Do you onboard your new team member or do you leave it for HR?

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

I must admit, this is an area where I should have done better as a leader. Much better. Yes, I walked them around to introduce them to everyone and would give them items to read regarding the latest projects or happenings that were going on with the team. But I never made the day about them.

I recently read an article called The Map on the Wall by Jack Curtis. My main take-away was that I should have taken the time to make the first few days about the new hire, making them feel included and part of the team.

Jack is a commanding officer in the Navy and one of the techniques he uses is to have a new team member put a pin on the map indicating where they are from. It may seem a little childish and the first thought that popped into my head was, that’s cute. But then I read on.

In his words, “When we sit down for our first conversation, the first thing I ask them to do is take a pin out of the jar and place it on their hometown (or as near as they can get). Once they’ve done so, I explain that the map and its pins visually demonstrate that we come from everywhere and why that matters. I point out that we come from different cultures, different values, different educations, different family dynamics, different spiritual or faith traditions, and many of us have different motivations to serve. But, and this is the key, now we’re all here — at this squadron — which means we now have a shared purpose, and all those differences…they’re features, not flaws.”

That’s not cute, that’s genius. Features, not flaws.

Our workforce today is very much a diverse place, yet we don’t always take the time to gain an understanding of where people come from and how that molds them. However, the leader would need to make it meaningful and not just a pin on a map.

So why do we insist on treating our new team members like they are jumping in at a frat house? I mean it’s intimidating enough to be the new guy or gal, but if you as the leader take control of making sure the new hire is not only welcomed but accepted into the culture of the team, that would completely jump-start the trust train with rocket fuel.

Think about it. If you spent your first day at work getting to know the team and having a team that wants to understand you and who you are in a relaxed and open way, would you go home that night stoked about the new job and wake up the next morning ready to crush it?

I know I would.

I’m kind of irritated at myself for not paying closer attention to this when I was leading large teams. What a simple fix and a massive miss on my part.

What do you do then, as a Leader, to make sure your new hires are well and fully brought into your team on an emotional level? I’ll be honest, I really struggled to find good reference articles about this process. It was all about documents, structure, formality and very little about welcoming the new hire as an individual or a human. Also, it was more about coming into the company and really nothing about coming onto a team.

How about we leave the formal stuff with HR and we take the wheel on the human approach? Here are my suggestions:

Start with a sit down. A real get to know you session that is more about them than you. Ask questions and be prepared to listen. Maybe talk about what gets them excited and motivated at work or what does a team that works well together look like to them. Questions where there are no right or wrong answers, but allow you to get an insight into who they are. Ask them about their values and what is important to them in their life.

Next, have a planned informal session during the day. You can put food around it if you wish, but let the team have something to say about the place. Funniest moments or share a time where the team recovered or avoided mayhem by working with each other. Or have people share their experience about joining the company. I can see how having an informal session where you get to learn the people on your team would be a valuable session for a new hire.

On day two have another one on one session regarding how you like to work, how they like to work and how you will work together. Use this time to gain insights that will help you make a quick connection.

Help them make connections. I’ve seen this done well and not done at all and I think it’s hugely important to walk them around the company and really introduce them to the people and departments they will work with. Do an email introduction to the company and to any outside stakeholders and customers. Nothing is more uncomfortable than meeting someone for the first time in a stressful situation.

Lastly, assign them to someone on the team (or maybe even two people) to check-in and see how they are doing for the first couple of weeks. I’m not saying someone to oversee their work, but creating that connection so they don’t have to get up on their own and awkwardly ask questions on how to do or find something.

Remember, all of this is to make them feel welcomed, to get them engaged quickly and to build that strong team rapport. The quicker you can build the trust train, the quicker they can do the work you hired them for and to do so at a higher quality.

I’m sure you have some thoughts of your own on how to onboard a new hire. How about sharing those in the comments so we can all learn.

Be a Connected Leader.