Onboarding: Welcome Is More Than Greeting

When someone you care about comes to your home for the first time, it would be very strange to open the door, say hi, point to the bathroom in case they need to use it, point to the kitchen in case they want a glass of water, point to the living room in case they want a place to sit — and then leave them standing in the hall while you go do something else in some other room.

And yet that’s what we often do with new employees, even at the highest levels. All too often, we greet people but we don’t truly welcome them.

Usually we hand new employees something called an “intake packet” (sometimes it’s even called a “welcome packet”) full of forms and instructions. We wish them a nice day, a nice job, even a nice career, and then leave them on their own to figure things out. In other words, we prepare a simple, straightforward, one-time communication and deliver it.

What we should be doing is making people feel welcome, which is a multifaceted and ongoing process of communication and action.

First Impressions

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from relatively new employees in a variety of organizations how they started out with no desk chair or a broken one and waited three weeks before they got one of their own and could stop “borrowing” chairs from other offices. Or how they had to use an ex-employee’s system password because there was no account set up for them. Or how the prior occupant’s stuff was still in the desk drawers, including things you don’t want to know about. Horrible!

How can you ensure that new hires are successful? What do you want new employees to understand? How can you get their best performance and win their loyalty ever after? You might make declarations that sound like this:

  • Your arrival, your comfort, and your success all matter to us.
  • We’re glad you’re here and we want you to be happy here.
  • We’ve prepared things for you to show you what’s really going on, how to fit, where and how to get help because you belong here and we want to be sure you can tell.

Welcome, Matt!

Conversely, if you were a new hire, what would you need to see to believe that the welcome was credible and true?

Colleagues would know who you are, what your role is, where you fit in the organization, and why you’re important. You would be a real person to them BEFORE you arrived, instead of having to explain yourself over and over.

Your access — badges for entry, system logins, required training — would be scheduled in advance. You’d be shepherded through your first days — that is, you wouldn’t just get a piece of paper or an email telling you where to be and when. Instead, you’d have a personal guide to help you find your way, someone who knows the organization and is skilled at caring for people.

Your physical space would be set up with your comfort and effectiveness in mind, so you could feel at home and settle down to work immediately. Everything would be clean and freshened, if not new; if possible, the configuration would even take some of your preferences into account, because someone checked with you about them ahead of time.

The Permanent Invitation

Required forms aren’t welcoming, no matter how nicely they’re written. Neither is a handbook, no matter how lovely the introduction. Not even if it includes friendly-sounding materials that let the newcomer know which pizzerias deliver, which gyms have the best deals, and when all the holiday shindigs are. A quick walk around the office to meet lots of new faces isn’t how you learn who people are, what they do, and most importantly, how you relate to them.

What’s important is to feel the connection being made, like the lights are on and energy is flowing through! Think of it as an ongoing invitation, as if the organization is announcing: “Here’s the game we play! Here’s the way we play it! Don’t you want to play it with us?” “C’mon! C’mon — let’s play together. It’ll be fun! It’ll be great!”

“We care about you. We’re connecting to you.” That’s what newcomers want to hear. That’s when they know they’ve gotten through the door and that they’ve made it to the inside.

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