Nov. 28, 2022

How to Onboard New Team Members (Challenge #43)

How to Onboard New Team Members (Challenge #43)

Seems like every day I’m seeing more job openings on linkedin and the other boards I follow. Between COVID hiring freezes thawing and a wave of retirements, a lot of us are bringing on new team members right now! I’ve been training new library workers for the better part of 20 years at this point, and it occurred to me that I’ve learned a lot from those experiences, both good and bad. So since a lot of us are hiring now, or will be soon, it’s time to talk about how to set your promising new hires up for long term success! 

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Transcript

Seems like every day I’m seeing more job openings on linkedin and the other boards I follow. Between covid hiring freezes thawing and a wave of retirements, a lot of us are bringing on new team members right now! I’ve been training new library workers for the better part of 20 years at this point, and it occurred to me that I’ve learned a lot from those experiences, both good and bad. So since a lot of us are hiring now, or will be soon, it’s time to talk about how to set your promising new hires up for long term success. 

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Welcome to the Kind Leadership Challenge! I’m Sarah Clark, founder of the Kind Leadership Guild. 

My PhD in higher ed Leadership, my experience advising educational and library leaders all over the world, and a career working in academic libraries from the front desk to the Dean’s office taught me how any leader in any situation can transform their organization so they can make their communities more educated and informed places to live, work, and thrive. 

Kind Leaders know how to make the tough decisions without becoming jerks. We grow our organizations’ impact without burning anyone out. And we’ve learned that when we stop controlling and start collaborating, the impossible becomes effortless. It all sounds pretty simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. So if you’re up for a challenge, stick around for the next 10 minutes as I teach you to part with perfection so your organization can build a better world. 

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Often by the time we get to the end of a long, intense hiring process, it can be a bit tempting to just sigh in relief and move on to the next item in your never-ending to-do list. However, if you want to have the best chance of your new team member thriving for the long haul, your job’s not done yet. Setting a team member up for success take more than just having them fill out their HR paperwork and handing them the keys to their desk. You need to intentionally welcome them into your organization, while also giving them the space they need to succeed and make the job their own.  Ultimately, successfully onboarding a new team member is like successfully doing anything else in life.  You need to start by defining what “success” looks like. Where do you hope they’ll be in a week, a month, or a semester? What are the most important things they will need to do to accomplish those benchmarks? Jot down those goals as well as some possible pitfalls you might need to coach them through. 

Next, consider running those goals you’ve come up with past your team., especially people who will be working most closely with the new hire. Talk to the other people on the hiring committee too, as they will have seen the candidate up close as well, and may have insights on particular considerations about the incoming team member. Think of other people who may not be on your team but who will have interactions with your new team member, and consider asking them if they have any thoughts about your goals. And ask all of those people if they want to take some sort of role in welcoming your new team member on board—because the more welcome they feel, the more likely they are to thrive. 

Once you’ve identified your benchmarks and brought other stakeholders on board, it’s time to make a plan for onboarding. In a lot of cases if you work for a larger organization, your HR department will have some sort of new hire checklist or onboarding system. And if not, you can find all kinds of similar resources online. That said, those checklists should be a starting point for your plan, not the whole plan. Consider the obvious extra items a person needs to have, like extra logins for any special computer systems, as well as the subtle stuff like how to order business cards or where the extra paper plates are stored. Try to come up with as much stuff as you can think of, but accept that there will be things you forget. This is another opportunity to check with your team too.

You’ve got your plan in place and the big day is here! Even if you only expect your day one checklist to take an hour or two, leave your schedule that day as open as you can. Work a little ahead on big projects, and if there are any meetings you have the authority to move or delegate, do so. You want to be available to them even if you may be donw with your checklist before lunchtime. Which leads us to our next tip for successful onboarding—some breathing room. 

My first experience onboarding new team members was in my first librarian position, when I was in charge of training student workers. Every semester I usually had to get at least one or two of them up and running, and eventually I had it down to a science. First was getting their logins and teaching them the basics of checking books in and out and simple searching in the discovery system. Then I’d have them work through some training materials on the library of congress classification system, and if they were working a long enough shift I’d have them organize and shelve a half-cart of books for me to spot-check. And then…I’d go back to my office. I would tell them to sit at the terminal next to our full time front desk employees and just watch them interact with patrons, and to ask them or me if they had questions. Student workers usually started at the first of the semester, which is the busiest time of year at the front desk. A few hours of shadowing would teach them most of the common questions and pitfalls, and set them up for success much better than me breathing down their necks and quizzing them on reference interview best practices. I’d teach them other things as time went along that related to special tasks we’d be assigning them, but for now, the best move was to give them some breathing room.

And the same is true for any new team member. You need to walk your new team member through those awkward first steps, but once they can log in, check email, and find the bathrooms, give them a few basic assignments or projects they can work on to familiarize themselves with their job, let them know you’ll be nearby if they have questions, and then get our of the way. You just worked hard for several weeks and months to hire a skilled, professional new team member. If they’re as great as you think, you’ve given them enough to get started, then you’ll just be in the way. And if they do have some spots where they’ll need a little more intensive coaching, a little independence will flush those things out fast. 

 And the final step of onboarding is that it’s not over after your checklist is done. If there are certain tasks or skills you need your team member to master in their first weeks or months on the job, let them know that, and keep an eye on things to make sure those benchmarks are met, either on their own or with a little coaching where needed. And also don’t forget that they need to feel a part of the team too. Take them to lunch if that’s a thing in your office. Engage in chitchat in the breakroom or when you bump into each other. Introduce them to folks they should know. Don’t hover, but try to ease their path into being welcomed into the team. And before you know it, as you work these steps, you’ll wave hi to your new team member and suddenly realize it feels like they’ve been there and contributing for years. And to my mind, that’s the ultimate sign of a successful new employee onboarding. 

So here’s your challenge. Take a moment and reflect on the new jobs you’ve started over the years. Which had smooth onboarding processes? Which left stuff to be desired? And drawing on that, what are some onboarding best practices you can use the next time you add someone to your team? Share your thoughts in the Kind Leadership challenge community. 

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Thanks for listening and for taking action to become a kinder leader. If you found this week’s episode insightful, give the show a rating or review—or even better, share this episode with your fellow leaders!  Never doubt that day by day, you’re building a better world, even if you can't see it yet. So until next time, stay kind now.  

 

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