For Dutch, click here.
“I have an onboarding tomorrow!”. A good friend of mine rolled her eyes. It was the umpteenth time, and she didn’t feel like it. There are often uninspiring speakers and activities. “A waste of time and money,” she sighed.
That’s a shame because creating successful onboarding programs that inspire people is quite possible. In recent years, I have been involved in onboarding programs at various companies. This article is about things I noticed that can ensure successful onboarding.
Onboarding and strategy sessions
An acquaintance had joined the supervisory board of a foundation. The entire board was new and they had an onboarding session where the board and staff talked candidly about their work.
Sometimes, companies have a new management or a new business strategy and they invite their employees for an onboarding session. This is not onboarding since the employees are already on board. Better call it a strategy session or a business update.
Different types of onboarding
The onboardings I have been involved in were all offline and on-site. The company had rented a (beautiful) location where new employees from all over the world could come. The onboarding usually took a few days.
Last week, I spoke to someone new to a large company. His onboarding was completely online. He sat behind his computer for a few days to follow an onboarding program with all new employees around the world.
He told me that it was okay but that he was planning to organize a drink soon with all the new employees here in the Netherlands.
Having all new employees come together for onboarding is a major financial and logistical challenge for some companies. However, in that case, I would advocate opting for a hybrid program where a part is online with all new employees and part offline or on-site with local new employees.
Three goals for onboarding
There are three goals for an onboarding program.
The first is introducing new employees to the company or organization’s practical aspects and working methods.
A second goal is to get to know the company. The intention is that the new employees understand what the company stands for, what the values are, and what the mission or the WHY of the company is.
Finally, networking is a goal of onboarding. This means the new people get to know each other and know what and who they can contact within the company.
Perhaps this is the easiest part of the onboarding and can be organized online or in a hybrid format. By the practical aspects, I mean where you can request vacation, how to report sick, where you can have business cards made, and where you can ask questions about your salary. There are online platforms that can help you with this so that new employees can follow this program individually at a time that suits them best.
Introduction to the company
The parts of a company
This is an important part of onboarding. If all goes well, most new employees know what the company does. Ensure the participants receive a good presentation of all parts of the company. This way, they also know to which part they can refer customers to help them further with their questions. This program component can be done online.
Many companies and organizations let their new employees do cases. These cases are specific to the segment in which the company operates. Sometimes, it involves writing a business plan, presenting, conducting an audit, or developing an innovation. During these cases, new employees learn how to work best and what tools they have for this. Companies have employees do these cases online, but it can also be done offline.
This part goes deeper than business operations and the organization. Here, employees can hear more about the history of the company. Why it exists, the values, the mission, the vision, the purpose, and the WHY.
Introduce them to the rituals or symbols of the organization. Perhaps this is the most important part of the onboarding program. The intention is that the new employees are not only aware of these elements but also feel them.
When discussing values, it is important to explain (and allow people to experience) which behavior corresponds to which value and what you can do and say when you see that people are not adhering to those values. Values are useless if they are not linked to behavior. It would be good to make a values contract with the participants here. It is preferable to do this offline.
Reading tip: 4 Ways to discover your Values in Life
Successful onboarding programs devote time to developing the soft skills of new employees. These often go beyond acquiring skills for presenting, conversation techniques, or planning. Offer the opportunity for young employees to get to know themselves better and develop themselves. There are numerous assessments for this (think of DiSC and Character Strenghts). Workshops or training can be given on mindset, inclusion, and personal leadership.
Sport and games
In addition to presentations, business cases, or workshops, the program often also includes games and sports components. In successful onboarding programs, I have seen that a connection is made with a value for each component and that a learning outcome is formulated beforehand. So, it is explained why we will box now, run an obstacle course, or build a high tower out of spaghetti. By the way, please think of something more original than the latter. These types of activities make people roll their eyes. Not long ago, I saw some striking activity. Participants were challenged to eat different insects. It was successful because people were motivated to go outside their comfort zone. It is about the participants experiencing and feeling the company’s values, mission, vision, and purpose.
The role of the supervisor
Small groups (of a maximum of 20 people) are created in successful onboarding programs. Each group has a trainer, supervisor, or mentor who stays with the group and participates in all activities. Their role is crucial, and they not only ensure that people participate. Several times during the day, the supervisor reflects on the activities with the group. They discuss what the group has learned, what went well, what did not, and why participants did or did not participate. A good supervisor, therefore, makes a connection with a value that is important to an organization. So if trust is an important value and as a supervisor, you see that your group is always late for the next activity, then you talk about this. What works well is if you also use mid-level and senior employees of the company or organization for this.
The All Blacks and onboarding
New and young players who join the All Blacks, the New Zealand National Rugby Team, are always paired with the older players. The older players’ job is to teach the young ones about the values and rituals of the All Blacks and what is expected of them. The young people must then listen. It is more effective for them to hear this from their (older) fellow players than from their coach or trainer.
All onboarding programs I have experienced have a social program. These include drinks, barbecues, and parties, but also just lunches. These are good moments to network and get to know your new colleagues better. Then you know even better who you can contact if you run into problems in your work. It would be nice if these social components fit the rest of the program. After a big dinner, I do not recommend giving a substantive presentation and do not expect the participants to show up early the day after a party to discuss a case.
Finally, I will talk about the practical aspects that ensure that onboarding runs even better.
Participants often come to me asking where they should be and what time. In successful on-site onboarding programs, people have their program on the back of their name card. Ensure the program is displayed on a board in a central location, Preferably with a map.
Ensure the same people are not always in a group and rotate the supervision. This way, the participants get to know many more new people.
Often forgotten at onboarding events. Safety comes first. I am a certified first aider. This is useful if something happens during a workshop or training. It happens that people don’t feel well during my workshops or that they get stung by a wasp. I always take a first aid kit with me in case I have to train at a distance from the main building. It is not useful if I am the only one in a group of 200 people who can provide first aid. It means that I don’t come to my workshops or come too late, and I don’t want that. Make agreements with the organization about sufficient first aiders.
It would be great if the onboarding program were an important ritual of an organization. A farewell after a beautiful and intensive program is a ritual.
But it can also happen that people do not want to participate in an activity for whatever reason. This must be possible because many states of consciousness are present in the various activities. Unfortunately, as an organizer, you cannot connect with all states of consciousness of the participants with your program.
In addition to the application procedure for new candidates, the onboarding is an excellent opportunity to get to know the future employees better and check whether they fit within the organization. If participants consistently do not participate, do not adhere to the values contract, or are downright obstructive. As an organization, you may wonder whether this is the right person for the company.
The All Blacks have a “No dickhead” policy. If someone is not a team player and disrupts things, they are dismissed.
It also works the other way: If someone, during an onboarding, discovers that the company and their WHY it is not suitable for them, it should also be possible to say goodbye. They often become important ambassadors for the company.
The onboardings I have been involved in evaluate all the sessions, the trainers, facilitators, and workshops of the onboarding program. They also invite participants and all the people who are involved for feedback. This will help companies and organizations to finetune and have even more successful onboarding programs in the future.
When is onboarding successful for you? What do you consider indispensable parts of an onboarding program? Let me know in the comment box below. I, and other readers of this article, look forward to read from you!
Thank you for reading up to here & sharing this article with your colleagues, friends, or family. And please SHARE this article with your X, Facebook, and LinkedIn networks by pressing the buttons below so they can also benefit from this article about successful onboarding programs. You can copy parts of this blog if you state the source.
Have you seen an error in this article? Let me know! I am grateful!
-James Kerr, Legacy: What The All Blacks Can Teach Us About The Business Of Life