Workplace engagement is a hot topic in today’s small-business circles. Nearly everyone is strapped for time, so is it really possible for entrepreneurs to ensure new employees feel invested in an organization right off the bat?
The answer is yes. I talked with Mark Stein and Lilith Christiansen, co-authors of Successful Onboarding: Strategies to Unlock Hidden Value Within Your Organization and got their tips for the best ways to onboard new employees.
Start early. Engagement starts the minute the offer letter is signed. Christiansen recommends initiating frequent communication with the new hire, regardless of the gap in time between offer and start date. Provide paperwork in advance. If she is relocating, offer referrals for real estate agents and information on regional schools.
“Then send a welcome letter from you or a department peer to the new hire,” she says. “This helps set up a relationship before a person even starts.”
Talk about culture. It can be tempting to teach a new hire about your culture the minute she steps in the door. Stein guards against this and suggests first asking about the culture at her previous company.
“If you understand where they came from, you will have a much easier time being in tune with what may be peculiar to them about your culture,” he says.
Once you have a better sense of her previous employer's environment, Christiansen advises talking about the unwritten rules of your organization (i.e., expected work hours, dress code, lunch breaks, etc.).
From there, try sharing stories about best-case scenarios in your company’s culture. “Talk about what the real culture is like and then what the aspirational culture looks like,” she says. “New hires should understand what the organization is striving to become.”
Make networking easy. Peer-to-peer lunches are always a good idea when a new hire comes on board, as are weekly check-ins with management. Christiansen also recommends putting together a stakeholder map of everyone within the organization.
“When you give them the map, have a frank discussion about who are the critical decision makers in different scenarios,” she says. “Also, stress how each role affects that of another.”
Share your strategy. When an employee judges his or her new employer harshly, it is usually because they don’t have an understanding of the reasoning (or strategy) behind each decision, says Stein.
“Entrepreneurs sometimes like to keep things close to the chest, but this can cause problems when a new hire simply isn’t educated in the ways of the business,” he says. “Being open and honest will contribute to an increased level of engagement.”
Create a career plan. The more invested you are in the growth of your team the more engaged the staff will be. Sit down with your new hire early on to develop a career plan and revisit the plan several times during his or her first year, recommends Christiansen.
She says, “Share stories of new hires that have had success and are growing with the organization. These stories can provide an aspirational vision of what a future at your company might look like.”