Onboarding Training: Making New Employees Happy to Be There

Onboarding training

If you’re in L&D, a leader, or a subject matter expert (SME), you probably have some responsibility for the onboarding process, and you understand why successful onboarding is so critical to business success and the company’s bottom line. 

Even before the great job shift (the result of The Great Resignation), onboarding was a hot topic. Good onboarding makes new employees feel included and that they can sit at their new desks with an understanding of where they work and what the expectations are—even if they don’t yet fully know all the components of the job. Poor onboarding seems like a waste of time and leaves employees feeling like they’re still at square one, having to pester their managers for help with a role and an environment they don’t really understand.  

If you’re responsible for delivering onboarding training, here are some thoughts about how to make the most of it so that employees feel excited about their new roles and confident they made the right choice of employer. 

Make New Hires Fall in Love with Your Company 

If we think of the hiring process like online dating, onboarding is the first in-person date. Your company and the employee have matched, and on paper, everything looks good. But the employee still doesn’t know the organization or their new job that well. It’s important that onboarding communicates the organization’s values and “character” genuinely and accurately. Here’s how:  

  • Take the company’s mission and vision seriously. Onboarding should make new employees feel good about their role and the organization as a whole. They should feel that the work they will be doing contributes to the greater good. Make sure that you deliver this big-picture information clearly and with specific examples or stories.  
  • Model effective employee behaviors in everything you do. From materials like slide decks and job aids to how you physically show up, you set the standard for the company and model what “good” looks like.  
  • Project genuine energy and enthusiasm. New employees want onboarding to match their level of excitement. If you’re blasé about your job, they’ll feel deflated and uncertain about the company they’ve just joined. That said, over-the-top cheerleading will feel forced and uncomfortable. So be enthusiastic, but keep it within your natural comfort zone and the company’s cultural norms.  

Don’t Waste Anyone’s Time 

Of course, both new employees and their managers want everyone to hit the ground running. Both want early successes to reassure them that they made the right choice. When you model efficiency, focus, and substance, you show that the company takes itself seriously and respects employees’ time and effort. Here’s how to do that. 

  • Tailor your content to your learners. Think about who’s going to be in the room with you. Are they from all over the company and doing different jobs, or are they all from a single department with specific tasks and jargon? Are they highly specialized experts or new to the workforce? Will they be in a corner office, a cubicle, or on the factory floor? The answers to these questions will make a big difference in everything, including what you talk about, how much detail you go into, and the stories you tell.  
  • Rethink activities that don’t feed forward momentum. By tailoring your content and really analyzing your audience, you will deliver onboarding training that makes the most of each minute. Get-to-know-you ice-breakers often feel like a waste of time, especially if the people in the room will never work with each other again. If people in the onboarding will be on the same team, these activities can make them feel like they’re revealing too much about themselves before they’re comfortable. Instead, think about including activities that actually advance the process. For example, asking people to share the thing they’re most excited about in their new job or what their most pressing question is starts the onboarding conversation and lets you know as a trainer what else you might need to cover. 

Emphasize the Why Behind Every How 

Too often, onboarding is thought of as a live version of the employee handbook with rules, regulations, and processes at the core of the material. If this is how your onboarding goes, you’re wasting a golden opportunity. First of all, a lot of the processes you’re detailing (the how) won’t be remembered until people actually need to use them, which may be weeks or months after the onboarding process is over. So, make sure there are clear written instructions available.  

Once new employees know how to access the information they will need, you can maximize the face-to-face opportunity you have. Do this by helping new employees grasp why your organization does things a certain way. What’s the big picture, and who or what determines how it’s shaped?  

In some industries, regulatory requirements are at the core of a lot of the how and what of people’s jobs. In other industries, the root of the why may be efficiency, meeting ethics standards, delivery on the mission, support of corporate culture and brand promise, leadership preferences, or tradition.  

If you examine your current training materials and discover that you can’t answer why a process or a rule is in place, that’s a good sign you need to reconsider what you’re teaching, dig deeper, and encourage a higher level of understanding. If you clearly establish the why, the practical details of how will become easier for people to grasp.   

A Millennial acquaintance of ours started a new job a couple of months ago, fully-remote and at the Director level. She told us about the onboarding process and about how everything was organized: big picture first, then a detailed list of expectations and dependencies with the why of each clearly laid out. The whole process covered her first ninety days, and she couldn’t be happier because she understands how her new organization works and that she’s equipped to make decisions on the company’s behalf.  

If you can give your new hires that same feeling of security, agency, and understanding through onboarding, you’ll be on track to retain the best people and allow them to truly start doing their jobs sooner and better. 

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