Onboarding new employees is one of the most crucial, but overlooked, aspects of building a great team and great culture. It’s crucial because the first few days of new team members’ tenure determine how included they feel and how much they internalize the mission and culture of the team. Because of this, researchers like Keith Rollag at Babson College found that how you onboard employees has a dramatic effect on their productivity, engagement, and even their tenure.
But it’s also overlooked because of the emphasis on using that same time to make sure every legality and regulation is taken care of. That’s understandable. There is a lot of paperwork to handle. Amid all those policies and procedures, it can be difficult to remember to add culture and collaboration.
But the more we prioritize connection over documentation, the more successful our onboarding effects, and our people, become. In this article, we’ll cover four ways to do just that—four ways to truly welcome a new employee to the team.
Start Before Start Day
The first way to welcome a new employee to the team is to start before the start day. In other words, make sure that new employees know multiple people through multiple touch points before they even begin working for the team. One way is through phone calls, emails, or text messages welcoming them and saying how excited current team members are to have them on board. But it can also be more immersive like inviting them to share a meal with their future team or even have them on campus for a few visits beforehand.
While there may be a few legal reasons why this can’t be done, in most cases, starting before the start day ensures that team members know most of the team before they start—which avoids awkward “first day of school” feelings. But more importantly, it reinforces just how important new team members are. They’re so important that getting to know them can’t wait.
Expose Them To Culture
The second way to welcome a new employee to the team is to expose them to culture. They’ll have plenty of opportunities to be exposed to training manuals and corporate policies—but exposure to company culture matters more and it takes more deliberate action. Every organization has a culture, and artifacts and rituals that hint at that culture. Every company has a list of acronyms and history of past shared experiences that new employees don’t usual get to see at first.
But exposing them early and often to those elements is what makes the difference between feeling like a “newbie” and feeling like a real teammate. It may even be worth creating new employee rituals, like meeting them at the door with a round of applause, that becomes an experience everyone in the company eventually shares—and a better shared experience than having a company manual slammed on their desk on the first day.
Find Uncommon Commonalities
The third way to welcome a new employee to the team is to create opportunities that help them find uncommon commonalities with their teammates. Uncommon commonalities are those elements of someone’s personality that they have in common with some members of a group but not all. This could be biographical commonalities like where they grew up or attended universities, or it could be preferential commonalities like favorite sports or hobbies. These uncommon commonalities are found through self-disclosure opportunities like icebreakers before meetings, shared meals, or watercooler chats.
It’s not important that teammates find something in common with every teammate, but it is important they find a few commonalities with a few people. Research from Jessica Methot at Rutgers University suggests that uncommon commonalities become the beginnings of bonds and bonds become the beginnings of friendships—and those friendships can increase employees’ engagement, productivity, and even tenure with the team and company.
Add A Small Win
And the final way to welcome a new employee to the team is to add a small win. Exposing new members to culture and getting them well-versed in the policies and procedures is important, but so is making sure new employees feel like they’re actually making a contribution. That can happen by thinking about their task list for the day and making sure there’s a few opportunities for that contribution. But it can also happen in small ways, like inviting them into a team meeting and giving them a chance to speak up and offer an opinion.
Research from Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School suggests that progress on the job is a powerful human motivator, and yet many employees’ first day of work involves making zero progress on the job—or even really knowing what their job is. Adding a small win changes that and ensures that everyone knows they are making a contribution—and hence progress—from day one.
It’s important to note that onboarding is an on-going process. So, while these actions are vital to take on day one, there will be more work to do. It takes time to get someone comfortable with culture or to build friendships with the team. It takes time to feel significant progress even as small wins accumulate. But starting these actions on day one will help ensure new employees feel like valuable members of the team—a team that helps them do their best work ever.
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