AWWA Articles

Career Zone -- “Onboarding” more than flavor of the month

By Stuart Karasik, Ph.D.

During my years in workforce development, I’ve seen many “flavor of the month” topics proposed as solutions to long-standing problems. Heralded as the latest and greatest practices for effective work environments, they often turn out to be a new twist on a proven practice that’s been around for years, or just a bust.

Career ZoneA current hot topic is “onboarding.” Also known as “new employee orientation,” it has been around longer than I have (a long time!) and is an effective and necessary practice for enhancing employee retention and performance.

There are numerous models and methodologies for onboarding, and every unique organization has different needs. So, here are some suggestions to tailor a process to work best for your workplace.

1.    Recognize that your organization has its own unique culture. It is probably not perfect or free of issues, but it does exist. Be sure to include an explanation of your culture in your employment advertising materials, communications to applicants, interview/selection processes, and new hire packets. This can be done by including your mission, vision and values statements, and using descriptive phrases such as “work-life balance” or “structured.”

2.    Include “culture comfort” in your candidate selection criteria. Hiring an individual who is a free spirit, for example, is not going to be a successful decision in an extremely structured workforce culture. One suggestion is to present a copy of your mission, vision and values statements to candidates at the beginning of an interview. Introduce the topic with this statement, “Before we get to the questions, I’d like to go over our mission, vision and values. There is a copy on the desk in front of you.” No further explanation or comment is necessary.

3.    Review your current onboarding program and materials. Create a checklist and be sure your process and messaging are consistent. Explain definitions, reasons and examples for your mission, vision and values. Provide real-life examples of them being applied in your organization’s daily workflow.

4.    Demonstrate your culture to each new employee. Sponsor activities to encourage them to share their interests, experiences and background. Find out why they chose your organization and thoroughly introduce them to their department, so they learn the specifics of their role and responsibilities. One successful organization I work with invites new hires to join their intramural program for golf and volleyball, a great way to seamlessly integrate them into the organization without pressure.

5.    Explain to your new employees how to be successful in their day-to-day responsibilities. Describe how their work contributes to the overall success of the business. Introduce them to senior executives and higher-level managers. Help them to feel a part of a team working toward a common goal.

6.    Check in regularly with new employees for six months to a year so that managers and new hires become comfortable talking with and listening to each other. This ensures that new hires understand who to go to with questions and become comfortable making suggestions.  

Onboarding is a proven, effective process and should be a common experience for every employee. Do it right and make sure this “flavor of the month” becomes your solid, foundational “blue plate special.”

Stuart Karasik spent most of his career in the human resources/personnel arena. He has a Ph.D. in education, a master’s in biology, and was the training program manager for the City of San Diego.