September 4, 2018

9 critical steps for onboarding key employees

Shaking up teams with a new hire can be stressful

Those of you who run seriously technical teams with a lot of high-stakes procedures and processes that must be performed correctly and efficiently know this all too well.  There’s little room for error.

[bctt tweet=”High-stakes employees who serve critical functions can make or break teams.  Bringing them into the workplace successfully is an important management skill.  Leaders need to ensure this is happening for all key hires.” username=”MettaSolutions”]

How do you bring on a new person and position them — and your team — for success?  It starts at the beginning of the hiring process.  Build these these nine components into your onboarding process and watch your new hires thrive.

  1. The Job Description:  The secret to setting up key employees for success begins with the hiring process, and that means starting with a detailed, specific and realistic job description.  What are the tasks this person must be able to perform?  What are the metrics for success?  Who will they work with and to whom will they report and be accountable?
  2. Initial Screen of Applicants:  Your initial applicant screen must capture people who can actually do the job and weed out those who can’t.  Do they have the training and aptitude for the position?  Have they held similar roles before?  Do they have a steady and uninterrupted track record of employment?  Does that employment history demonstrate that they are ready for the position you have available?
  3. Screen for Fit – Selection for Interview Process:  Once you have completed the initial screen, you should be left with people who, at least on paper, are qualified and technically capable of doing the job.  As you select people to interview, you will be screening interviewees based on their interactions with your team.  Look at work ethic, learning style, understanding of rules and authority as they apply in your team.  Is it a good match?  Do candidates interact with your staff well during the interview process, from scheduling through follow-up?  What “gut reaction” does your existing team have to each candidate?  And please note, it is critical during this process to check yourself and your team members for implicit or unconscious biases that may crop up, because they can create the appearance of a “bad fit” when something else is going on.  If your team has not had training on this issue, consider reaching out to a reputable trainer or  your human resources department.
  4. Orientation to Logistics: Once you have made your hire, most onboarding processes begin with an orientation to the logistics of employment in your setting.  This includes the proverbial “learning where the bathrooms are” all the way through credentialing, security and identity management, parking and access to electronic resources.  This step may take several days to several weeks, depending upon the layers of access and security to be addressed.
  5. Orientation to Context:  This is the point where you help the individual learn the context of the job, other members of the team, and the key relationships.  Every individual needs to understand how to “manage up” to those above them in the reporting chain.  But managing in other directions is important as well, as this article by McKinsey and Company shows.  Making sure new employees understand how you believe they should treat their co-workers, peers, staff and leadership will go a long way toward helping them succeed in key work relationships.
  6. Protocol and Checklist Training:  This is the technical part of the onboarding, and it should be driven by the job description created for the position.  Checklists, protocols, and standardized workflow expectations should be delineated clearly.  Oversight, with constructive feedback and an opportunity to practice protocols in a low-stakes environment, offers people a chance to ask questions, test their capabilities, and learn how to complete any tasks that are new to them.  This is often a hands-on period until all parties are certain that the individual knows and is capable of performing her or his duties.
  7. Graduated independence:  It is at this stage that people begin to feel that they can complete their work with less oversight, though it is still important to provide a safe mechanism for asking questions and checking work periodically.  For someone who already has the technical skills required for the job, or the attitudes and aptitude for the work, this may not take long.  Periodic check-ins with the supervisor helps reassure both the new employee and the supervisor that things are going well.
  8. Functional independence:  By this point, the employee may no longer be new to the organization.  At this stage, less (and possibly little to no) direct oversight of work is needed, and the employee is regularly successful at tasks, managing relationships and demonstrating good judgment.  The timetable to functional independence varies based on the role, the individual and the supervisor.  But it’s not the last step!
  9. Growth and Learning:  High-functioning and high-potential employees will, after a period of demonstrated functional independence, begin to ask for “stretch tasks,” or for new roles that allow them to grow new skills, develop new relationships and generally further their careers.  This is the time to understand how they want to grow, then look for opportunities to help them do so.

There is no one right way to bring all employees into an organization successfully, but this nine-step process is generally applicable to many situations.  Giving credit where it is due, I’d like to thank Jason Oliver, PhD, for helping develop and delineate this process.  Most of the ideas here originated from him in a conversation on this topic, and it is with his permission that I compiled them into this post.

What tips do you have for onboarding new employees?

Please share what’s worked for you, as well as what hasn’t, in the comments.  We’re all still learning and growing here!

Last updated September 4, 2018