OMG, I’m loving your new onboarding program. Where did you get it?
Somewhere along the line, it became acceptable to treat orientation like covering off on surface stuff. “Hi! I’m the Director of First Impressions! Cloud will set you up with a laptop. But first, here’s a safety video from the 1960s. You’re going to love it here!”
But surface onboarding doesn’t cut it anymore, does it? Gone are the days when an accepted job offer meant a new hire would stay forever. If the Great Resignation taught us anything, it’s that relationships are a two-way street.
Today, successfully onboarding a new employee is about jumpstarting and nurturing an emotional connection … to the work, the team, and the organization.
Onboarding for soft skills is one of the best predictors of employee success
Cultivating soft skills – preparing people to communicate well both in and across teams – is (and has been for a long time) much more important than a cheerful intro to the mechanics of an organization.
The fact is, employers who focus on the professional relationships between people as a key part of onboarding see new hires reach their highest level of productivity faster.
New players begin on Day One to build a circle of influence, a network of colleagues within the organization that locks in their commitment to the team.
Courageous Onboarding goes a step further to create success that lasts
“Courageous Onboarding” is about connecting the head – and the heart – of each new employee to the organization by inviting them into your “why.” This is the kind of onboarding that gets people excited. It connects them to your core purpose and nurtures a passion for being there.
Today, jobs aren’t just jobs. People want to work for organizations that are changing the world, or at least changing the way we do business. They want to play a meaningful role and work toward a goal that is bigger than themselves.
Let’s say you’re in banking, for example. Courageous Onboarding might mean, rather than jumping right into products, tactics, and technology, you start with a conversation about making peoples’ dreams come true by facilitating the purchase of a house or funding a child’s education.
I know, I know. It sounds hokey. But it works. People who are engaged emotionally, as well as intellectually, are FOUR TIMES more likely to achieve their goals. So start from Day One by helping them connect their work to those loftier goals.
Done right, Courageous Onboarding makes new employees fall in love with the cause, stay longer, and become linchpins for the organization’s success.
How much does Courageous Onboarding matter?
Right now, I’m working with a couple of very large enterprise clients to modernize their onboarding programs. We’re not even finished yet, and we’re already seeing results.
One of them started with a consistent 20% dropout rate among new hires within the first year. Another was losing 17% of their new hires within the first 24 months. These new hires weren’t just young people unsure of their career paths. Many were seasoned pros who came over from competitors.
The biggest change we made to turn these old onboarding programs into welcome sessions that generate successful, productive, “sticky” new hires … was around creating meaning and mastering the communication skills necessary for success. We developed a methodology around people – their interactions and communication styles – that allowed the new hires to feel like an important part of the organization quickly.
Falling in love with a job and dedicating ourselves to an organization isn’t just about the work we do or the office space we use – it’s also about the culture and the ecosystem in which we perform that work. When we really care about our jobs and our organizations, focus and engagement go through the roof.
5 Onboarding Techniques That Will Double Your New Hire Retention
Onboarding doesn’t look like the Director of Happiness walking a new hire around the workplace. Nor does it look like a bunch of new hires sitting together in a dark room watching videos and filling out paperwork.
What Courageous Onboarding does look like is a whole organization actually caring that this new person is joining their ranks. People connecting with people and getting excited about what they can do together.
Courageous Onboarding goes way beyond paperwork, systems, and corporate policies – to the support systems and skills people need to build networks that will bind them to the organization and reach peak productivity faster.
Let’s take a look at how you can make Courageous Onboarding happen …
BUILD their anticipation and excitement before Day One
Your new hires feel like they have the job from the moment they accept your offer. So what are you doing to reciprocate that feeling, to reinforce their decision to join you?
For example, when we sign a new client, we send them a box of goodies to welcome them to the team. It can be as simple as some swag from the last company event or a bouquet of flowers. A short email or welcome note from the CEO or their new team. Maybe it’s a cool video about the work the organization does or the impact the company has on the world.
