In a previous post, I explained how difficult it has been for AEC firms to find experienced Marketing Coordinators. If you are one of the lucky ones to find this unicorn, you will want to make sure you set a great first impression so he/she stays with your company for a long time. This is where a great onboarding experience can come into play.
What is onboarding?
Onboarding is the bridge between the résumé screening, interviewing, and selection of a job candidate and the annual review measuring how that employee is doing in her job. It should be customized for the employee’s role and delivers firm and position information in a just-in-time format. Onboarding is not orientation. Orientation is the event that usually takes place on or near day one and provides an information dump of the organization and a plethora of paperwork to complete.
My background is strictly marketing and I have never worked in HR. However, I over the past decade I have managed marketing departments at three different firms. In this experience, I have had the opportunity to hire new staff, inherit good and bad staff, and the unfortunate action of letting staff go. Through these experiences, I have seen the good, bad and non-existent on-boarding for marketing (even my own varying levels of onboarding). I really took an appreciation for the importance for quick and thorough onboarding. We are all usually underwater with deadlines and need help. Once we get that approval to hire, we need to not only find someone quickly but get that person up to speed and fully functionally ASAP.
What I am going to share with you today is part what I have done in the past, some additional great ideas I wish I had known years ago, and how some other companies do it well. Hopefully this will inspire you to add some elements to your onboarding program.
Do you need onboarding?
Review the following questions. If you answered yes to any (or all), then please continue reading to help improve or establish a marketing onboarding program.
- Are you experiencing heavy turnover in the first 1-3 years?
- Are you frustrated because you new employees are not productive quickly?
- Are your new employees making mistakes that cost you more resources than acceptable?
- What do you need from your new hires in the first year?
Onboarding Begins Before the First Day
The onboarding process should start the minute the offer letter is accepted and the first day of work is scheduled.
How many of us have accepted a new position and then don’t hear from our new employer until just before the scheduled first day? That two to three-week time period is crucial to form the new hires initial opinions of your firm. It will squash any of the buyer’s remorse syndrome that new hire may be feeling. Also, if you are hiring an all-star away from another firm, chances are that firm is trying to get that person to stay. You want to use this time period to assure your new hire that he/she is making the right decision to come to your firm.
I call this the Pre-Boarding phase in your onboarding schedule.
Prepare for your new employee’s arrival once the offer letter is signed.
Work with your HR partner to send orientation materials, benefit forms, and new employee FAQs before the first day. By providing this information in advance, you can relieve a lot of that first day anxiety.
Develop your Resource Guidebook and Help Source Cards. These are explained below along with downloadable templates. I have also started developing a first week schedule and sending to the new hire before arrival.
Send your new hire a welcome email and include the information needed to be comfortable on his/her first day. Explain what he/she will need to know to get into the parking lot/garage and front door. Also, explain who he/she can expect to meet once they walk through the door and if he/she should pack a lunch or plan to go out.
Now think about what you’ll need internally. Follow up your HR and/or IT procedures to get the workstation set up, including login information. Ensure that his/her work area is ready with a phone line, appropriate furniture and supplies, etc.
This initial onboarding period isn’t just for the new hire. It is also a chance to begin introducing your firm to the new hire. Often times, we announce new employees the day they begin or in the next internal newsletter (which could be weeks or months from their start date). It makes everyone feel more comfortable when they know someone new is starting and what they look like. Get a picture of the new hire (even a snapshot or clip it from LinkedIn), include that along with a brief bio of their previous experience and what his/her role will be at the firm. Other items to include would be the start date, where that person will be sitting/working, and company contact information.
After the new hire paperwork is well underway, you need to work on your Resource Guidebook. This is an actual book (binder) that the new hire can refer to in the beginning months of employment.
Ideally it contains information to answer most the new hire’s questions. It is not to replace communication with you, but rather as a quick go-to resource to empower the new hire to work right away and not feel like he/she is bothering anyone with “less important” or “silly” questions.
It should be specific to your marketing department rather than your firm’s employee handbook. I also suggest assembling it into a 3-ring binder so you can replace pages as information changes.
Suggested information includes:
- Firm introduction
- Company organization chart
- Marketing guidelines
- Where to find marketing information
- Proposal/collateral production
- Proposal/collateral assembly/packaging
- Post production/shipping/delivery
To help you determine what information to include in your Resource Guidebook, I have prepared a detailed questionnaire. This can serve as a starting place for your marketing team to discuss potential new hire needs. You can download that here.
Help Source Cards
The Help Source card is a small card (index card, half sheet of paper, etc.) that includes some basic information on where to get help at a moment’s notice. It should be small enough that the new hire can keep it at his/her desk or in his pocket or her purse.
