Getting it right the first time: Onboarding with emotion

A taxi waits at a busy intersection for someone to get in: "get onboard"

Here’s a short tale of two impressions.

Margaret was at a party when she met Shae who worked at Thread the Needle Electronics (TNE), a company where she had recently submitted a resume. She thought TNE would be a great place to work. Shae told her it was actually a very challenging place as it was quite competitive. Colleagues routinely undermined team members to get ahead. Not only did senior management appear to look the other way, they actually seemed to encourage the competition among employees. In light of this, Margaret was not so sure she wanted to be asked for an interview.

On the other side of the room at the same party, Beau met Sal who worked at DigiGig, a company where he had recently submitted a resume. He thought it would be a great place to work. Sal told him it was a vibrant, collaborative environment where they placed great importance on ensuring that new employees had a great experience while they were learning their jobs. The company was committed to building strong teams, knowing that this leads to productivity and employee retention. Beau was hoping he would be selected for an interview.

Onboarding expectations and ROI

Margaret and Beau now have first impressions of these two companies and some idea of what to expect if they were to begin work. At which company would you expect more support for new hires? Which company would you expect to do a better job of onboarding?

Let’s define what we mean by onboarding. It is the process of bringing on a new employee and supporting them to learn how to do their job successfully, but it’s more than that. Onboarding is the length of time it takes for an organization to realize a return on their investment in a new employee. There is a learning curve during which organizations recognize that the new employee will not be as productive. At some point, organizations expect the new employee will prove to be a good investment. The more effective the onboarding process, the sooner the new employee will show returns and be a benefit rather than just a cost.

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First days and first impressions

Margaret was asked for an interview and was offered the job. She accepted the offer as she needed the money. On her first day of work, her manager was away on business. Her workstation wasn’t ready, so she had to set up in the staff room and an HR representative left her with a huge binder to read for her orientation. She also was given a stack of papers to sign. She felt concerned that the organization had put so little effort into welcoming her, but was determined to not judge the organization based on her first impression. However, she couldn’t help feeling this whole first day could have gone better with a little planning and effort on the part of the organization. She felt apprehensive about coming back the next day.

Beau was asked for an interview and was offered the job. He accepted the offer as he needed the money. On his first day of work, his manager came to the reception area to greet him and welcome him to the company. His new manager then introduced him to his new peer, Reena, who took him on a tour of the building, introducing him to everyone they met along the way. He was shown to his new workstation, which was all set up and ready to go with welcome messages from his team members. He had already electronically signed all the required papers as they were sent to him via email prior to his start date. He was already part way through the gamified online orientation course, and he thought it was very innovative of the company to develop an orientation process that reflected their brand. At the end of the day, he wondered how they could have done any better at creating a warm and welcoming environment for him to begin his first day. He was really looking forward to coming back the next day.

Make the most of moments of truth

The recruiting process is emotional from start to finish. In customer service, moments of truth occur when an organization has an opportunity to impact a customer emotionally. Similarly, with onboarding the moments of truth for a new employee begin with the reputation of the company and what candidates hear prior to applying.

If candidates don’t hear it from an employee, they may go to a website that offers reviews of companies and they’ll have an impression of the company from the start. Throughout the process, the company has many opportunities to elicit emotions.

What impression do you want candidates to have of your organization? Do you have a desirable workplace? Do you want to attract top candidates to work for you? First impressions create an emotional impact. It’s much easier to maintain a positive first impression than it is to reverse a negative one.

While there is much more to the onboarding process, be sure to start out on the right foot with a positive first impression.1

  1. A version of this article was first published by PeopleTalk, April 5, 2018

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