Learning & Development, Recruiting

Helping Employees Understand Their Own Responsibilities in the Onboarding Process

Employers spend a lot of time planning new hires’ onboarding. But what about the new hires themselves? What should they be doing to set themselves up for success in the days, weeks, and months following their acceptance of a job offer?

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In this feature, we provide some keys to success for new hires, including input from industry experts and HR professionals.

Be Active Participants in the Onboarding Process

Onboarding is a two-way street, and employees need to be actively engaged to get the most out of the experience.

“The employee cannot be passive during this process,” says Nelson Sherwin, Manager of PEO Companies. “I’ve seen too many people just nod along to whatever they are told, but that’s not what I want to see,” he says.

Instead, “I want to see that you engage with the material and with what you are being taught and told. Ask questions, make suggestions, and show me that you’re interested,” he notes.

This is particularly important during the first week, when new employees are likely to be bombarded with information, Sherwin says. “You really should take the time to think about everything you are learning and then return with any questions you may have,” he adds.

Take Notes

Onboarding consists of huge amounts of information. Introducing an employee to a complex business with thousands, hundreds, or even dozens of employees in a short period of time can only be done with a dense barrage of information. Taking notes is the only realistic way to retain as much as possible.

Companies often provide new hires with printed or electronic written materials for later reference, but those capture what is most important from the company’s and onboarding team’s perspective. They may miss key items that are uniquely important to the new hires and their specific role in the company.

Seek Out Mentors and Friendships

Having a company veteran in one’s corner can make a tremendous difference in how quickly new hires get up to speed and reach their trajectory for success within the organization.

“I’m the hiring manager for our marketing department, and I believe strongly in the value of peer coaching,” says Jonathan Frey, CMO of Urban Bikes Direct. “Managers should encourage this themselves, but I also recommend new employees make their own effort to find a friendly and helpful guide early on,” he says.

Frey suggests: “If you meet a friendly colleague during onboarding, consider politely asking them if they would mind answering your questions as they come up over your first few months.” Frey says employees can always reach out to their managers, of course, but some questions are simply better-suited for colleagues. “You might even end up forming a valuable friendship or mentorship,” he says.

This is also important—perhaps even more so—in a remote work setting. ”If you’re a remote worker, don’t think of the virtual workplace as a social barrier,” Frey says. “Be professional, but feel free to bond with your new team members over memes and online chats.”

Make Sure You Know What Success Means

It’s surprising how often employees and their managers are not entirely on the same page when it comes to performance expectations. Virtually every job has a job description that was used to advertise the job, and interviewers likely discussed expectations during interviews; but it’s important to be as clear as possible early on about what success looks like.

Elia Gourgouris, PhD, author of 7 Paths to Lasting Happiness, suggests five specific strategies for employees to actively engage in their own onboarding. Two of these relate directly to understanding what success means in a new hire’s position:

  1. Take the initiative to clarify leadership’s expectations. You were hired to fill a gap, solve a problem, or achieve a goal. Find out what your supervisor expects of you. Ask simple questions like “Six months from now, how will you know you hired the right person for the job?” or “What are the top three problems you need me to tackle in the first 6 months?” This can direct your focus and ensure your priorities are aligned with your supervisor’s priorities.
  2. Understand the “yard stick” used to measure success. Don’t assume that you and your new supervisor share the same way of measuring success. Set up a time to discuss and clarify what would be considered a success in each of the key areas you are expected to perform. Ask “What does good performance look like?” “How would I meet your expectations in this area?” and “What would exceeding expectations look like?” Knowing how to score points is key to early wins and establishing yourself as a “great hire” and valuable addition to the team.

Be Social and Embrace Dialogue

Not everyone is an extrovert, and it can be tough for some people to come out of their shells. But the first few days on the job are extremely important in this respect, particularly when the onboarding and first few days on the job are remote due to COVID-19 precautions.

“New employees should make it a point to connect with their team. Accept lunch invites, ask for help when needed, and pay attention to how the team works together,” says Charlotte Beasley of FitSmallBusiness. “Also, they should listen for and maybe even ask questions about their predecessor.”

Beasley adds that it’s helpful to get a feel for how your predecessor fit into the workplace and how he or she impacted the team. For instance, what do people brag about when talking about that person?

“Unless something was horribly wrong, you probably won’t hear a lot of negative feedback about them in the beginning,” she says. “All of this dialogue can help a new employee see what gaps may exist within their working group so they can assess their own contribution potential.”

Starting a new job is an exciting time for an employee. It’s a fresh start that should be taken full advantage of as a launchpad for the next phase of the employee’s career. This means getting off to a great start is crucial for long-term success.

The tips and strategies we’ve outlined above can help a new hire hit the ground running in a new role and lay the foundations for years of success—even in an era when onboarding may look vastly different than it did in the past.