4 onboarding tips for busy managers

Written by: The Management Center Knowledge Team
Published on: Jun 18, 2019

skaters onboard

Congratulations on your new hire! Your next task is to support that promising new employee so they can be the superstar you’ve been waiting for. Research shows that employees who receive effective onboarding are more likely to stay with their organization for longer than three years, and are more engaged and productive. Studies also show that poor onboarding can increase the risk of employee turnover and reduce productivity.

We like to think of onboarding as akin to “grafting,” where plants are joined so as to continue their growth together. Onboarding is the best opportunity you have to set expectations with your new hire, and acclimate them to their new job quickly and smoothly. Here are four ways to do that.

1. Set clear expectations.

  • Help your new hire articulate what they’re responsible for. Check out this expectation-setting resource to help your new hire fully understand the scope of their role.

  • Set short-term goals. Ask yourself the question, “What would success look like in one week, one month, and three months for the new hire?” Craft goals that align with those outcomes. Discuss the goals with the new hire and tweak them. These goals will form the basis of your 90-day review discussion.

  • Share the little things that make it easier to work together. Are you a morning person? Do you like to process an idea first before discussing it, or do you like spontaneous brainstorming? Tell your new staff the stuff they need to know about you to make the working relationship easier. Learn about their work styles and preferences as well.

2. Instill good “management habits” from the get-go.

  • Have regular check-ins. We strongly recommend creating a system of regular check-ins right from Week One. Doing this from the start will make communicating and resolving problems much easier later on. Start by checking in at least once per week.

  • Systematize feedback. Make sure giving and receiving feedback (both praise and constructive critique) is part of the weekly check-ins. Check out our article on feedback to learn how to do this well.

  • Practice good delegation. When working with new staff, it is critically important to be explicit about project outcomes. Encourage “repeat backs” to make sure you’re on the same page, and make time to review early slices of their work. Course-correct when requirements are not being met, but resist the urge to tell them “the right way of doing things around here” based on preferences and traditions.

3. Immerse them in their new role.

  • Let them do the job. You may be tempted to fill your new hire’s first days of onboarding with non-stop instruction, but there’s a better way to get your hires up to speed – by letting them do the job they’ve been hired for.

  • Prioritize what the new hire needs to learn. To a new hire, a new job often feels like drinking from a fire hose. Sequence what they need to learn and how (for example, what trainings/events they need to attend, who they need to talk to, etc.) based on the goals you’ve agreed upon and the corresponding skills.

  • Create different kinds of learning opportunities. Doing a lot of side-by-side work is especially important when folks are new. Use the “I do/we do/you do” learning model, where the new hire shadows you or others in action (“I do”), you find opportunities to work together on projects (“we do”), and they execute projects on their own (“you do”).

4. It’s not all on you.

  • Involve “the village.” Don’t assume that onboarding is your responsibility alone. Seek help and delegate parts of the onboarding task list to others in the organization. It not only helps you save time, but also helps your new hire build relationships across the organization.

  • Use time-saving hacks. Can’t find the 90 minutes to provide your new development director an overview of key donors? Bring them along to your next meeting with a donor. Provide context on the cab ride over, and debrief on the ride back. Couldn’t do a brainstorm on a new project before you hopped on a plane? Leave them a voicemail with your thoughts. Have two new hires starting around the same time? Get them together for your “overview of the organization’s mission and values” session. By keeping a to-do list of your commitments toward the new hire, you can find clever ways to fulfill them.

Right after hire, your new employee is eager to succeed. They want to please. This is great news for you! In their first few weeks, you have a potent opportunity to purposefully define the contours of your working relationship with them and set performance expectations. An effective onboarding process will help you take full advantage of this learning window.

The Management Center is the go-to resource on effective management for social change organizations.

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on The Management Center website.