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Level Up Onboarding: Effective Strategies for Managers to Engage and Retain Employees

While HRIS technology has helped improve efficiencies, it is important to recognize the human piece of the onboarding puzzle – managers.

Technology has come a long way in streamlining the onboarding process and organizations are recognizing how a new hire’s onboarding experience will shape their future performance and team engagement. While getting your administrative checklist completed efficiently is critical to ensure compliance, in order to administer an employee onboarding program that is also welcoming and enhances connected relationships within your teams, it is important to consider the impact that effective managers have on onboarding processes.

First impressions matter, and we have come a long way from the days of boring paperwork and the roller coaster of emotions that were once hallmarks of starting a new position. While managers are often coached on how to interview and conduct performance reviews, many well-intentioned leaders still lack the guidance to ensure new employees are truly set up for success during their crucial first few months. Effective managers understand how improving their onboarding experience reduces the amount of time to ramp up and empowers people to succeed in their new roles. While often overlooked, these improvements positively impact engagement and contribute to a reduction in turnover – a metric that every leader should actively work to improve.

Meaningful ways that Managers can enhance engagement for new employees during onboarding:

Share Clear Expectations and Guidelines: “Clear is Kind"
It is important for managers to go beyond job descriptions and the Employee Handbook to work with their new employees to understand clearly defined expectations for communication and performance. Clear is kind, and by being transparent about communication methods, tools, and performance review metrics, leaders help create a valuable framework for new hires. Given the influx of new information, managers can be instrumental by providing a clear and accessible reference document their direct reports can use throughout their first year to navigate systems and procedures.

Define Goals Early & Build a Roadmap
It is essential not to assume that the job description and handbook will cover all expectations of the new role. Another common trap is when managers assume the interview process covers all expectations of the role and takes into account the varied cultural and organizational differences that come into play on each team. New employees are taking in a lot of information and may not feel comfortable asking questions yet. Your direct report needs to understand both your unique management style and how to succeed in their role as soon as possible.

Be clear about how long it will take them to ramp up. You don’t want them to think they should know how to do everything in the first month. If something will take them 6 months to fully understand/learn/master, tell them. Create goals so that they know that by 30 days, they should be able to do XXX; by 60 days they should be able to do YYY and by 90 days, they should be able to do ZZZ. This helps both the manager and new hire understand if they are on track.

Facilitate Introductions
One area in which managers can make a huge impact in helping a new employee integrate quickly is through internal and external stakeholder introductions. While it is easy to simply share contact information and expect the employee to reach out proactively, there are many reasons why their requests may go ignored. Designating a mentor or peer as a coach can be instrumental, though it is worth noting that the established manager should make the introductions. They should also follow up to make sure that the mentor can follow through on support and show them the ropes. Internal stakeholders should also schedule time to connect with the new employee to ask for feedback on how the mentor connection is progressing.

Get Involved Early and Often
While a trainer or mentor may be assigned to support your new employee, managers should prioritize participating in activities with their new hire. By joining meetings and investing time early on, they are modeling the role and culture to ensure their new hire is on track to succeed and quickly acclimates to their new organization. Many managers fall into the trap of ignoring their new hire during training and onboarding and only engage with the employee once they have had time to, “drink from the fire hose.”

By spending time with new employees early on, you can observe their behavior in different settings, learn more about their strengths and opportunities, and coach them on setting good habits. Make sure new hires know what you’re talking about and how to navigate team dynamics. Explain acronyms so you’re not speaking in code. This could lose a new hire very quickly and cause a lot of confusion.

However, the earlier the manager is involved, the earlier trust is established and autonomy can be given, providing better outcomes for all involved.

Establish Meaningful Connections
Your new hire’s first three months offer the strongest opportunity to develop a lasting personal connection that is key to building trust and engagement.
Taking the time to understand your new employee’s interests, expectations, communication style and strengths requires prioritizing time for connection outside of allotted training and development, and helps set the framework for their success. Try asking them what “right” looks like to have a better understanding of their point of view.

Managers have the opportunity early on to display vulnerability and help set a foundation where feedback is valued and encouraged.

Respect Boundaries
It is important for managers to be coached not only during interviews but also during onboarding to set boundaries when building a personal connection with their new hires. We want to understand our employees and value them as people, but reasonable boundaries always need to be respected in the workplace.

Ask for Feedback
Understanding how managers play a key role in the onboarding and success of new employees will help you coach your future leaders. It is especially important for new managers who have not had experience onboarding new members to their team.

It is critical for managers to ask for feedback from their new employees on how their onboarding process is progressing and where there are gaps so that improvements can be made. Additionally, consider having a mentor or a buddy ask them for feedback. Ask the employee to provide 2-3 things that you, as the manager, could do differently to help them. Tell them some gaps that you (as the manager) see and ask if they feel the same way, etc. Get creative about how you get feedback.

As your organization grows, it is important also to consider the resources you have and areas where outside expertise can help support your new managers in onboarding. By asking for feedback and identifying areas of improvement, managers can work with leadership to help improve engagement and retention.

OneDigital offers a range of customizable and cost-effective HR solutions that enable leaders to create an environment where all employees operate at their highest potential. Learn more about how you can Elevate the Candidate Journey.