The first days and weeks on the job for new employees are critical to their ability to fit in and become as productive as possible, as soon as possible. Historically, the process to help just-hired employees acclimate to a new environment has been known as orientation.
Today, orientation is not a stand-alone event but part of a bigger process, often called onboarding. Some view onboarding as just a new buzzword for orientation or the province of large companies only, but it's actually an opportunity for small businesses to do more to ensure that new employees become productive and satisfied members of their staff.
Onboarding goes beyond mere practicality and acknowledges that what new employees learn in their first few weeks has long-term effects on their ability to tackle the challenges of today's faster-paced business environment. It covers matters related to training, scheduled milestones, mentoring programs and interactive meetings where employees can ask questions about small business initiatives. Following is a real-life example of onboarding in action:
The First Day: Ease Anxieties
Even though new employees have likely been on your company premises previously during the interview phase, their experiences on the first day of work will leave a lasting impression, even from the minute they walk into the building or onto the jobsite. You need to offer a first-day welcome to begin the process of making them feel at home.
Alert the receptionist that a new employee is arriving and make sure that this person greets the newcomer warmly. Arrange for someone (you, if possible) to personally escort the new hire to his workstation or office. Personally introduce the newcomer to other members of the working team.
At some point during the day, meet with the employee to take up where the last interview left off. Let him know how glad you are to have him on board and that you will be providing a comprehensive introduction to the company and the job within the next few days.
The First Week: Discover More about the Company and the Job
Go over the basics about your small business, some of which may have been covered in the interview:
- Your company's basic products or services
- Size and general organization of the company
- An overview of your industry, and where your small business fits into the overall picture (Who's your chief competition?)
- Your company's mission statement and values
- Company goals and strategic objectives
- Your organizational culture
Make sure that the newcomer knows whom to call – and how – for questions and emergencies.
Second Week and Beyond
A key part of the onboarding process is early follow-up. You or supervising managers should meet with employees at predetermined points: two weeks after the first day on the job, a month after, two months, or at intervals that work best for each job's complexity and changeability.
These times are when you check in with new team members to find out how things are going for them. How well do they understand the small business and their roles? Do they have any questions that have not been answered? Inquire especially as to the value of training programs. Are they helpful? Do they address the right areas? Are they worth the time being spent on them? What future developmental experiences would employees like to see? These follow-up meetings are also a good time to hear their assessment of the onboarding process thus far.