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  • Writer's pictureKyla Hanks

Do They Have a Desk?

Welcoming a new employee to your organization should be exciting! (Yes, exclamation points are appropriate for this process.) The new employee is stepping out and starting a new role with a great organization. The existing employees are getting help to move toward their own goals. And you’ve built a culture to be proud of. The first day is a second first impression. A time to see if the recruiting process matches the actual experience. This next installment will cover onboarding from the previously outlined 7 categories of functions within HR.

Have you ever witnessed resentment in the workplace? Of course you have. It is human nature to hold grudges and onboarding seems to be one of the most prevalent of complaints I hear from employees. They are looking to the organization with the expectation of all the tools, resources, training, and mentoring they need to be successful in their new role. The majority of these expectations fall on the manager and the HR team. Typically, the HR team is receiving these expectations from both the new employee as well as the manager.

A less than satisfactory onboarding typically has the perception of intentional omission when in fact it is quite the opposite. We are all human and it is a hard concept to think of a time when you didn’t know what you know now. Let’s be intentional in learning ways to successfully onboard new employees. (Warning: you may feel the need to back track on education for existing employees through this process.)

Orientation vs. Onboarding

A common confusion in employment lingo is onboarding versus orientation. Orientation is part of the onboarding process. I for one am not a stickler for appropriate use as context clues usually get you to the intended vernacular; however, we are here to elaborate. Orientation is day one, ground zero. When they walk in the door to start working for your organization there are several obligations alongside opportunity to set up this new employee for success. Don’t blow it.

Obligations during orientation are where HR tends to get the reputation of monotone delivery at no fault of their own. Much of this process is mandated through employment laws, state and federal regulations, and general gathering of information necessary to document, pay, and report each person who joins your organization. It is very important that this part of orientation is done to each individual agencies’ specifications. There are big fines associated with much of this process. (Some specifications get as granular as an ”N/A” in any empty box in Section 1 of the I-9.) With the creation of modern technology, much of the obligatory orientation pieces can be automated and completed ahead of time. Regardless, they will always need a human’s touch. The rest of orientation can and should be tailored to reflect your organization’s cultural and communication goals. We will dig into those details next.

The Basics

Despite the need for a new employee, the majority of newly offered employees will not be able to start sooner than two weeks from that offer. (Typically, more the higher you go in levels.) It is a waste to not use this time productively to set them up for success.

Clearly there are all types of positions and tools necessary to be successful in those positions. Being as my experience predominantly resides in an office setting, I use the desk as an example. I feel confident that you are able to translate as appropriate for your population. (Other examples include a carpenter needing a hammer, a cowboy needing a horse and a ballerina needing some tights.) Please do not attempt to onboard an employee without knowing where they will sit. It does not have to be their permanent location but they need to have their base station known. Also think chair, computer, pen, notepad. Help your new employee avoid any awkward moments as best you can, first days are hard enough!

Call it what you want but have a plan. Take the time to think through what information the new employee will need, the coworkers that will be valuable to know, and order in which makes the most sense. Put on your empathy hat for this perspective. No one (well not the good employees) want to sit and do nothing. They want to bring value and it is often not clear how to do so without some guidance. Alternatively, the “fire hydrant” approach is also not starting the experience in a positive direction. No one has time to sit and train someone all day every day until they are independent. It will behoove you to pull in other coworkers while simultaneously connecting your new employee to the organization. HR is a great resource to build new hire agendas as they are familiar with all the departments and how they work together.

Now we previously briefed the obligations aka paperwork and alluded to the tailored portion from there. What information can HR provide to the new employee that would be consistent for all employees of the organization? (Have you caught on that I like to ask questions?) Some considerations to incorporate into your “basic” onboarding:

  • What’s your mission, vision, and values? Surely you want everyone to know that as soon as possible. Do these statements clearly define expectations?

  • How will they elect benefits? Who do they reach out to about questions on elections?

  • When will they see their first paycheck?

  • Where should they park?

  • What does the HR team do for your employees? (Hint: onboarding, benefits, payroll.) What other references or resources do they have access to? And where are they?

This could be as simple as a conversation (just ensure consistency so you don’t forget something), a presentation, or a document they can keep for future reference. They will most likely be inundated with information the first day/week/month. Digital or physical documents are great reminders when the dust has settled. It also saves your HR team a few questions down the road.

After HR orientation, the manager should fill any position-specific details. Again, no fire hydrants here. Introduce them to the team, give them a tour of the space, and go through what the rest of the day will look like. I like to know what I’m doing next, don’t you? Share the agenda so they know what to expect in the coming weeks or months. Last but certainly not least, show them where the restroom is!

The Enhancements

Second hat of the post: over achiever. You need to put in the effort if you truly want to foster a culture of continuous learning and innovative solutions. Get creative while building a structure for consistency across the organization. Within every organization there are rockstar onboarding teams that have honed in on the perfect blend of providing necessary information and relationship building. Unfortunately, it does not come naturally to everyone; hence another opportunity for HR to come to the rescue. The more your HR team can assist in the employee experience the easier it is on your managers. There is nothing worse than two employees starting at the same time only to head off to their respective teams only to receive completely different foundational knowledge for the same organization.

Getting “gear” on the first day is an instant pride boost. (Potentially good advertisement for your organization as well!) Make sure any physical items are intentional in their branding and purpose while not appearing to be something left over from the marketing department. Take it a step further. Can you organize a monthly meet and greet with the CEO? Could you provide department overviews, so employees get a sense of how their role fits into the big picture? Maybe it’s as simple as letting everyone know there’s a new employee they should meet.

Mentor programs are excellent ways to expose new employees to other levels or teams. There are also several topics that aren’t so easy to ask a manager or HR, yet your HR team could coordinate a mentor program built on feedback with the direction coming directly from the organization’s goals. Hate to state the obvious but choose the members of your mentor program wisely. You are ultimately providing role models. Is that who you want new employees to follow?


Quite possibly my favorite word. Keep in mind the employee has talked to several (ideally) employees from your organization during the recruitment process. Most candidates are going to ask about training and culture during the interview process. Will this line up to the actual experience? A lot is out of the control for one individual, except we are thinking strategically, remember?

This is the foundation of keeping or grooming your intended culture. We want to equip this new employee to perform well in their role while setting expectations for how they interact with their fellow coworkers.

Communication is a two-way street. The majority of this post has focused on what you are communicating to the new employee. We get it, right? To be able to adapt to the ever changing world of having employees, you have to listen. Multidirectional feedback is essential for your organization to adapt to the change in workforce (which is inevitable). Your HR team should be collecting the feedback from new employees, hiring managers and senior leadership while guiding the modifications to keep your reputation as an employer pristine.

If you get the same question more than once, it's a good time to consider its entry in your proactive communication plan.

[You’re] Welcome!

Onboarding is important. There is no denying that getting started on the right foot is a great cliché for a reason. HR needs to rally the entire organization to help support each and every new hire. We want to lay a clear path toward success to benefit everyone involved. We want every new employee to carry their excitement through their career. (Contagious excitement is a plus as well!) I would love to hear about some awesome onboarding tactics if you have them!

Next up: Payroll. Very few people want to work for free.

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