…to make a good first impression.”

As leaders, we have countless opportunities to make good first impressions no matter the industry, market or business model. This is especially true in today’s dynamic business world in and amongst all the clutter of so many “impressions” we come across on a daily basis where relationships ultimately carry the day.

There is one facet of making a good first impression that I see organizations, large and small, for-profit and non-profit, public and private struggle with and that is creating and executing an effective onboarding process. I maintain there is very little else that says an organization cares about a person’s success in their new role than an effective onboarding process! My focus here is not to define the perfect onboarding process as that is going to be organization specific. My focus, instead, is to share some thoughts on effective onboarding at three different levels of the organization; Entry Level, Front-line Manager Level and Executive Level. Each level has unique aspects to it, yet all have the same purpose to make a great first impression by setting the person up for success from day one!

  • Entry Level ~ This is likely the most important onboarding process for any organization. The new hire is new to the job, new to the organization and quite possibly new to the industry. What is the new person’s impression of the organization going to be based on? Are they being thrown into the fray immediately to sink or swim or are they eased into the role so they can build on small successes along the way? If we know that most people quit their manager, not their job, what is the entry level person’s manager’s role in the process? How does the person’s new team factor into the process? While there are clearly a multitude of HR, IT and other related tasks that need to be completed, my experience suggests the new person’s leader has the most important role in the overall success of this onboarding process!
  • Front-line Manager Level ~ There is no greater personnel decision an organization makes than who they put on their leadership team! This person now has influence over themselves as well as every person on their new team. Has this new manager been set up for some level of leadership development as they move from worker to supervisor? Is this new manager’s manager dedicating enough time to ensure they are effectively grounded in their new responsibilities? Any time I had a new manager come on board, I would immediately let the rest of the team know I would not be as accessible to them as I was devoting a lion’s share of my time to the new manager during their first 90 days. It is still astounding to me how many organizations fail to recognize the difference between super-worker and super-visor by not effectively transitioning the new manager physically and mentally to the new role!
  • Executive Level ~ Some may ask why an onboarding process is even necessary for an executive with all the experience they bring to the role, especially if they are promoted from within the organization. Leading as an executive is very different from leading as a manager in the scope and scale of responsibilities. Success is now achieved through other management levels as opposed to by the manager’s direct influence on the front-line associates. At this level, it is important to put listening as a key element of the onboarding process. Who are the key people on the team (management and non-management)? What are the strengths and/or blind spots of the existing leadership team? What are the key processes and tools needed to be effective as a team? How many of these processes are documented and do they still work? Achieving sustainable success through others is understanding the answers to these and other key questions to get the executive off on the right foot!

As a new employee and a new manager, my own personal onboarding experiences left much to be desired. I was left to figure out how to navigate the organization, the technology and processes on the backs of anyone who would answer my questions, usually after I did something unknowingly wrong. As a new manager I received little to no guidance from my management team and relied heavily on previous military leadership experience. Fortunately, my entry into the executive ranks was much more positive. I had regular meetings with other executives and was given the time to conduct an effective listening tour. It set the stage for many years of effective executive leadership across three different companies!

These experiences are also personal reminders of the importance of onboarding as we work with leaders, either reactively or proactively, who are looking to make a great first impression or looking for the second chance to make a great second impression!

What was the first impression created by your onboarding process?

Lead Well!