Lessons on inducting new staff

Employees at work. /FILE
Employees at work. /FILE

These days, whenever you board a vehicle of any significance, you generally receive a welcome message. Whether this is on a London bus, a ferry crossing an African estuary or a ride at Disneyland, someone will give you a ‘spiel’.

This confirms that you are welcome on board and about to set off in the right direction. In addition, it may equip you with information about the layout and facilities, introduce key staff members and tell you what to do in an emergency.

We’re obviously good at welcoming new people and orientating them to their surroundings. Which makes it almost incomprehensible that organisations don’t do the same for new employees. Correction: It’s not that they don’t do it; it’s just that they rarely do it well.

I know this because I always ask the employees I meet in African companies two questions: “How soon after you joined the company did you receive your induction?” and “How was it for you?”

The answer to the first question varies between ‘one month’ and ‘never’. The answer to the second tends to be ‘a bit dull.’

Induction, or onboarding as it is more usually known, is an important activity. Some would argue too important to be left to the HR management team. No doubt they can explain terms of service, disciplinary procedures and illuminate the company organogram. But when it comes to describing business purpose or brand promise; or bringing the company’s values to life in any way that doesn’t sound like an onerous obligation - these may not be the men and women for the job.

I have come across exceptions. Energetic HR people committed to the CEO’s agenda and fully conversant with the commercial imperatives of the business. But I must tell you that these exceptions only serve to prove the rule.

Too little time and effort goes into welcoming the new hires you’ve spent time and money attracting. Going through the employee handbook just doesn’t cut it. When you board an airliner, they don’t give you the servicing manual … because it’s irrelevant. So, if you must reference this worthy document, do so in a way that makes sense: make it interactive. Tools exist to do just that; and they go way beyond PowerPoint 97.

Wikipedia defines onboarding at length and concludes: ‘The mechanism whereby new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills and behaviours to become effective organisational members and insiders.’

Professor Nader Tavassoli ( of London Business School insists that this process is time critical: “Unless a new hire is onboarded within 30 days, the opportunity is as good as lost.”

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside.