By Frank Villavicencio
Chief Product Officer at Greenshades Software
The First Day at Work…
In today’s highly competitive talent market, employee engagement is a predictor of an organization’s success. There is substantial evidence that engaged, motivated, and focused employees lead to above-average business outcomes.
One of the defining moments of an employee’s experience at an organization is their first day at work. The first 90 days at a new job are a big predictor of retention and engagement, and of those 90 days, the first week has a significant effect. Hence, focusing on the employee’s onboarding experience is key to organizations.
The onboarding process, and particularly the first day at work, give new hires a very concrete sense of the organization, its values, and its culture. For new generations of workers, the importance of a clearly defined mission and a culture that aligns to that mission is one of the biggest factors in increased engagement and retention. Setting the right tone at the onset is critical for long-term engagement.
Thinking about the first day at work as a product manager, I cannot help but think in terms of journey maps or flows. In my mind, a pleasant and memorable first day experience is a direct result of having designed and polished these flows to deliver the appropriate experience and emotion to the new hire.
As a manager, I would like a new team member to feel welcome, appreciated, and very quickly acquainted with how things work and what is valued. Therefore, the first day at work needs to reflect care and attention to these elements. Taking a page from Jocko Wilink’s Extreme Ownership, I would declare that the first day at work experience is the responsibility of the hiring manager. There, I said it. And while there are many areas of the organization that need to converge to deliver the end-to-end onboarding experience from applicant to employee, including HR, IT, and Compliance, in the end, the manager is the first point of interaction for the new hire, and therefore the orchestrator and accountable party.
What to Consider When Designing the Onboarding Experience?
Start upstream during the recruiting process. When the future employee is applying for job, how do they engage? Does the job description resonate with how you would want them to perceive your company? When they apply for the job, is the process intuitive and frictionless? Do potential candidates apply using their smartphone? If so, is your recruiting site mobile-friendly? Do you collect personal information from them that will allow you to drive a personalized and pleasant experience (i.e. do they provide mobile numbers, emails, or LinkedIn profiles)?
The interview process and follow ups from the recruiter (or hiring manager) are key to maintaining the right level of engagement and consistently reinforce the culture of the organization. Do you keep candidates apprised of their status? How? Is it personable? Is it mobile friendly? Is the tone of communication consistent?
Once the applicant accepts the offer and becomes an employee, how do you engage with them? Do they get a welcome message that is consistent with the job description that attracted them and that resonates with your organization’s culture? Do they get an invitation to electronically sign the offer letter and other documents? Is this experience mobile friendly?
During their first day at work, how do they get started? Considering that today, most of the work is done remotely and virtually, do you reach out to them via email, text, phone, Zoom? Do you leverage the fact that you already collected a lot of their information during the recruiting process, such that the employee does not have to re-enter it (and feel a bit neglected)? If they will get a corporate email address or a laptop for instance, does that setup happen and arrive to them prior to their first day? As a manager, do you know that they have received the equipment they need?
When they go through the process, is it intuitive? Do they need assistance from another person, or can/should they complete it on their own? Do they do so via a smartphone? Do they need to work through a desktop or laptop? Do they have access to one? Do you expect/require them to show up at a facility to go through the process through a desktop or a kiosk? Is that what you would prefer? When they sign up, can they electronically sign their required documents (i-9, W4, etc.) from their smartphone? Do they have to print and mail stuff in? If the new hires need to complete training, are they aware of deadlines?
Depending on the role, you should consider how the employee onboarding flow should take place: decide what should be completed within the first few hours, first day, first week, first month, and first quarter. Consider using tools (calendar reminders, notifications, training platforms) to assist and guide the employee. Checklists are very helpful, even better if they are intelligent (tailored, actionable, etc.). The balance here is in ensuring that the employee feels welcome and gets a sense of how efficiency and productivity are valued at the organization, while at the same time, reducing anxiety and avoiding overwhelming the new hires on day one. Focus only on what’s absolutely required on day one, and then provide assistance on what comes next. All of these should be consistent and resonant with the organization’s tone and culture. Consider the value of consistency in the journey from the start up to this point.
