Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Onboard or overboard?

I'm researching a piece on 'onboarding' - the effort an employer makes to welcome you into your new role - at the moment and was reflecting on the good and bad experiences I've had over the years.

The way you're inducted (or is it induced?) into your new working life can make a huge difference to your attitude to the role and how engaged you become in the business. At best, it can set you on the way to becoming the perfect ambassador for the business. At worst, it can send you overboard all too quickly. I've had both.

Quite early in my career I joined a big national company and found that my boss had cleared his diary on my first day to ensure he was on hand to answer all my questions and show me the ropes. He also made sure all the hygiene issues of security badges, car parking and all the rest were sorted before I started so that I had a smooth entry into the business. During week one, he'd set up a series of meetings tailored to exactly what I was going to be involved in so that I got a little face time with the key people right up front. For the rest of the week, I shadowed my colleagues in the team, going to their meetings and learning how things got done in the firm by being involved. In between these meetings I had all the usual health and safety stuff - and on Friday lunchtime, we all went out for a team lunch. Within a week, everything felt familiar and I felt I was a contributing member of the team.

Contrast that with a project a few years ago when I turned up as the new communications lead for a new phase of an ongoing project for a major transport infrastructure operator. I arrived as planned on day one at the new office to find the building door locked. I had no pass to get into the building and, even after following someone into the reception area, found the project team were secluded behind another locked door. I rang my new boss - but her phone was on voicemail. I rang her boss - my main client - and found she was set to be on leave all week. Eventually, someone came out of the office and let me in.

I was met by silence from a dozen people ranged around a long narrow room, with all their work stations facing the wall. No-one knew who I was or why I was there. There was a narrow window at one end of the room - needless to say, the only spare work station was right at the other end - and that was mine.

Day one was useless. My boss was off site. I had no security pass, no log-in to the system; nothing to do and no means of generating my own work. My new 'colleagues' made no effort to help and were reluctant to to talk to me. They all headed off for a meeting at lunchtime, and didn't return for the rest of the day.

I nearly didn't bother coming in on day two. I did, and spent most of it getting all the necessary passes and log-ins sorted - time consuming admin that could have, and should have, been sorted before my arrival. I didn't meet my boss until day three - and even then she had no onboarding plan for me. I was very much left to my own devices.

The programme experience improved a little after that first couple of days, but I never felt settled in the role and was secretly delighted when the who thing was canned about six weeks later when the business was suddenly put up for sale.

The old adage of 'you have only one chance to make a first impression' is all too true with onboarding. And in these days where an engaged organisation is the holy grail, you really need to pay attention to getting that initial welcome right.

But what does 'right' look like? Care to share?

No comments: