Onboarding is not just “new employee orientation”– it’s your first chance as an employer to literally get your new employees “on board” with the company, your values and your goals. Ideally, they will be enthusiastic, spring-loaded and ready to contribute. If instead, you’re one of the employers still greeting new employees with nothing more than a copy of your company’s handbook and a request to complete a W2 form, it’s akin to administering anesthesia at the front door. It’s worth taking the time to ensure that each new employee’s experience on Day One reflects who you are and where you are going as a company. So, what to do on this, your new employee’s equivalent of the first day of school? Assuming that the employee was selected and hired by a manager who understands and accurately reflects your company’s culture and has used that understanding to make a good hiring decision, now is the time to harness this employee’s energy while it is at its all-time high, brimming with expectation and energy.

  • Tell the employee who you are (that is, who your company is), using at least three adjectives that best describe your people and environment. Employees accept offers for many reasons, ranging from compensation to culture to convenience. And while they all hope for a positive culture, they have to be persuaded that your company genuinely offers one. Knowing and sharing what adjectives define your culture is a pitch-perfect message for onboarding. Consider Open Table, a Bay area-based online reservations company outfit whose soaring growth was powered by a culture employees describe as “fun,” “work hard/play hard” and “enthusiastic.” These salient characteristics, so evocative as to be nearly tangible to employees and invariably attractive factors for applicants, are ideal to reinforce during onboarding. Poised for continued growth and success, Open Table was acquired last year by Priceline for $2.6 billion.
  • Introduce any foundational principles that guide the company’s actions, such as mission, vision or value statements. Leverage your mantras, those principles on which your organization is agreed as central to its being and take the Day One opportunity to introduce them. Emphasize The Big One (if your company has one that stands out among all others) and talk about the company’s efforts to promote them through hiring, training, reward and recognition and communications initiatives. For instance, at Vantage, excellence is a core value, to which team members refer as “bringing our A game.” If this is a core value your company shares, onboarding is a good place to offer a new employees an inexpensive welcome gift, such as a big “A” keychain, laptop bag tag or metal desk ornament. Or, consider having your IT group set up each new laptop with an A-game screensaver to reinforce the principles each day, beginning on Day One.
  • Prove and amplify your point with real-life illustrations. Support your company’s mission, vision, values, policies, procedures and other cultural guideposts with a “you-are-there” demonstration of how they are already working. Any employee of Las Vegas-based Zappos, a leading online retailer, can proudly tell of the epic customer service exhibited by the fact that its customer service representatives are encouraged to “deliver WOW through service,” a commitment supported by other values such as “Create fun and a little weirdness” and “Be passionate and determined.” Zapponians “WOW” customers via screen-sharing phone calls for hours if necessary, providing infinite guidance and advice until the customer makes a decision. This practice embodies both its customer service value and its passion and determination commitment and is supported by a compensation structure that offers no reward for call volume.
  • Get personal. Show a newbie how the company’s culture has worked for you. People relate to people more than they do to principles. Think (and then talk) about why you joined the company and why you stay. In your natural way, share your considerations, other options and/or opportunities you might have foregone and what about the culture works for you. It’s a great time to recall aloud your proudest accomplishment during your tenure or what you are most excited about going forward. Maybe your company doesn’t have a party bus like the one on which a Zappos employee may have shared a ride (and some great ideas) with CEO Tony Hsieh. But, instead, you may be able to instead offer an anecdote that brings your company’s core value of flexibility to life by sharing with newbies your company’s Vacation As Necessary (VAN) policy — which supports any reasonable employee vacation proposal without regard to days or tenure as long as the work gets done – and how wonderfully it has enabled you to manage your family’s complex getaway schedule. That’s the kind of powerful story that sends new employees off and running with pride and an expectation of a great future.
  • Celebrate and congratulate your new employee. Onboarding, done best, is a welcome party and a celebration. Knowing the names, backgrounds, strengths and new roles of each employee is key so that the onboarding presenter can seize this early opportunity to herald them all as carefully selected, highly valued contributors. If your company’s website includes employee profiles, make sure your IT group has already posted those for your incoming class in time for unveiling in onboarding. Review resumes, touch on past career accomplishments and spotlight each new employee with a chance for her to elaborate. If you know what types of exciting or important projects will be in all or some employees’ charters, talk about the potential opportunity and impact. Finally, congratulate the employee on having joined a strong and growing culture that will impact the company’s success and that of the broader environment you serve. These types of techniques leave employees feeling empowered, important and motivated to deliver maximum contribution in the context of a culture they embrace.

As you recall your first day of school as a bright-eyed kindergartener, what made you look forward to Day Two? What got you excited about your future experience at the school? Share your experiences and any onboarding experiences that gave you an enthusiastic running start with your present employer or one from your past.

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