Onboarding Mistakes to Avoid And Some Creative Ideas to Adopt

Don’t leave your onboarding success to chance. Here are some winning moves—and some real losers too.

By Dori Meinert Jun 1, 2016

​It’s as true with starting a new job as it is with meeting new people: You never forget your first impression—and companies only get one chance to make it. Done well, onboarding leads to higher job satisfaction and performance levels as well as lower turnover. But a bad initial experience with your organization can send your new employees running for the door.

Fortunately, a little planning can go a long way toward creating a great encounter. To gather some practical ideas, we asked the HR community to share stories on social media about onboarding wins and losses. Some are real game changers.

A Welcome Sign
Our new hires tell us that having their desk ready, a welcome sign and co-workers taking them to lunch the first day are their fondest onboarding memories.
—Colene Rogers, SHRM-SCP, talent acquisition manager, Syntech Systems, Tallahassee, Fla.

GifGifts and Treatsts and Treats
I set up an orientation day for a former employer, giving small gifts or treats to new hires. We arranged the room to welcome them, gave them personalized name tags and had all of their paperwork divided into easy-to-navigate sections. I got great reviews from the participants, who felt informed, engaged and excited to be part of a team. I also suggest giving new hires a mentor, checking in on them daily when they’re training and within 30 days after that. I find this helps retention.

—Michelle Broussard, HR director, Girl Scouts Pines to the Gulf Council, Abbeville, La.

Wow Them
A friend recently started a new job, and her employer had an iPod Mini waiting on her desk accompanied with a welcome card signed by all her colleagues. I understand that not all companies can do this type of thing, but it was a personal touch that she really loved.
—Nathan Abbott, HR manager, Professional Examination Service, New York City

Check-Off List 

We use a standard onboarding procedure to ensure we don’t miss any aspect of the process. From recruitment to post-offer to the employee’s first month, we keep an onboarding checklist for each new employee. We include agendas for the first week and sometimes even the first month, which include scheduled training, team lunches and check-ins. We assign a peer to mentor the new employee and ask for feedback throughout the process. This approach has been very successful for our company. 

—Rebecca Nicole Hagen, HR manager, APR LLC, Opelika, Ala.

Post Their Post Their PhotoPhoto 
Prior to new employees starting, we ask them to send us a photo and write a paragraph about their background so we can post those on our intranet site. It shows up in the “featured news” section so everyone sees it when they log in. In addition, we give the new workers a tour of our office and introduce them to everyone. —Ashley Weiner, SHRM-SCP, HR manager, MG2 Architecture, Seattle 

Scavenger Hunt 

On their first day, new hires take a property tour with our Hawaiian cultural advisor to learn the history of the Grand Wailea Resort and the locations of key areas, including pools, restaurants and the spa. Then we send them on a scavenger hunt on the second day to confirm they understand the layout of the property. They have to solve 10 riddles that reveal the names of various places where they find small baskets of gold coins. The goal is to collect a coin from each basket and make an extraordinary lifetime memory for a guest while on the hunt. 

—Kristi Millhiser, SHRM-SCP, director of learning and development, Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, Wailea, Hawaii

Video Greeting 
At a health care facility where I previously worked, we created personalized welcome videos to the new hires from their supervisor. It was a good way for the candidates to put a face to a name and feel like part of the team even before they started their first day. 

—Ben Crenca, graduate student, University of Baltimore, former HR specialist

Create Accountability 
Onboarding should be a visible element of the organizational strategy, and managers must be held accountable for consistently executing an onboarding plan. A critical disconnect is to not establish performance metrics for hiring managers that address their role in onboarding, talent development and talent retention—three critical drivers of employee engagement. In the absence of some strategic alignment, managers will focus on what they are held most accountable for. —Zeb G. LeVasseur, HR consultant, Houston

Sweet Start

Our onboarding process begins with a questionnaire that we send to employees before they start. We find out interesting facts, including what their favorite candy is, and on their first day they arrive to a bag of that candy on their desk. We have a three-day orientation that includes every department. New hires receive a staff directory with everyone’s picture, e-mail and phone number. —Karen Sharp-Price, HR manager, VoIP Supply, Amherst, N.Y.

Fun and Games 

I once created a Jeopardy game for orientation. It was fun and competitive, and the new employees learned all they needed to be productive after spending a week with HR and other departments. We also gave new hires company shirts that were all the same color, so other employees knew from afar who they were and could help them get on board. 

—Claudia Rozo, international HR consultant, Miami


Not Prepared
One mistake I’ve experienced is when no one arranged to have my login, database access or computer ordered and set up prior to my start date. Once I had to wait almost two weeks, sitting idle at my desk, until my computer and accounts were set up.
—Brittnye D. Screws, talent search consultant, Donald L. Mooney Enterprises, San Antonio 

Alone at Lunch
In a post-hire survey, one of our clients scored the weakest on one statement: “A team member invited me to lunch my first day on the job.” Fancy programs are great, but helping employees make that personal connection with co-workers is invaluable—and relatively easy.
—Debbie Muller, CEO, HR Acuity LLC, Summit, N.J.

Plumbing Problems
I took a new employee on a tour of the office only to have the sink erupt into a waterfall as we walked in the kitchen!
—Dawn Craig, HR manager, Tait Communications, Houston

When I walked into a job as an HR manager with a previous employer, all the people I had interviewed with and would be working with were out of the country. The vice president of operations walked up, introduced himself and said, “So, what do I do with you now?”
—Mary Otto, SHRM-SCP, HR manager, TouchTunes Music Corp., Schaumburg, Ill.

Big No-Nos
Don’t give the new employee a workspace that hasn’t been purged of unnecessary files or have her start when the supervisor is out of the office. And make sure to spell her name correctly on business cards and the company announcement of hire.
—Lisa Porro, HR consultant, Inspiring HR LLC, Redondo Beach, Calif.


Bully BossBully Boss
A training supervisor asked a new employee if he was “retarded” because he didn’t understand how to complete a task.
—Name withheld upon request

Maniac Mentor 
I once worked for a large company where my manager assigned another employee to mentor me. This person laughed at me for taking notes and never explained any of the details of how to do the job. Needless to say, I was fired because of a lack of protocol training. The manager didn’t like it when I pointed out that her favorite employee wasn’t training me well. Since then, I have been against the “mentor” approach. Passing the buck is inefficient and unfair to all parties.
—Melissa J. Vandever, owner, Premier Accounting & HR, Mesa, Ariz. 

Snoozing and Losing 

I know someone who was hired to a sales position and required to attend training in a smoke-filled casino. Both trainers fell asleep while a researcher presented the science behind the company’s products. On top of that, the new employee was required to share a hotel room with a stranger.
—Kathryn E. Shibelski, SHRM-CP, HR consultant, AxiosHR, Grand Rapids, Mich.


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