Four Overlooked Practices to Onboard Top Talent (So You Don’t Lose Them)

Outside our house, they are replacing the road. One of the interesting things I’ve noticed is that there was very little attention to the foundation of it. I have to say, I don’t have high hopes that this road is going to last, but metaphorically, it occurred to me that this is often what I see in organizations; that some of the most important practices, such as recruiting and onboarding top talent, lacks a strong foundation.

New employees and even existing employees that don’t have a sufficient foundation in which to be successful may feel lost, confused and frustrated. We have a hard time recognizing their greatness when they’re struggling. We are at risk of losing them before they’ve even changed their LinkedIn status if we don’t do a better job of onboarding top talent well.

We already know there is a talent shortage that shows no signs of easing until 2030 (Deloitte), and yet we continue to ignore the little things we can do to ensure we retain our best staff. It costs thousands of dollars to recruit, retrain, and mentor new staff (to the tune of up to three times their annual salary) not to mention the burden it places on those having to do the recruiting, training and mentoring! Let’s not also forget that other people need to pick up the workload when there’s a vacancy or people are not performing to optimal capacity and ability.

When you give people the right foundation you keep them longer. The quality of their work is better and they feel a greater sense of pride in both their work and the organization they work for. So, what can an organization do to make sure that people have the right foundation?

Here are four often overlooked practices to onboard new talent well:

1. Give Information

Rarely, from the thousands of people I speak for in organizations in any given year, do I hear of job candidates receiving sufficient information; what are the unique challenges of the job, team and project, what will be the biggest priority, what skill or expertise is most needed that is currently lacking? Now you may be thinking that this isn’t information you release until after you make a hire, but isn’t it important for the candidate to ensure she or he feels good a fit? Couldn’t it make it easier to converse on what she or he would do differently, to fill a gap, to expedite the learning curve?

Instead, we treat the recruitment process as requiring candidates to go on a big hunt, that they need to go searching for all of the latest trends and research and what is the company about and what’s the history. That somehow this will prove how much they want the job. What about assuming they want the job, and that good research skills are not more important than their critical thinking skills to share what specifically they would do if they are the successful candidate. How about if they came to an interview with a 90-day plan based on what they knew? Might you be able to gauge commitment that way, and he or she can hit the ground running on day one!

Here’s the suggestion: give them some information that is normally only shared with folks within, show them you trust them and want them to be successful even before they get the job, and see how they leverage that intel. If you don’t have somebody that you can trust at the very beginning, it sets up the recruitment process to be an “us and them”. Why not start off on the same side?

If you have decided you’re going to give your precious time to interview them, don’t potentially waste it by finding out they’re a bad fit when they’re sitting across from you. Give them homework. Ask them to figure out what they would do in scenario X. List the top three biggest challenges you see and reflect on what strengths and expertise they’d bring with them. If they decline the interview as they don’t know how to answer the issues or they don’t want to put in the time, you’ve just gifted yourself at least an hour of your workday!

2. Provide a realistic job preview

When you have those people that you shortlisted, maybe you’ve got one or two superstars. Before you make the final decision, offer the opportunity for them to learn more about you by coming on site to the work environment. They can meet their colleagues, peers and boss. They can get a sense if there’s going to be a good fit. Show them their workspace, let them sit in on non-classified meetings, have them join someone for lunch. All too often, we bring somebody into the organization and then we make introductions, give tours, etc. We assume that an artificial environment of a job interview(s) is sufficient to figure out a fit. Sometimes it’s sufficient but it has a huge cost when it doesn’t work out.

You may be with a progressive company where you have tools and assessments and other checks and balances (and hopefully you don’t lose a good person along the way because there have been so many checks and balances that take so long they get stolen away from you). Let’s assume that you get the right person at the end of the recruitment process. Who’s to say though that they’re still going to be the right fit from a human standpoint when they’re actually with their colleagues and clients on the job?

3. The orientation system

Do you have an orientation system? Not just everybody getting into a conference room and hearing one speaker after the next deliver a series of slide decks (some content that people should know already) but an actual personalized orientation approach?

We need to ensure that your new talent is being oriented to what is most important from the very beginning, and that will be unique to the role, person, team and work context. Are they being oriented so they can create a clear 90-day plan by the end of the week? Do they know what help and resources are available, and who they can ask for help and direction? Do they know their most important priorities?

And let’s not forget the importance of the human touch factor. Can their boss, boss’s boss or the owner of the company meet with them for a half hour in the first week? Do they have their phone, email and extension set up? Do they know how to use them? You would not believe how many people need to struggle through without even the basic systems to do their job well. It also sends a poor message about how important (or unimportant) they are.

4. Recognition the very first day

Recognition the very first day will really set you apart. Do you recognize people that very first day? One of my clients celebrates new people on their first day by putting a card or a mini sign on their keyboard that communicates, “Welcome to the organization. We’re celebrating you!” My speaker’s bureau projects a welcome sign at reception, expressing how excited they are to have a new team member joining! Some write a handwritten note that says, “The things that impressed me most in your job interview are …”

Do something that’s really fun or meaningful. Something that’s reflective of your culture, that shows that person that they are already known, valued and appreciated. You know what the alternative is, so do the foundation work and be informed about the greatness of the person who’s coming into the organization.

It’s such a missed opportunity to onboard and support new talent. We need to know those folks before they even hit the ground running with us.

The ripple effect of their comfort, them being able to be part of a solid foundation, means that the individuals they work with are going to be able to rely on them, are going to be able to see their greatness and be supported by them so much faster than if they were spending time trying to get oriented to that on their own. If you give people a policy manual and have them sit on their first day locked in a room, is not creating a great first impression. Let’s turn the 30% satisfied and 70% dissatisfied, numbers around. A great onboarding experience can help in this quest.

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

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Organizational Development, Purolator Inc.

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