The information should include phone and email addresses for the following:
- IT – Who should you call when something isn’t working properly? What are the hours someone is available and what are your options for assistance after business hours.
- Office – What is your office address, phone, and fax numbers? This is often referred to when preparing proposals until it is memorized. You might want to also include the address, phone and fax for your corporate headquarters or other offices.
- Marketing team – Include anyone who this person will be working in marketing. Include each person’s email address, direct line, and cell phone number. I would even consider including a home phone line with the strict instructions to only use in case of extreme emergency.
- Management team – Similar information as the marketing team
- Property management team – If you are in an office building that is managed by a property management company, include the name and contact information for them as well as security. Also, include information such as how to report a repair and emergency repair.
- Local authorities – This is especially important if the new hire is new to your local area. Include the police emergency and non-emergency numbers.
Although this information may also be included in your resource guidebook, this Help Source Card is meant to serve as quick reference for the new hire to allow for faster work and/or to feel more secure at the beginning. Knowledge is power!
I have put together another questionnaire to help guide you through gathering the information for the Help Source Card. You can download that here.
First Week Schedule
Develop the new hire’s first week and if you can, second week’s schedule. Include any introductory meetings within the marketing department, other managers, etc. You will also want to schedule their headshot and any other information gathering you will need. Actually, schedule these meetings with the other internal people and give them some information to talk about with the new hire. This way the other managers are prepared.
Some of the items on the first week schedule to include are:
- Marketing department introductions
- Other department introductions
- Marketing business – If you have multiple people in your department, I have the new marketer meet with each of them to discuss a different element of the department. This can include:
- Marketing Assistant – Discusses server/folder organization, travel, expenses, etc.
- Graphics Manager – Schedules headshot, graphics requests, graphics database, etc.
- Communications Manager – Discusses brand standards, editorial guide, communication policies, etc.
- Marketing Manager – Introduces CRM, proposal management/procedures, etc.
I will send a first draft of this schedule to the new hire before he/she starts to get a sense of what his/her first week will look like.
New Hire’s First Day
You never get a second chance to make a first impression!
We know that preparing for your new hire’s first day can add extra work to your already busy schedule. Nevertheless, it is imperative that you plan ahead to make sure the new employee feels valued right away.
Make your new hire’s first day is positive—one that they will remember fondly and want to recreate for other new hires later on—and keep them from experiencing “new employee’s remorse.”
The first day is about getting settled, paying a visit to HR, beginning the socialization process by meeting the team, having some quality time with the supervisor, and starting to learn the organizational culture. New employees need basic information (dress code, lunch habits, ID badges/log-in info, supplies, benefits and vacation days).
Remember that the first day is also about building the sense of belonging. You don’t want your new hire sitting alone at his desk on day two because no one invited him to lunch.
Plan to cover the following day one essentials:
- Benefits, policies, and procedures
- Facility logistics (parking, access cords, office tour)
- Safety and security
- Information and communications (voicemail, email and file systems)
- Job description, expectations, and department protocols
As part of the socialization process, think about the soft touches you can add—Welcome Wagon (explained below) and departmental interaction/engagement.
Case Study: CXTec
CXTecSM, based in Syracuse, New York, is a supplier of data networking and voice equipment. The company has an onboarding ritual that each new hire completes, accompanied by a more senior level employee, within the first 30 days of employ. Together they serve coffee and doughnuts to all employees from a rolling cart. This is a way for new hires to reinforce names and faces and location, and as well, it signals to new hires the importance of relationships. It has a two-fold purpose: to teach culture and to nurture relationships.
Introduce new employees into your firm in bite-sized chunks, allowing for introductions and quality face time. Sporting events, bagel breaks, guided company tours, and sitting in on other departmental meetings are all ways to help foster work relationships. When inviting a new employee to the summer picnic or holiday gathering, assign someone to accompany them and help make introductions.
Read the entire case study here.
A welcome wagon can be an activity, a treat, or something creative that shows that you are welcoming your new hire into your firm and introduces him/her to your firm’s culture. You can have fun and think outside the box especially when you have little to now budget. Some different ideas are:
- First day on a Friday – At CityMax.com, a build-your-own-website service in Vancouver, British Columbia, new employees always start on Fridays, when work is less hectic and everyone has time to introduce him- or herself. The hire is greeted with balloons, streamers, and a welcome card signed by the entire staff.
- Show an inspirational movie –
- Create “Who’s Who” flash cards
- Create a welcome package consisting of company swag and send to their home before the first day
- Provide a goody bag
- Candy grams
- Develop a scavenger hunt and tour around the office – At The NHHEAF Network Organizations, corporate trainer Joan Goeckel has new hires go on a “Scavenger Hunt & Tour” on their first day of orientation. With a list of items and people to locate and a map, new hires search the building for said items and individuals. Besides the fact that this is far more fun than hearing a lecture, it’s more effective. Embedding learning in a real-world context makes it both more understandable and accessible later.
