If you hired someone to be a senior executive in your retail business, you wouldn’t have them stacking shelves on their first day, would you?
One national high street retailer did just that to a newly appointed senior manager, who spoke to us recently about his strangest on-boarding experience ever. The company was trialling a new initiative, he was told. Although his first day would be spent at head office meeting and greeting, the rest of the week was an ‘in-store experience’.
For ‘in-store’, read ‘supermarket’. And for ‘experience’, read ‘shelf stacker’.
Never mind the impressive resume which was a roll-call of well-respected retailers, and forget about the six figure salary he was on. This gentleman spent his first few days juggling the pet mince, shining the Granny Smiths and donning freezer gloves to replenish the frozen berries. His most fervent hope was that he didn’t have to follow the other newbies onto the check-outs.
Each day he worked a respectable eight-hour shift, taking regulation tea breaks and wearing all the appropriate personal protective gear that came with the task – including the hairnet.
Initially he felt quite up-beat about the initiative. By the second day he was questioning his career move. It was clear the rest of the intake was struggling too. Each day brought one less face at the morning briefing.
With complete candour, he told me that it wasn’t about feeling demeaned or unstimulated. On the contrary, he met some great people and still pops into the store for casual visits.
But the experience fell far short of adding value to his role within the company. ‘One size does not fit all’, he said.
The value gap between what he gained from the experience and the cost of using a senior management resource in this way, signalled particularly poor thinking, he said. As an initiation, it was meaningless. ‘When I finally got to my own desk in the office, I felt like I was having my first day all over again.’
Maybe the company had its own agenda for leading their new corporate recruits such a merry dance in their on-boarding practice. Possibly the initiative was the result of an impressive thought-shower or blue sky session. Way cool.
In the real world, it poses the question: how far do we need to go to get the most out of our new starters?
In her white paper on on-boarding, Professor of Management at Portland University Talya N Bauer asserts that an alarming fifty percent of all senior outside hires fail within eighteen months on the job. The on-boarding experience you offer a new executive or worker are critical in making transitions smoother – and resulting in better retention rates.
While it’s less wacky, a natural blend of professionalism, compliance and branding is a pretty good place to start, for a healthy transition from a previous employer to a new one – and a longer turn round the corporate dance floor for all concerned.
No one really expects fireworks on their first day. And you shouldn’t be looking to light up the skies. Following these few simple best practice principles helps promote new employee engagement, and adds value during this period where their productivity is inevitably a lot lower than it will be, once they’re in the swing of things.
Set one! Think about when you need the new starter to be up to speed and on the job. This will help you plan the induction schedule and prioritise tasks.
2. EASE THEM IN
Locking a newbie in for back-to-back meet-and-greets might seem like a great starting point, but over-whelming them with a day full of names, technical detail and data really takes the shine off things.
A start date should always be assigned to an empty calendar day in the line manager’s diary. That manager doesn’t have to be devoted to this employee for the entire day, but it’s always best to offer complete availability to the new starter. Things like hosting them at lunch and checking in with them regularly, go a long way. Play this by ear though: maybe they’d like a breather and some downtime over lunch.
3. MAP OUT THE DANCE FLOOR
Give the new starter a floorplan - a candid sketch of all the important office stuff. Like who sits where, the closest printer and where the stationary cupboard is, the fire exits, and most importantly the facilities! Meaningful information gives the new starter their independence, to move around the office with confidence, and takes away the awkwardness of waiting around to ask simple questions.
4. GET THE DETAIL DOWN
Provide an information sheet with payday details, IT passcodes and important email addresses like payroll and administration. You could even go the extra mile and add local eateries and coffee houses. Detail like this creates a big impact – it’s professional, it’s welcoming and it’s free!
5. PRIORITISE THE DANCE CARD
Think about the key players this person will need contact with. Who will they benefit from meeting on their first day, and who could wait until they have more time to settle in? Be strategic - less is sometimes more with these situations. Consider the benefit of scheduling meetings with key contacts when they have specific tasks to work on together. Of course, casual banter is just as important in these early days. But it’s more constructive and value adding if it follows a morning briefing. Let them eat cake and talk strategy!
There is a very boring part to on-boarding, which should not be ignored or delayed. It’s the most formal part of the induction, the first few all-important steps of the employment journey. The new starter must be familiarised with your company policies, safety regulations, confidentiality requirements, harassment prevention and departmental procedures.
It goes without saying that asking an employee to sign off on their understanding and acknowledgement of this is paramount best practice. It’s also the time for you to answer any questions they have arising from compliance documentation.
Later down the employment track you might be called upon to answer questions on how well this was executed, so best be thorough and concise, without cutting a single corner. This might just save you a buck or two in litigation or mediation costs - which are rarely budgeted for.
7. GET YOUR BRAND STORY RIGHT
You can bet your new starter has made some assumptions about you and your company before walking through the door. More than likely they have stalked your social media accounts, googled their new colleagues and possibly even driven past the office to check for parking, dress codes and true hours of operation. They might well arrive with a head full of pre-conceived ideas!
Be transparent and candid from the onset. The way you interact personally makes all the difference. If you project well, they are more than likely to love your brand.
Set the tone for open engagement. There’s no harm in chatting through company information they might already know, or their feelings about joining your team. Why not ask how they felt on their last day with their previous employer? Their answers could reveal the knowledge and energy they bring to the table and how seamless the transition might be into your workplace. Enjoy their company! As Samuel Beckett puts it: ‘Dance first, think later. It’s the natural order.’ Although we recommend you’ve done all your thinking in advance.
Finally, the on-boarding process should not be complicated. Keep it simple, but meaningful. Sure, there are many cool induction initiatives happening in larger organisations, but they have the revenue to cover this process, where a small business typically does not. The lack of fireworks will be forgiven, if you can offset that with a nice balance of professionalism, compliance and branding!
As we saw at the start, the kind of high kicks those larger corporations engage in might do you an injury anyway!