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Blog author
Sergey Kotlov

Category Archives: Onboarding

Principles of Successful Onboarding Process

Each organisation is unique. The mixture of multiple parameters such as clients, business goals, values and markets makes it difficult and even impossible to apply directly an onboarding process of one company to another. Nevertheless, looking at the processes at Futurice, Vincit, Netlight and Ministry I could identify some similarities.

What I struggled with was the understanding why they exist. Until I bumped into a great book “Learning 3.0” by Alexandre Magno. The book goes deep explaining how human brain learns new things and why many existing practices are not effective.

Reading it I realised that onboarding is a learning process.

Onboarding is a learning process.

New employees learn about the values, structures, processes, colleagues and products an organisation has. The organisation learns about the values, habits, skills and behaviour of new employees.

What if we look at the principles of learning process in modern complex environments and see how they apply to real life examples? Sounds like a plan to me!

Let’s go.

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Building a Network

In my previous post, The First Day is Too Late, I pointed out that early access to internal communication channels decreases fear and increases confidence of new employees. One of several reasons it happens is that people get to know their future colleagues before actually start working with them. They find out about their interests, skills, habits and communications styles. They begin to build their own network.

Creating many strong connections inside an organisation should be a goal of any onboarding process. New connections help you to learn about the life of organisation much faster. They introduce you to other colleagues and share information on what might be interesting to you. They also help you to get involved in multiple activities.

For example, there’s a movie night on your third day in a company. You read a company-wide announcement on Slack and check the list of participants. You don’t know anyone there. Damn! Being a bit shy you’ve decided to stay and work even though you really want to go.  Luckily, Laura whom you met just the day before during the lunch come to you and say, “We’re going to a cinema tonight. Wanna go? There’ll be a couple of guys you definitely need to know.” The only thing you need to do is to say, “Sure, I’m in.”

At Futurice many events are organised for new employees during the first three months of trial period and onboarding. Of course these events include training and educational sessions. There are also introduction meetings when people from different parts of the company and communities come and talk about what’s happening there. And informal gatherings organised especially for new employees to talk to each other, meet older members of the organisation, eat some food and drink beer.

At Netlight new employees get a list of 10-15 colleagues they are suggested to have lunch with. Through the series of lunches they meet new people, learn about the specialities and hobbies of other colleagues and get many advices where to go, what group to join and whom else to have lunch with.

According to this article in Harvard Business Review,

“Research shows that workers are happier in their jobs when they have friendships with co-workers. Employees report that when they have friends at work, their job is more fun, enjoyable, worthwhile, and satisfying. Gallup found that close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50% and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work.”

Helping new employees to make valuable connections and, may be, friends is a must-have goal for any onboarding process. New employees adapt faster, get more from company from the first day and are more satisfied and productive.

The first day is too late

Few years back I was lucky to join one terrific company in St Petersburg. On the first day I arrived at 11 and went straight to HR department. I spent an hour or so there, got a small tour around the office and then I was delivered to my working desk. My team was partially distributed. During the day I talked to my remote colleagues and had a lunch with the colleagues in the local office. It was a great day and everyone was very helpful. Yet I felt confused at the end of it when I found myself at my desk. I got an access to huge amount of information: documents, wikis,  Skype channels, customers surveys, competitors notes and many new people to meet and talk to. I needed to go through it all and deliver some results in a couple of weeks. Next two weeks I spent long hours working in the office and from home trying to catch up with everything. It was both fun, boring and exhausting at the same time.

During my interview with the folks from Vincit I was amazed when they said,

“After new employees sign a contract, they get a full access to our internal channels”

“Wait! Do you mean they get a full access even if they are not working yet?”

“Yes. They may start working in a couple of weeks or months but they are already Vincitizens. They are very welcome to participate in all discussions, get to know people, visit internal parties and be part of the community.”

What a nice concept, right?

When you get an access to all communication channels upfront, you get an ability to talk to your future colleagues, create some connections, find about the interests of others. And you won’t feel lost on a completely unchartered territory on your first day.

Vincit goes a bit further. When you sign a contract you get an access to a Trello board which is a part of your onboarding process. It has a separate column with suggestions what you can do before you actually start working.

Other great companies also use the same trick. For example, Reaktor and Netlight.  Johanna from Netlight perfectly describes why they are doing it:

“Of course we can be a bit overwhelming that way. Every night it’s like ‘Come to this. Come to that’ and you’re like ‘Okay I haven’t left my old job yet. I am coming to you soon. Leave me alone.’

But that’s our way of doing it so the first day when you’re at Netlight you feel like you’re already in the company. You already know people, you probably know what assignment you’re going out to, you know the client, you know sales management and everything so you’re already apart of the company and have a network at your first day because that happened in different stages all before”

Looking back I realise that this practice could help me a lot in the previous company I worked at.

Let your new employees to join internal events and take part in all conversations before they even start working. It decreases their fear, increases confidence, shortens an integration time.