January 22, 2021 – An untold number of articles and books have been written about onboarding and the importance of an executive’s first 90 days. Close to 70 percent of employees are more likely to remain with their company if they had a great onboarding experience, according to Click Boarding, an onboarding software company. And, of the new employees who went through a structured onboarding program, 58 percent were more likely to still be with the business after three years.
But in today’s COVID world, the subject of onboarding becomes even more vital, according to a new report from executive search firm Asianet Consultants. Hiring itself by way of video interviewing is difficult enough. Candidates may be reluctant to leave their jobs. And senior management may have qualms about hiring someone they have yet to meet face to face. Once a company has made its hiring decision, onboarding the candidate becomes its own challenge. New hires may not be able to visit their new office. Nor can they always meet their new colleagues – both in senior staffs who they need to work with and the staff who report to them both directly and indirectly. Spending their first weeks in the new company working from home and not knowing anyone can be tough.
A New Network
The problem, however, runs much deeper than this. “The new executive is not familiar with the organization structure, the informal networks, the company culture and above all not knowing their own team,” said Asianet. “The higher up the organization you are, the more important are culture, politics, building relationships and developing a new network.”
Onboarding new management requires a clearly defined strategy incorporating mentoring, said the report. “Mentoring needs to be a proactive and sustained activity, not just providing lists of the new colleagues and their CVs and the phone number of ‘Jack – he knows everyone,’” said the report. “Companies need to appoint dedicated mentors and the mentors need to be trained in ‘onboarding by video.’ The Jacks and the Jills can be a key part of the process.”
Before the start date, managers should try to anticipate and resolve obstacles. “Don’t make assumptions about your new staff member’s ability to work remotely,” said Asianet. “Some roles that require direct client contact or direct colleague contact just cannot be done over the phone or video. But assuming your new hire’s job (at least part of it) can be done remotely, there is a need to prepare to make it happen.”
Asianet offered the following tips for successful onboarding during these pandemic days:
Get Them Connected. Have your IT staff provide your new hire with the technology and connectivity they need and are trained as necessary. “Similar to technology requirements, see if there are any paperwork requirements (like completing payroll and benefits enrollment forms) that cannot be e-signed,” said the report. “If yes, make sure the paperwork gets to your new hire in a timely fashion. Sweat these seemingly ‘small things’ because they can make a huge difference in your new hire’s ability to access healthcare or get paid on time, as week as making them feel welcome.”
Managing C-Level Succession Virtually
As a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, meetings, interviews, workshops — even general assemblies — are being managed online via conference calls or video technologies. Globally, business leaders are navigating an unprecedented crisis. Hour-by-hour, they have been changing the way their organizations operate to cope with uncertainty, risk, restrictions and lock downs, according to a report by Spencer Stuart’s James Citrin and Michael Vad.
Confront the New Normal. Consider how much the company operations have had to change to deal with COVID-19 as well as changes to the new recruits own role since the job offer was made. “Tailor the onboarding process to the new role (even if it’s temporary),” said the Asianet report. “Make sure to communicate to the new staff member about the changed environment and need for flexibility as well as the longer-term vision for the role.”
Have a virtual welcome celebration. Onboarding is as much about making a new hire feel comfortable in their new environment as it is about teaching them the nuances of the role they were hired for, said the report. Throw them a welcome party via videoconference.
Help them build their network. Connect them to their colleagues by doing personal email introductions or setting up one-on-ones. You can also assign a buddy or mentor to check in weekly with your new hire. “Since they can’t benefit from the organic network-building that happens in shared physical spaces, anything you do to help them make connections will make a difference,” said the report.
Set up the manager-staff relationship. First, communicate schedules and availability. While this is an important part of any onboarding, it is essential now. One or both of you may need to keep odd or irregular hours, so figure out what works best for scheduling and communication, said the study. Similarly, share any organizational calendar norms.
Secondly, adjust the cadence and format of your check-ins and onboarding sessions, said Asianet. Your typical hour-long check-ins with direct reports might need to be more like two 30-minute check-ins per week. Your standard onboarding process might have included multi-hour long sessions, but that might not translate well to videoconference. So you’ll need to bite-size them and offer plenty of breaks.
Don’t forget to check on their situation. A new hire will be reluctant to tell you about their constraints with child care, for example, or take advantage of any flexibility the organization offers at this early stage.
Set out 30-day goals. “Craft goals based on how the new staff member can best contribute to the organization’s current goals,” said Asianet. “Demonstrate how the goals connect to the organization’s priorities and mission, and also how they relate to the skills that are essential for the new hire’s new normal and eventual role.”
Have the new hire ‘self-drive’ parts of the onboarding. You can lighten the load for yourself (especially with senior hires) by letting them own parts of their onboarding process, said the report. Some self-drive ideas include: reviewing your mission and vision documents, perusing recent external-facing communications, shadowing meetings and calls, and participating in debriefs or brainstorming sessions.
“Ask your new hire to keep a running list of questions or ideas that come up as they’re doing these activities and discuss them during your check-ins,” said Asianet. “Regular feedback is important. Set up a regular cadence for giving praise and developmental feedback from the outset. Model the qualities you want to see and make feedback a regular part of your check-ins.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media