Onboard Me! F**k!
The single worst message you can give a new employee, out the gate, is that you didn't care or have your shit together enough to give them a proper onboarding. Companies put all of this effort into the interviewing process and then shoot themselves squarely in the face by offering no real, curated onboarding process for their prized new hire. It's appalling. Real talk.
We all know that first impressions are real. Companies are deluded into thinking that their sweet office with the faux grass meditation room or the beer tap that automatically activates at 5pm each day is what lures most millennials to sign their offer letters. Partially true. But what gets them to stay and not bolt after 2 or 3 months is the effort you put into the second impression which starts with the curation of their onboarding process. Of the 200+ Executive Assistants around the world that I've met with, easily 90% have admitted that they've received little-to-no onboarding when starting a new role. Of the numerous companies I've worked for only one has given me an onboarding that has blown me away and literally made me want to rush to the tattoo shop and emblazon myself with their logo: Square. Here's how they did it. Get a pen.
What's your shirt size?
Swag, baby. Yep! Ever hear the phrase, "Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt."? Well guess what? Employees want the t-shirt. And smart companies realize that the t-shirt is an instantaneous invitation to the tribe. It's like a big, fat, welcome hug without the threat of a harassment lawsuit. I had a beautifully curated box of swag waiting for me the second I sat down on my first day. And it was the good shit, not a bunch of useless crap with non-proportionate logos slapped all over it. Someone had actually taken the time to design items that I would want to wear and use every single day of my employ. And I did. In fact, I still have my Square water bottle to this day and almost burst into tears years after leaving the company when I'd accidentally left it on a treadmill at my theft-prone gym, fearing I'd never see it again. It's a "welcome hug" and some of the cheapest advertising a company can have that pays huge dividends on the recruitment side. Happy, fit employee rocking a company t-shirt while jogging on a Saturday morning. Think about it.
The most impressive thing I've ever witnessed as a new employee. Square figuratively starts from "square one" and reserves a conference room for 4 days for all the new hires from that group. And yes, they start people in groups so that they can onboard them properly. We spent three-point-five full days in that room learning about the company and the mission in granular detail, having department leads pop in and tell us about each department...in granular detail, reviewed the employee handbook together, filled out all necessary paperwork together, and at the end of day three we were issued our company laptops and sent to our departments for the last couple of hours of the day to start getting acclimated with our new bosses and teams.
The brilliance of this approach was this:
1. It built instant camaraderie. Even the shyest person in the room now had a group of people he/she felt comfortable with and had some connection to. Going forward they would always have their anniversary date in common. And they would instantly have a lunch buddy for a couple weeks until they made more friends within the org and, naturally, drifted into new cliques.
2. It alleviated anxiety in record time. Joining a company instantly fires the same anxiety synapses as your first day at a new school. It's low-key terrifying even if we don't want to admit it. Don't forget: explosive growth companies can feel very isolating and cold to a new employee. Without some form of forced socialization, you're rolling the dice with their happiness, engagement, and whatever abandonment issues from childhood they may be working through with their therapist. Being in a small group of your equally freaked-out peers and having the consistency of knowing you'll see the same group tomorrow getting the same information and experiencing it together calms that anxiety by 80% or more.
3. It got people ready to slay. By the time I got to the middle of day three, I was raring to go. I had some new friends. I chugged the KoolAid. I was proudly rockin' my badass t-shirt. And I was ready to own my role and become part of the whole Square team.
Square researched, engineered, and implemented an onboarding process that reads 93% of all other onboarding processes for filth. And here's the final choke-out: "The walk with Jack."
I actually joined Square because I wanted to work at a company and for a CEO who was changing the world in some way. Those of you who know me know that I've always long admired and had a slightly inappropriate crush on Jack Dorsey. (He's not gay. Calm down.) What absolutely made me realize that I'd made the right decision, even taking a $30K pay cut for the honor, was the walk with Jack. Jack Dorsey walks everywhere. It's his jam. On our final morning of Square One we all met on the Embarcadero at a statue of Mahatma Gandhi. We took a group photo with Jack and the crew and, together, walked to the office, each of us spending a few minutes with Jack introducing ourselves, asking a few questions and tagging out.
The fact that this was a part of the perfectly curated onboarding process was mind-blowing and a distinct honor. Not many of us can say that we got to hang and take a walk with a billionaire, concurrent Founder/CEO of two of the most influential companies in the world...who actually wanted to be there. (PS I went all schoolgirl crushy on the dude and completely f*cked up my 5 mins with him. Another story for another time.)
Onboarding new employees is an investment of time, resources, and effort. And let's be clear, it's a huge financial commitment that pays off handsomely in employee engagement, company culture and employee retention. Get it right and you will see employees hit the ground sprinting. Get it wrong and you will see employees struggle to gain momentum, deal as best they can with feeling isolated, and often leave the company feeling as though they don't belong. Simply throwing a bunch of poorly designed swag on the desk, showing someone where the kitchen and bathrooms are, and throwing them to the wolves is not only lazy, it's wrong. Your pride and purported culture as a company is on blast the second a new employee walks in the door. Make the investment. Yes, it's expensive, but the ROI is huge and sustainable if done correctly. Don't fuck it up by trying to build Rome in a day.