If you need help brainstorming creative ways to welcome your new hires. You can download this questionnaire to gather your thoughts.
David Lee discusses the importance of inspiring pride in his article “Successful Onboarding: How to Get you New Employees Started Off Right.” He emphasizes that one of the most important roles of the onboarding process, especially new hire orientation, is communicating to new employees:
- You made the right decision.
- You’re lucky to be part of this organization.
- This is what makes us great; what makes us worthy of pride.
You can directly address this by talking about your firm’s mission and what that means for the marketing department in everyday work life. You can share stories that capture the magic such as a great win over an incumbent or the time everyone came together to get that last-minute submittal to the client.
First 90 Days
The first 90 days will include many firsts for the new employee—first staff meeting, first problem to solve independently, first proposal/deadline, first chance to suggest new, creative ideas, first encounters with technical staff or even first win!
How a new hire learns and grows—and sometimes rebounds—from these firsts can be guided by you or a mentor or coach who checks in regularly, asks questions, and helps interpret these first experiences with the new employee. And, as part of any effective supervision, feedback regarding the new employee is doing well and what can be tweaked is important now, not to be saved for the end-of-year evaluations.
Work with your new hire to establish and work toward near term goals.
Provide opportunities for your new hire to work with different marketing personnel and/or different technical staff. Have him/her work with the roadway design group on a proposal and then another group on another assignment. Also, try to vary the assignments. This will help for him/her to learn more about your firm’s services/qualifications as well as to get to know different leaders in your firm.
Recognize the employee’s contributions (or early wins). This can include a congratulatory note from you or your principal as appropriate.
Continue to give regular feedback to the employee. Explain when the employee can expect the first formal annual performance evaluation.
Case Study: ZapposSM
Know when the fit isn’t there. Use the first 90 days for both the new hire and you to see if each other are a good fit. Our industry is sometimes “too nice” and prefers to avoid confrontation. If someone is performing or isn’t happy in the role, why keep the relationship going? You may even want to incentivize folks to leave. That is exactly what Zappos does.
At the end of its four-week training period, ZapposSM offers its employees $3,000 to quit. For employees that aren’t acclimating well, it’s a significant motivator to walk away before the company invests more in their training and development. “It’s important that the people that are here are super passionate about being here,” says Team Leader Jo Lawson.
Employees have to ask themselves, “Is this a company I want to be committed to long term?” If the answer is no, then Zappos believes they’re better off parting ways sooner rather than later. Despite the generous offer, only 2-3% of employees take the incentive.
I haven’t done this incentive personally. Do you know of any AEC firms who does?
Read can read the full case story here.
The first year is a critical time period for new employee turnover. Employees who don’t feel they are a good fit with your firm will be looking to move on before they invest too much time and energy in your firm. That’s why many industry leading companies are developing year-long onboarding programs to help strengthen organizational learning and company bonds.
Case Study: Qualcomm
Qualcomm, a mobile technology firm based in San Diego, California, also has a formal, year-long orientation program. One of its core features is a weekly email series called 52 Weeks. Each email tells a story about the company, from inception to present day. Through the series, employees learn about the company’s values and history.
One such story, for example, explains the origins of the company’s lax and rather unusual dress code which is, simply: “No shoes with ears.” New hires learn that the edict came down from the company’s chief scientist after he spotted an employee traipsing through the hallway in bunny slippers.
Read the full story here.
This is a topic that could be an entire article on its own. Stay tuned on this blog for the next article in this series on Performance Evaluations.
Don’t Go Overboard
Onboarding done well reaps positive benefits to both employee and company. But, onboarding gone awry—when onboarding begins to resemble hazing, for instance—may ultimately produce more negative than positive outcomes.
Very few people are fans of ice-breakers without purpose. Ice-breakers and climate setters can serve a useful purpose if they are well-planned, and timely for the length of time a group has been together.
Then there’s the problem of information overload. Forty hours of material crammed into four hours will leave new employees fuzzy-minded, with eyes glazed over and painful memories of the first day/week but with no significant knowledge acquisition.
Finally, there’s the orientation that is just plain dull, dull, dull. And that’s just wrong, wrong, wrong.
What can you do?
While you might not be in complete control of the hiring and orientation process, there are some elements of the marketing onboarding process that you can implement. You can:
- Develop the Resource Guidebook, Help Source Card, and First Week Schedule;
- Create a Welcome Wagon;
- Establish the first day’s experience;
- Define the roles and expectations; and
- Develop the training track and first assignments.