Just about every candidate, recruiter, team leader, and employee we talk to agrees that the onboarding process is a crucial time for any new members of the team.  It might seem straightforward to put together a plan for the first week or two, then have a check-in after 30 days, but effective onboarding plans take real work, require commitment on the part of new employees and their team leaders alike, and may extend across a period of several months.

To that end, we’re offering up two sets of guidance in this blog post: one for the person who is being onboarded, and the other for the individual(s) who are responsible for the onboarding.  While shared goals around orientation toward organizational process and culture apply to both groups, there are some distinct differences and things to keep in mind for each.

Tips for the New Employee

Hello! We’re going to speak to you, new employee, directly in this section.  See, we know how challenging it can be to step into a situation where it feels like everybody else knows what they’re doing and…you don’t.  There are also those times where a new job gets off to a slow start, and all you want to do is jump in and be useful right away, but you’re not sure how.  In all of these instances, we have two pieces of advice:

  1. Build a peer network ASAP
  2. Understand the ways in which you can manage up and manage out

Your “peers” can be loosely defined.  It might be a cohort who started work around the same time as you, or someone in a different department with a similar title.  It might be folks from similar backgrounds (maybe you both left a different sector to join a movement organization), or perhaps colleagues in your own department who report to the same person. It is especially crucial to build relationships with those whose work will be important to yours, as well as people who often worked with your predecessor.

Regardless, start to ask these individuals lots of questions.  How do key colleagues like to be communicated with?  Where are the important files and pieces of information kept? What are the unspoken expectations?  Now, this is not about gossiping, creating cliques, or forming an “us vs. them” mentality.  It’s much more about discovering those things that won’t be in your formal onboarding plan that you need to know to thrive and enjoy your new job.  Remember: it’s normal to feel like you’re not doing enough or producing enough in those first few weeks on the job.  But building these connections is doing work and will ultimately help you contribute positively to the organization.

In terms of managing up and out, you’ll use that information you’re gleaning from your peer group to understand how you can quickly and productively plug into existing workflows. There are lots of resources out there on this topic, and one that we love is the “Getting Aligned Worksheet” from the Management Center. Think of it as a comprehensive starting point for your first big project. This is a tool that probably has more content than you’ll need, but in three pages this worksheet provides you with everything you’d possibly need to successfully work with your team leader (and their leader), peers, and other colleagues to see an initiative through from start to finish.

Tips for the Organization

Okay, now it’s time to talk to you, the people responsible for bringing a new person into the organization. Just as it takes a team to recruit, interview, and hire a new staff member, so should there be a dedicated group within the organization that will commit to a successful onboarding process.  This group should include the person’s team leader, other key leaders, and crucial support staff such as HR, administrators, and/or IT folks.  For this group, we also have two pieces of advice:

  1. Create a realistic onboarding plan that you know you can commit to
  2. Realize that sharing even the smallest details can have a big impact  no detail is too small not to address

We’ll start with the second one first.  Long-time employees might know that fresh coffee is made every afternoon at 2pm or that a Slack DM is preferred over a text message, but a new person won’t have that knowledge yet. While we know you’ll cover the big items – roles and responsibilities, strategic plans, etc. – tiny details like these can go a long way to helping a new person feel welcome and integrated into the organization. Share as many that you can think of.

In our experience, the best onboarding plans are the ones that you can actually carry out.  Providing a flexible timeline that allows the new employee to ask questions, ramp up into their role, and carves out time for them to reflect upon what they’re learning is good. Scheduling a daily two-hour check in with your new employee is probably not a great idea for either of you. And think creatively about the relationships your new team member should be creating. 

These are just a few pieces of advice we’ve gleaned from our team’s combined experience with the onboarding process.  We can’t tell you exactly what’s right for your particular situation but we do know that building a straightforward plan that is centered on anticipated employee needs, and provides structure as well as down time, can go a long way to making someone feel welcome, valued, and given the tools they need to begin to find success in their new position.

Have you seen a great onboarding process?  Or do you have lessons learned from one that was not so great?  We’d love to hear more and learn from your experience!