No matter how quirky or introverted, every single one of us craves a sense of belonging. If we’re invited to a party, before we accept the invitation, we ask who will be there. The same is true for a new job, which is almost as fun as a party if you know the cool kids are expecting you. ; ) So, after you’ve made your job offer, mention some of your organization’s cool kids. Maybe share an anecdote or two and connect them on LinkedIn. Give your new hire a couple names, people they can do their homework on so they already have a few relationships when they arrive on Day One.
JUMPSTART your new hire’s sphere of influence
Everyone knows that things get done within organizations through relationships, so why not jumpstart your new hires’ ability to be successful right from Day One? I don’t mean those horrible “meeting after meeting” schedules we usually set up for newbies. I mean actually being thoughtful about who and WHEN they should meet with folks.
There’s no reason to meet with the head of supply chain if you don’t even know how that matters to you in your job. Instead, build an 8 – 12-week plan that spaces out a new hire’s learning curve. Each step along the way, match what is learned with the appropriate internal connections. A phased approach like this can make all the difference in both understanding and retention.
And hey, not everyone is great at that “first date.” Give them a little training on how to make that first call or interaction successful … even fun!
EMPOWER THEM to manage up within your culture
Every organization is different. And no newbie in their right mind is going to feel comfortable “managing up” on Day One without some coaching about the culture. Paving the way with tips and actual skill development during onboarding helps immensely. “We’re a self-directed culture here. We like to encourage you to define clear expectations for yourself and communicate them to your leaders. Here’s how I do that with my leader…”
Managing up assures team members are always in alignment with their leaders, working on the right things and participating in an ongoing development dialogue. In my leadership intensives, I do a very specific section on how to effectively manage up, to set clear expectations, to ensure you’re in alignment with your boss and can meet their expectations.
Nobody is great at this until they are taught a process and build the skills around it. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is as simple as giving people permission to manage up. An important part of onboarding is giving your new hires the framework and skills training that make managing up doable for the personalities involved.
EXPLAIN HOW you work across your organization
Courageous Onboarding includes a discussion of how communication techniques for working with (or managing across) organizational peers works within your culture.
In my workshops, I talk about how to establish and maintain an ongoing dialogue with key “internal customers” across the organization – coworkers, partners, and inter-departmental peers who can support your work and help you be more productive and effective.
Guiding people with actual live examples and role playing will help them find ways to build bridges across the organization from Day One.
FOLLOW THROUGH with ongoing micro-mentoring
Onboarding shouldn’t only get people excited and connect them to the purpose of the organization, it should also create a lasting passion for being there. It is about giving people a reason to love the organization so they can do the hard work of learning a new job and culture.
We need to stop thinking of onboarding as something that happens over a couple of days or a week. Courageous Onboarding should be 4 WEEKS LONG, minimum. Trust me, the time spent planning and implementing this process will be worthwhile. Your new hires will get a crystal-clear picture of the company and their specific role in achieving the company’s goals.
As leaders, we should be continually developing, encouraging, introducing, expanding on, and growing our people in what I like to call “micro-mentoring” moments throughout their professional lives with us.
With this level of commitment in mind, Courageous Onboarding is just the beginning of a mutually beneficial partnership with your new hire that will continue for years to come.
Our employees keep impressing us with their talents and contributions. In return, we keep impressing them with meaty challenges, meaningful work, fair pay, and an irresistible company culture.
WHAT’S NEXT? Right now, at Cindy Solomon & Associates, we are deep diving into replacing outdated employee orientation programs with Courageous Onboarding. If you’re an executive or leader seeking guidance on how to make the shift,
go to www.courageousleadershipinstitute.com to grab a webinar, workshop, or keynote customized to your organization’s specific needs.
That’s number one. Number two is: the things that are happening from a macro level right now really aren’t directly impacting our day-to-day work. We can only control what we can control. All the rest is noise.
People bring their best work when they feel in control. Our job as leaders is to keep them focused and working on the tasks at hand. Which means we need to pop that illusion of imminent danger and pervasive uncertainty. And replace it with that feeling of weightlessness we all get when our paths to success are clear and we are fully equipped to achieve our goals.
