Does a poor onboarding experience impact employee—and company—success? Elaine Varelas explains

Ask the Job Doc. —Boston.com

Q: I just started a new job and met another recent hire—it was nice to connect with someone else who’s still learning the ropes. I learned she has regular check-ins with her manager, while I feel like I’ve just been thrown in the deep end and have to seek out guidance from my manager. Shouldn’t the onboarding process be consistent at an organization? I feel like I’ve been short changed and not set up for success.

A: It’s disappointing to learn that the onboarding experience is not consistent within your new organization and that it’s being left to each manager to develop their own. Yes, it should be consistent; however, the size and age of the company can impact the state of the onboarding process. Large, established companies will likely be much better organized around having standard processes and procedures in place, while smaller or newer companies may not be as well organized. The good news is that now you know some areas of the organization have stronger managers, which means you have an opportunity to talk to your manager about developing a process and a partnership that will work for both of you.

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I don’t know how long your manager has been in her role or how much training she received, so these are elements that could be impacting your experience as well. Perhaps her management style is much less directive—though, being new, you might prefer a more directive, hands-on manager at the start. You also haven’t said whether your relationship with your manager is a good or a bad one, so assuming it’s a good one, you should feel able to broach the subject of a more robust onboarding experience with her. In your next meeting, mention that another recent hire told you how helpful it was to have regular check-ins and a process that covers the areas of learning necessary for success and that you’d like to build something similar with her. Explain that you will need her help, because you don’t know what you don’t know. Try not to show any feeling of being short changed in this situation. Your manager likely feels that you’re prepared for success and is just unclear on how to help you. You will benefit from a positive approach and in the spirit of partnership; avoid coming across as accusatory or comparing her negatively to other managers. Frame it from the perspective of being a support to you and your success at the organization.

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Many organizations tend to assume that onboarding happens by osmosis. Their version of onboarding is showing a new employee their desk, handing them some business cards, setting up their email address, and only meeting as needed. The alternative, more effective approach is to develop a comprehensive onboarding process that includes introducing a new employee to different departments within the organization and getting educated on what they do, connecting them with their primary contacts, and discussing and describing the culture and standard expectations of behavior and deliverables. These are the two extremes, and not everyone has the benefit of experiencing the latter.

Organizations need to care about this issue because people who aren’t onboarded well typically aren’t satisfied in the job. They spend too much of their time trying to figure things out that other people assume they know and are angry, thinking “No one told me I should know this!” They also get frustrated because they don’t feel like they’re part of the organization or that anyone is looking out for their career and professional development. When there is no onboarding process, it typically means there are no conversations around how things are going, how the manager is doing, or how the employee likes to be managed. If these conversations are missing, people don’t develop the strong relationships that are the foundation of a successful and productive team. As the saying goes, “People join organizations—and leave managers.”

At any level, when the message being sent is that the employee is just another cog in the “to do” wheel rather than a fully encompassed and valued member of the organization, the company will lose them. It is well worth the time and money to establish a process and provide manager training around onboarding, as it results in new employees who are more effective and actively contributing to the team sooner.

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Throughout your career, you have a 50/50 chance of getting a good manager, so being prepared to ask for the support you need is a good lesson. Managing people is hard, so when you can present it as partnering with your manager to ensure your personal success, you can get the resources and guidance you need.