How Do You Know This is Working?
As a manager, you want to have measurable insights that your new hire onboarding process is working well. How can you tell?
You can measure the time it takes the new hire to be setup in your payroll system, or the time it takes from getting started to sending their first corporate email, or Slack message, or punch in. This would be a good metric to baseline and improve. Add to that the number of times the new hire runs into issues requiring support – another metric to baseline and improve.
As you go through this measurement, you can identify friction points and take steps to remove them. For example, if you can leverage single sign on, such that a single account be created that allows the employee to access all systems and applications they need to perform their job, this will significantly remove friction, improve the employee experience, and ultimately translate into faster onboarding. Feeling empowered? What if you can eliminate passwords from the experience altogether? Wouldn’t that send a strong message to the new hire?
For organizations that have seasonal hiring (i.e. a contingent of short-term or temp workers that come and go within the year), these gains in efficiency and experience will translate in huge productivity gains and overall engagement improvements.
Of course, as a manager, you should never underestimate the value of intangibles. Starting a new job can be stressful to new employees, so you need to ensure that the experience is reflective of your team and your organization. Does the employee have a physical space ready for her to start? Did you send a personalized welcome message? Did you mail in a postcard or company swag so the employee appreciates the warm, personal care from his new employer? Did you or someone in the team take the employee out to lunch? Is the employee aware of the core values of the organization? Do they understand them? Did the recruiter who initially engaged with the employee as an applicant send a welcome message to the employee?
When going through the decision-based steps of the onboarding process, did the employee feel comfortable or stressed? Were they able to complete the W4 form without much trouble? Where they able to set up direct deposit successfully for their pay? How about electing new benefits? Deciding what to contribute to the company’s 401K? Did the i-9 employment verification process complete smoothly? Did you have a chance to personally greet and welcome the new hire? Did they get to see a welcome video of you or your leadership or the company at large? These are unlikely to be measurable, other than by conversation or interaction with the employee.
The long-term indicator of how this process works will be your company’s reviews on Glassdoor or the occasional, unsolicited photo posted on social media of someone’s desk how they found it on the first day when they showed up. These tend to be hard to correlate and measure consistently, and they represent a trend of whether or not your process is working. Of course, in the end, retention and engagement are the most reliable metrics to track.
Personally, I tend to think of the first day at any company as something that has to be memorable. You want the new hire to go home and rave about your company and the experience they went through. You want them to feel productive, welcome and supported, and you want them to immediately understand how the organization works.
The Role of Technology
HR and IT can automate and streamline most or all of the onboarding process, and yet still not deliver the correct employee experience. Therefore, as a manager or an HR practitioner, you cannot simply outsource the process to technology and expect that it will deliver the right outcome. You need to intimately familiarize with the flow as if it was your company’s product.
Technology should help you elevate this experience and empower the employee, as opposed to hinder them. It should not be the excuse for a bad onboarding experience. Consider how well the various technology components integrate and orchestrate to deliver the experience and decide the right sequence for the right type of employee. Should we create corporate email accounts first? Do we pre-populate data based on what came in from the recruiting systems? Do the various systems provide SSO? Does the employee need to re-enter information? Does the employee get access to the documents and sites they need to do their job instantly or do they have to manually request and figure out what access they need? Is technology able to guide the employee through the steps that need to complete on day one and manage the checklist of items pending in a way that does not overflow their inbox, stress them out, or get ignored?
These are considerations that both HR and hiring managers should consciously make since employee engagement and retention are predicated on how the experience goes during these crucial points in the employee lifecycle.
There are other events and flows that correlate to improved employee experience over time, and hopefully, I will get to discuss them in future blogs, yet the first day at work is, to me, the cornerstone to a healthy and rewarding long-term relationship with the organization.
I would love your thoughts and reactions to these thoughts.