4 Ways to Annihilate Uncertainty & Get Sh*t Done
Clear and achievable beats opaque and overwhelming
So the first thing we can do is be crystal-clear about the team’s goals and break them into bite-sized pieces that are achievable in short sprints. This gives unsure workers something to celebrate at every step along the way.
Whether it’s at the end of each day, whether it’s at the end of the week (I wouldn’t go further out than end of the month), take time to celebrate the bite-sized wins. Because when people feel like they’re winning, the positivity washes away stress and anxiety.
Which means, for the science wonks, you get a dopamine release in your brain when you’re winning versus a cortisol release when you’re stressed or uncertain.
Being crystal-clear about achievable, bite-sized goals and celebrating those daily or weekly wins frequently and publicly is the first step to combatting pervasive uncertainty.
Personal progress brings the focus closer to home
The second piece of zapping the ill effects of uncertainty is bringing the focus closer to home. That means spending time developing individual team members.
The more chaos and uncertainty there is around us, the more we worry whether or not we’re skilled in the right ways to handle the coming apocalypse. It’s a natural instinct to get ready, to equip ourselves for impending battles.
As leaders, we can leverage this by devoting time to developing our direct reports. Expanding their competencies, broadening their knowledge and experience. The thrill of mastering a new skill (hello, dopamine!) comes from a sudden sense of control over something we previously felt was out of our grasp.
The more prepared people feel, the more positively they will frame uncertainties. They’ll begin to see possibilities and opportunities where they previously only saw danger.
The secret is reframing challenges as opportunities
Down South, they have a saying about putting lipstick on a pig. That’s not what I’m talking about here. As leaders, it’s not our job to make up magical stories. To tell our people that darkness is actually light if you look at it in the right way.
It IS our job to talk with them about their fears and difficulties and help them find the way through to success. Where are the opportunities in this mess? Is there anything that’s possible now as a result of this disruption that wasn’t possible before?
The difference is, instead of *telling them* everything’s all right, we’re enabling them to find their own way out of the maze. This does two things: It reframes disruption as opportunity and gives people agency over the solution.
What is that old saying? You might not be able to control your first reaction, but you can always make a choice about your second reaction. So how are we opening our team members’ best thinking up? How are we leading them to frame the situation in a way that moves them forward?
In times of high anxiety, you set the tone
As Courageous Leaders, our attitudes and behaviors set the tone for our teams. The more somber, freaked out, or stressed we are, the more our people will mirror that. So it is important to set a tone that says, “We’re awesome, and we’ve got this.”
Remember, we just survived a worldwide pandemic. That makes us winners. So, instead of hiding in the safety of crusty routines – or amplifying everyone’s anxiety with awkward expressions of empathy – we need to lighten the emotional load. Courageous Leaders are experts at turning tough times into fun, exciting, interesting challenges that shake up the norm and get the ball rolling again.
Look, we can’t control what our workers saw on social media last night … or heard from their friends or in the news … let alone how they respond to those things emotionally. But we can think about the individuals who make up our teams. What do they need? What makes them burst out laughing? What breaks them out of a funk?
Lightening things up puts the day’s dramas in perspective. We’ve survived worse. And we are capable of surviving more than we can even imagine. When the news is dramatic and negative and bad, that needs to trigger us to remember who we are deep down inside and what we’re capable of together. We can handle this.
WHAT’S NEXT? Right now, at Cindy Solomon & Associates, we are having a blast helping Courageous Leaders coach and lead through anxiety and disruption. If you’re an executive or leader seeking guidance in how to engage, inspire, and develop your people, go to www.courageousleadershipinstitute.com and sign them up for a webinar, workshop, or keynote customized to your organization’s training needs.
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At the Courageous Leadership Institute, we leverage our work with over 300,000 leaders and employees from 400+ companies to offer leadership programs that impact results with customers and employees immediately.
Cindy Solomon is CEO of the Courageous Leadership Institute, a thriving global leadership training and research organization with access to up-to-the-minute insights on how today’s most innovative corporations are defining the future of business. She is also the author of two books, The Rules of Woo and The Courage Challenge Workbook.