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Carol L Schroeder

Getting a New Hire Onboard

February 19, 2013

schroeder new hireDo you know the term "onboarding?" This business buzzword refers to the process of helping new employees acquire the skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviors necessary to become effective members of your staff. Another term for onboarding is organizational socialization, and it is this integrating of a new employee into the social aspects of your business culture that makes onboarding different from job training.

We all know that employees need to know about their job duties, about procedures and about products. In addition, you hopefully have an employee handbook that covers your store's policies regarding vacations, dress code, discounts, and a myriad of other important personnel issues.

But getting a new hire off to a good start also involves integrating him or her into the existing group. Making an employee feel welcome has been shown to increase the likelihood of long-term retention — which is certainly a goal with every person you add to your staff.

One way that we work to make sure that new employees at Orange Tree Imports are accepted right away as part of our staff is through our hiring approach. As part of our management by participative democracy (which is explained at greater length in my book, Specialty Shop Retailing), we hire by consensus. A volunteer committee of current staff members meets each qualified candidate separately and votes on who to hire. This means that every new employee has been vetted by the existing staff, so they have a vested interest in their success.

We've always thought that this inclusive approach seemed to make a lot of sense, and it turns out that we've actually been doing what George Brandt of Forbes  recommends: "Get key stakeholders aligned before starting to recruit, and then integrate recruiting, hiring, operational, assimilation and management practices."

One of the important things that a new hire needs to learn is who is who in your organization, and what their roles are. We have a family tree of our staff (past and present) that can be consulted at a glance, and we give new employees a staff phone list to take home in case they need to find a sub. It is also important that the current staff get to know the new person, so we post a welcome sign and put a short bio in the next employee newsletter. During the training period we often assign an experienced employee to partner with the new person, giving them a mentor as they learn the ropes.

New hires also need to become familiar with the undocumented aspects of your business culture. Let me give you an example: Many years ago, I was an American Girl Scout visiting a Danish troop for the first time. We all shared tea and some delicious Danish pastry, and after the meeting the girls gathered up the cups and plates and started washing them — without anyone telling them to do so. This seemed to come naturally to them, and judging by the cheerful chatter at the sink cleaning up was not a big deal.

I was so used to having an adult leader calling the shots that I still remember this moment. I bring it up now because I want my employees to realize that part of how we do things in our shop is that employees take a lot of responsibility on their own rather than waiting for a management directive. It is just an important to a new hire's success with us that they understand this philosophy, and buy into it, as it is for them to learn how our credit card system works and where to find more rolls of quarters.