How to turn around a disastrous onboarding process

I often speak to managers that are trying their hardest to make the onboarding process smooth and efficient for new starters on their team. They’re met with frustration when their efforts are thwarted for reasons outside their control. E.g. senior management, IT, or other teams haven’t set-up the required tools/systems for the new starter’s first day on time. So even if things don’t go to plan, how do you create a positive start for new joiners, rather than a first week that feels substandard? 

First up, here and now, you should create a meaningful first few days that don’t rely on a laptop or a log-in, until the new starter is properly set up. Some easy things you can do, and/or delegate to your team members, include giving a tour of the office; arranging one-to-ones with their new colleagues; give them time to set up their workspace; take them out for lunch. Perhaps you are already doing some of this, but consider adding in anything that you’re not doing.

Create a list of laptop free tasks

The one area which you should really explore is creating a standard list of useful tasks that a new joiner can do for you. They should be things that can comfortably be done on their phone, or on paper, or by walking around and talking to people.

Some possibilities are: gathering suggestions for the next office social; researching competitors, customers or related industries; sharing ten learnings from their previous role that might really help this team (particularly if they’ve come from a similar function or company); or running a critical eye over document formats or content that you regularly give to clients or other departments. These recommendations require minimal tech involvement, instantly add value, and either help them to build their network or channel the knowledge that they are bringing in from outside. 

Manage expectations

My next action would be to manage the new joiner’s expectations. Before they start, be transparent about the fact the induction process is often slightly bumpy. Be clear that it happens in all teams and at all levels, and is no reflection on them (or the company’s overall culture). You can then talk them through the aspects of onboarding that don’t rely on the delayed technical elements.

Find the source of the problem

The bigger task you have is working out where the problem is originating from, and who is therefore best placed to solve it. Follow the trail back to where things are going wrong, and you’ll like find the human(s) in charge of the error. Explain the problem to them using data to show it’s losing the company time, money and goodwill. Do this with a side of charisma and appreciation: an attempt to influence is always better when it combines a data-driven approach with a softer influence attempt, such as being nice. 

Hopefully this three-parted approach: an ad hoc induction, managing expectations and finding and then tackling the root cause of the problem will pay off with improvements for your new joiner and the company‌. 

Here are three useful resources:

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