Onboarding: The Meeting Between organisations and new hires

Great onboarding can create the shortest route to value. There are as many ways of doing this as there are organisations: Breakfast in the canteen followed by a few hours of presentations, two days off-site, or perhaps other seminar-like formats?

Regardless of the setup an onboarding event gives the opportunity to create a foundation for a valuable relation. And to make the most of “the great welcome” we suggest moving beyond mere orientation.

So, just like when you’re meeting new friends; organisations should properly introduce themselves. And if you’re going with the idea of an onboarding event, we would like to give you 7 suggestions to make the most of this introduction, and give new colleagues a head start – just like we did with Universal Robots. 

First – three quick reasons why

First and foremost, onboarding events are an unique opportunity to introduce the organisation and shape people’s perception of their new workplace – First impressions matter.

Secondly, people need to get a network. That’s what will spare them from solo-lunching in the canteen and help them search for cross functional input to solve complex problems later on.

Third, there’s an energy and openness to starting a new job and you can leverage that. "People are very excited and quite vulnerable when they take new jobs, so it’s a time in which you can have a big impact" (Michael Watkins, The first 90 Days). So, tap into their state of mind before the window closes.

1. Design an Experience, Not a Presentation

As soon as you start planning such an event, politics start sneaking up on you. There are many messages to get across about “who we are” and many stakeholders eager to provide them. But take a step back. All good event design start with asking what you want people to experience.

What would you like our new colleagues to think, feel, and do? The challenge lies in resisting the urge to focus on "what do we wanna say?" and instead consider "What would they like to hear?". An experience fosters engagement, and a mere presentation may foster inactivity and indifference at worst. This article may serve as inspiration to help you get started.

2. Find the Red Thread

Most likely, you have (too) many subjects to cover. Ongoing projects, central types of products or services, client insights – and something from Finance. That’s easily a lot of important information. And we know information tends to stick easier if there’s a red thread to tie it all together.

Try to identify a figurative narrative to weave into your messaging. Are you for instance taking new hires on a metaphorical tour of your product life cycle, traveling the world across markets, or exploring your offerings through the eyes of your customers? Our minds cling to stories and metaphors, what are your orgazation's?

3. Walk the Talk

The best way of showing new colleagues who you are is by, well, showing them. Do you present as a playful and bold organisation? Then four hours of passive listening may not be the way to go. You know the kind of person that greet new people by recounting their life story without giving space to anyone else? Don’t be that person. 

At an onboarding event, you can meet expectations better, if your activities align with the promise you have made new hires up until this point. For this reason, the story about who you are should not be stale clichés buried in PowerPoint, they should come across in your actions and activities. For instance, you might introduce your organisation’s values by having people actively engage with them.

4. make the serious fun (and the fun serious)

If you’re still reading this, you’ve probably tried a "fun team building exercise" more than once. And while some are more successful than others, a lot of these exercises tend to be just fun. But there is no need to build a spaghetti tower if you can build a representation of your supply chain process or experience the playfulness of R&D in a workshop. It is possible to design activities that embody your organisation's central messages – in a format that is fun and enjoyable too.

5. think of your recipients

We know you know: One need to be recipient oriented. Talking about who we are as an organisation can easily be expressed as; aspirations (we are an agile organisation), elaborate strategies (these are our 37 must win battles) or very long origin stories (it all started in 1954). And while this is tempting; your new colleagues probably just want to hear the basics.

Again, think of it as meeting a new friend. What do new hires need to know to start a relation with your company? What would their questions be? At the first introduction, you want the basic stuff. You might even want to ask people relatively new to the organisation to provide some feedback on what they found relevant.

With that, however, comes another challenge:

6. avoid the curse of knowledge

We all suffer from the cognitive bias known as the curse of knowledge. We don’t know what we know. As a result, we assume that others follow our lingo and train of thought. Because once you are in, it’s difficult to look at your organisation from the outside.

But try anyway. Ask yourself: What does one need to know for this to make sense? Which assumptions are required for this to be understood? Don’t be afraid to tell people something they already know – that will just serve as an affirmation. And don’t be afraid to repeat messages they may have heard or read before.

7. Involve top management

It may be an area manager or a VP. Nothing says appreciation like a top manager taking the time to welcome new colleagues. It’s kind of like greeting the host(s) of the party. VPs or CEOs (depending on the size of the company) may struggle to find the time, but knowing how crucial their presence is for new hires to buy-in to your organisation, we suggest leaders not only make an appearance but get involved.

And that’s really the bottom line. Involvement is a crucial part of giving new employees a head start. Because a proper introduction is part of creating a sense of purpose and belonging – and a proper introduction goes both ways.

"If you want to improve your talent retention, you need to improve your employees’ onboarding experience. Gallup reports that only 12% of employees feel their company does a good job onboarding new team members, leaving 88% of workers with lackluster onboarding experiences" (Sibsi & Kappers, hbr.org, 2022).

A great onboarding event can be the fundation for long lasting relations. And isn’t that what we all dream of?