You only have one chance at a first impression. In the same vein, you only have one chance to welcome a new person to your team. If your business revolves around team cohesion, being a rockstar on-boarder will pay massive dividends down the road. As a former consultant I was constantly on-boarding new individuals as engagements ramped up or skillset needs changed. I’m not claiming to have the silver bullet answer on how to on-board, but over the years I began to stick to seven guidelines that seemed to make the process smooth and productive.
The ultimate goal in on-boarding is to have practitioners “hit the ground running” but not at the expense of having them feel as though they are part of the team. In several of my high-burn, pedal-to-the-metal projects, on-boarding required me to fight the urge to take shortcuts like building a comprehensive on-boarding document or off-loading the responsibility to junior members of the team. I found that taking the time to bring on a new team member in the proper way paid huge downstream dividends and, in my humble opinion, maximized the productivity and ultimate happiness of every newcomer. Below are my seven suggestions. I would love to hear yours – feel free to leave a comment.
(1) Be Personal
Handing someone an on-boarding document that “should” answer all their questions makes them feel like a number. A document is fine as a starting point, but leave enough out of the document that it drives dialogue between you as a manager and your new team member. Getting verbal communication flowing on day one will make task-oriented communication much more effective as the team member begins to execute.
(2) Be Immersive
Introduce the individual to as much of the existing team as humanly possible. More importantly, introduce them along with a brief description of their role and a few facts (personal or professional). The more the existing team knows about the newcomer, the more they will feel comfortable “breaking the ice” socially and making the new person feel at home.
(3) Be a Listener
The best way to instantly give a newcomer confidence is to enable them to make a quick win. Do this by listening intently to their past experiences and self-identified strengths and give them an assignment that is almost sure to be a homerun. With the momentum gained by an early win, any subsequent task that may stretch the newcomer’s abilities will likely be approached with a higher level of confidence, energy, and enthusiasm.
(4) Be Clear
If there are certain deal-breaker rules of the road, don’t leave them for the person to learn over time. Be explicitly clear upfront what those rules are so you avoid the embarrassment of needing to confront the individual later.
(5) Be Thoughtful
When I first started in consulting, I sat down for my first goal-setting session thinking to myself, “just let me work, enough of this fluffy kumbaya campfire stuff.” What I didn’t realize at the time was that goal-setting was enabling me as the goal-setter to craft a roadmap of how I wanted the engagement to benefit me. No matter how busy you are, give each newcomer this opportunity. If they try to play the “easy going card” and say “I’ll do what you want me to do,” push them. If you establish that you’re willing to adapt the project to meet their personal goals, you immediately establish a heightened level of respect.
(6) Be Inclusive
The earlier you include the newcomer in team meetings, client calls, or brainstorming sessions, the earlier they feel like they’re part of the team… even if the subject matter may be only on the periphery of their direct assignments. This also gives them perspective on who is working on what so they can independently navigate the team to further come up to speed and begin adding value.
(7) Be Consistent
I’ve been on projects as small as 3 practitioners and as large as 75. While it may be tempting to reduce your emphasis on a solid onboarding as the team grows, don’t relent. Keep the “small team” feeling for as long as possible. Small teams tend to have stronger cohesion. Stronger cohesion tends to breed sense of belonging. And sense of belonging tends to heighten motivation, energy, and attention to detail.