential for losing the employee to a counteroffer from the employer whom they are leaving.)

Allocate and prepare your new-hire’s work area.  Clean out leftovers from previous occupants.  Provide a fresh supply of pens, pencils, notepads, etc.  An inexpensive personal gift (e.g., a gift card to a local restaurant, or bookstore) will go a long way.  In other words, make the space appear as though you were looking forward to having the employee there.

Handle, in advance, all technological support elements.  Create your new-hire’s email account.  Set up a voicemail account.  If you provide a laptop and/or PDA, be sure to load and configure them so both are ready to go on start date.

Finally – and this is the big one – order business cards and have them to give to your new-hire on the first day.  Few things say “commitment” to a new employee like newly minted business cards.

Phase two of your onboarding effort continues on the start day, itself.

Arrange for the top person in your practice/firm to deliver a brief welcome/orientation speech to your new-hire.  In very large firms, this might be a pre-recorded welcome, or something delivered via “webinar”.  The ideal, of course, is in person or, barring that, over the phone.

Arrange to shoot photos for any security badges and provide the badge by the end of the day.

Assign a fellow employee as a “guide”, someone to answer questions.  This may, or may not, be the same as the person who eventually becomes a mentor to the employee.  Regardless, it is important for your new-hire to have someone to turn to for the inevitable questions about information that your existing employees probably take for granted.

Schedule a “culture lunch” to include the new-hire’s direct supervisor and as many supervisors up the chain of command as can be available.  Include as many peers as is reasonable.  Use this lunch to communicate the culture of the practice and talk about goals and strategies for the practice.  Also, allow for a little “get acquainted” time that may not happen in the workplace, itself.

Make it a practice to do a one-month, followed by a two-month, review.  These need not involve money.  New-hires don’t expect that.  They will perform better, however, if they get immediate feedback on how they’re doing and what corrections they may need to put in.

You can structure your onboarding process with something as simple as a checklist of activities.  Or, if you’re part of a large practice with frequent new-hires, you can avail yourself of any number of software options that provide a more detailed approach.  (Try an internet search on “onboarding software”.)

Whatever time and money you spend should be viewed as an investment.  Your dividends will show up in higher new employee job satisfaction, accelerated time to high productivity and increased employee retention rates.

John Borrowman