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How to Smooth Out the Kinks in Your Onboarding Program

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    OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 1: Chef Alfredo Mora puts a blueberry muffin in a paper take out container at the Crepevine in Oakland, California. But is a single muffin enough to answer all of a new employee's questions?

    Orientation is not the same thing as onboarding, and if you didn't know that, don't feel so bad. It's a common mistake, and there are lots of them that happen in the process. Here, as the headline indicates, we'll be focusing on the latter.

    "Orientation is typically a short, even-based process designed to communicate policies, informing new employees about company benefits and getting them situated so they are not lost in their first week," explained Caroline B. McClure, founder and principal of ScoutRock. " Unlike orientation, onboarding is a strategic initiative designed to prepare employees for long-term success in their new role -- whether they’re a new to the company or is transitioning to a new role with in the same company."

    There are plenty of reasons to get this straight and get it right, and key among them is that it can be expensive. If you fail to onboard a top-level employee, McClure points out, "the success or failure [there] is a public affair. The information is widely published and can have negative effects not only on the reputation of the executive, but also of the company."

    So, okay, it's important. We get that. But is it as important in all industries? Or is it less risky depending on what sort of work you do?

    According to Fred Cooper of Compass HR Consulting, that all depends: " For example, on-boarding for a physician or provider in the medical profession would be significantly more detailed than on-boarding an accountant in a warehouse. The point in establishing such a program is to provide a reasonable transition period into the company's culture, provide meaningful information that will allow the new employee to fit in "better and sooner" and to establish expectations on both sides of the relationship."

    Cooper also had these points, which he emailed over and would be silly to paraphrase or chop down:

    • Defined, established and willing ownership of the program---who is overseeing that the timing of activities is right for each individual new hire, that the "packets" are developed in time, are complete, etc.? Just assigning someone the task who doesn't have the interest or skills to monitor and track what's being done virtually dooms it to failure or at least, something less that total success. 

    * Internal staff responsibilities---does each current employee participant understand and is "up to speed" on their role in the process? Failure to know what's expected by each of the current employees involved in the process can certainly make the new hire wonder if they've made the right decision.

    * New employee feed-back on the process---a brief survey or just a quick sit-down once the new employee has been with the company for a while---but close enough to the on-boarding program that he/she can remember (given all the things probably thrown at them the first few days/weeks) what worked and more importantly, what didn't or at least, not as well as those things that did work well

    * Constant "care and feeding" of the program---related to above, if forms, order of steps, activities, current employee training, etc., are needing to be improved or modified, then going back to the first point, someone needs to take charge, make sure those improvements/enhancements/changes are implemented, involved parties informed and trained, etc. Failure to do so negates all the efforts of all the parties in having created the program in the first place.

    * Tie-in with the recruiting program----if background and drug testing are to be part of the initial on-board program (for example), then those involved in the recruiting process need to know and can therefore, explain the "next steps" should the candidate being interviewed be offered the position -- contingent on passing any tests or requirements that are part of the on-board program. A great deal of time, effort and costs would be wasted if after the interview process, the selected candidate declines to be drug tested or just then, after the offer, mentions a misdemeanor or felony conviction in their past.

    So, yeah. This is a good start to get you thinking about onboarding without going, er, overboard.

    David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.