In those desperate two weeks between when someone accepts a job and when they finally start, time speeds up. We are short-staffed. They’ve accepted the job. We can’t wait for them to get here. In addition to making sure they’ve filled out all their paperwork and have a place to sit when they walk in the door, it’s equally important to make sure we have a plan of action for orienting them to their new role from day one. Here are some ways I make sure we’re both ready for their first day.

  1. Welcoming starts before they get here

Getting the team involved in building an orientation plan is a great first action step.  I usually start with the plan I used with my most recent hire and then amend it according to the new role and responsibility. I send it around to others on the team to fill in the gaps, get them thinking about this new person as a real person, not an abstract, and to remind them that our team will be changing soon. And then I send the plan to the new employee for their input. My intent for taking this step is tri-fold. One, they get to participate in creating their own orientation. Two, we start building a work relationship before they get here. Three, they know where they’re going to have lunch on their first day.

I was interviewing the executive director of a small non-profit who didn’t have a starting point for on-boarding a new employee. I sent her my template which she adapted to her situation. As recommended, she then took it to her staff for input. She reports that by using this process her staff felt more invested in the new hire’s success, and the new employee got a sense of the communication style and culture of the team from day one. You are Welcome!

  1. Decide what they need to know first (1st day, 1st week)

I use the information gathered from these stakeholders to carefully build a schedule for the first day and first week so a new hire can comfortably navigate the immediate transition to the foreign world of a new workplace. For example, this 1st week schedule includes meetings with me, basic administrative support, and getting started with one-on-one meetings with their team.

I always include a list of recommended reading for them to fill in gaps in their schedule. In the first week, this list could include meeting minutes, strategic planning documents, budget, anything that will literally orient them to a broader view of the organization as it relates to them and their role. In the case of the non-profit mentioned above, the executive director also had the new employee read customer evaluations of their programs which helped the organization get an “outsider” view from someone who was now invested in the success of those programs and who was relating to their strategic plan with fresh perspective.

  1. Keep the pace – First 30 days

One of the benefits of having a new hire participate in the development of their orientation plan is that they get to see that they don’t need to know everything or everyone at once. Using input from other stakeholders, I build a list of get-to-know-you meetings that are staged as best I can from who they need to know the first week to who they need to know by the end of their first 30 days. In addition, we map out what software is essential to learn and in what order. In my first meeting with a new hire I usually ask them to take note about what feels “bat-shit crazy.” I know that after the first month or so, what seems crazy when someone is new on the job fades as they assimilate into the organization. I want to capture those precious nuggets to alert myself and the rest of the team to blindspots we’ve developed as services and systems have evolved.

Usually I try to protect a new hire from being given too big of a project in their first 30 days. No matter how experienced they are, taking on a new project too soon isn’t the best way to set someone up for long-term success. That being said, I’ve found it most helpful if there is at least one small scale but moderate impact project that they can start researching during this timeframe. Unless it’s unavoidable, I try not to have them making big decisions or changes at this point.

A new idea I learned from my interview with the non-profit was that including a list of the more visionary work the person would be doing in the future – the kinds of problems they would need to be solving in their job – helped to keep the new employee from jumping in to fix things that weren’t a priority and see where her creativity would be needed in the very near future.

  1. Get on the same page

As mentioned in step 2 above, it’s good to have a list of things for the new hire to read both to fill in when there is that weird downtime when no one yet knows why they would call or email and to integrate them into the team culture. For example, our team is heavy into Enneagram typing, so a new hire to our team optimally has a couple of primers on the Enneagram waiting for them at their desk when they arrive. In addition, I usually have them read over the last year’s minutes for key meetings from the teams they are most closely related to and from our Board. This kind of reading makes for a holistic view of the job and helps the new hire get to know opportunities, challenges, strategies, pacing and organizational lingo.

5. Orchestrate small wins – First 60 days

By the end of the second month, an orientation plan will have mapped experiences so that my new hire is demonstrating competence on all organizational systems and software that they interact with regularly. Instead of leaving this development to chance, key trainings are called out on their plan. Some are pre-scheduled and some I ask them to schedule for themselves. What better way to get to know how a system works than to try and schedule a training with someone on another team? Building familiarity with software and systems is a nice small win for a new hire. When a new hire comfortably uses a term unique to our culture, I know they are on the path to integration.

Another way I plan for some small wins is to have a list of their projects in order of importance on their orientation plan or in a draft performance plan. When I remember to include that from the early days, as they move through their first days and weeks, they can begin to see where they should put their focus, how they will have impact and how they might improve on what they’ve been hired to deliver.

  1. Build relationships

If I have done my due diligence, I will have noted on the orientation plan the first time they will want to meet with each team member or community connection. Once someone starts, it’s full speed ahead and I can lose track of the fact that someone with whom I’m working closely hasn’t formally met other key stakeholders. Part of my job is to make sure that I have planned some sort of ice-breaking to help those relationships move to the next level. With this orientation plan, I’m aiming to create an organizational insider at a pace that meets the demands of the role. If a staff retreat isn’t planned in their first 30-60 days, I make a point to include more ice-breaking activities into regular staff meetings to start forming those personal connections that are the foundation for building trust on a team.

If the position requires integration into the larger community, then having those meetings built into their calendar helps a new hire understand the importance of community outreach to our organization. It also helps them begin to gain an understanding of community needs and aspirations. This relationship building is the foundation for learning how they can impact our reputation, influence community outcomes, and make a difference.

  1. Ready to rock – First 90 days

If we’ve managed the orientation and training plan well, at the 90 day mark, a new hire will have met or been introduced to everyone they will work with on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. They will have a few small wins under their belt in terms of projects and relationship building. They will be well-informed about organizational systems, software, successes, and challenges. They will have a good idea about what to do next when it comes to making bigger decisions and taking on bigger challenges. And they will understand how important their vision, creativity, and experience are to the success of the organization and the outcomes we hope to achieve in our community. And they will be Welcome!

Recommended Reading

The First 90 Days:critical success strategies for new leaders at all levels/Michael Watkins/2006

The first time I read this book I was moderately impressed. I had given it as a gift to someone who was starting a new job but wasn’t in that situation myself. When I read it again as a new employee in a new role in a new organization, I took the time to do the suggested activities and take notes. By going through the process, I had a more measured approach to orienting myself to my new position which kept me from jumping in to making changes too soon. I used my notes over the first eighteen months on the job to see what was still “bat shit crazy,” what organizational idiosyncrasies I had learned to love, and which I had learned to appreciate or at least live with.

The First 90 Days, BookProven Strategies for Getting up to Speed Faster and Smarter/Michael Watkins/2013

Updated version by the same author. Definitely a worthwhile read for those in a new position.