Get New IT Pros Up to Speed Fast With This Onboarding Checklist

In a recent TekSystems survey, 1,500 IT leaders and 2,400 IT pros were polled on the importance of onboarding. When IT leaders were asked about onboarding's importance, the majority agreed that it's necessary but that many aren't doing it well.

62 percent of IT leaders say an onboarding program is extremely valuable in terms of a new employee.

53 percent agreed that it created better cohesion among their teams.

47 percent agreed that contributed to the long term success within the company.

77 percent of IT leaders believe that not enough emphasis is placed on building a strong onboarding process.

Only 13 percent of IT leaders and 12 percent of IT pros rate their onboarding process as "extremely effective."

According to research by Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding and author of the upcoming book, "Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success," turnover numbers are high among IT workers. Gen-Yers spend about two years before changing jobs, Gen-Xers tend to stay around five years and baby-boomers about seven years. Research from Anne Fisher reports that roughly 40 percent of executives who change jobs or get promoted fail in the first 18 months.

This can create an influx of new employees who need to be indoctrinated in your company's core values and how things are done. Creating a process to assist these individuals can help new hires create a crucial foundation and get productive right away.

Firefighters and soldiers have a saying that applies to many aspects of business life, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." Bringing a new hire into your company is one of those aspects. Building an effective plan that helps employees get up to speed and be productive fast is good for morale, productivity, retention and is only in your company's best interest.

To help you come up with a plan that works, interviewed IT hiring managers, executives and career coaches to help you build an onboarding checklist that will help you get your new hires up to speed in no time.

Where to Start With Your Onboarding Plan

"The onboarding process should start before the first day. When the 'deal is closed,' it's really about setting expectations. Everything from where you will report, who you are going to ask for, here is what your first day, week and month are going to look like," says Matt Ripaldi, senior vice president of Modis, an IT staffing firm.

The first day is paramount, according to Donald Burns, an award-winning resume writer and career coach. "It's hugely important to have the person all setup logistically. Not doing this--scrambling around at the last minute the day the new employee shows up--is hugely demoralizing. It feels awkward and disorganized," Burns says.

The first big hurdle, according Ripaldi, is when they first walk through the door. It makes a big difference when you walk in and things seems disorganized, the people aren't sure why you are there and they are trying to figure out who you see first versus when you walk in and your name is on the flat screen TV or a board that says welcome and time is spent welcoming you and introducing you to different people.

Best Practices for Onboarding

Experts offer these tips to help engage new hires and help them be more productive:

Incorporate company culture into onboarding: A great employee will have done his or her homework on your company culture, but it's not possible to get the whole picture until he or she actually begins. Experts agree that culture fit is essential to long-term success.

"On their first day, we have to provide quite a bit of foundational Toyota knowledge, an introduction to Toyota, our history and the key principles. Certainly they don't leave experts after this, but at least they are thinking in Toyota terms so as they move through the following weeks they have that foundation," says Tim Platt, vice president of information systems and information security for Toyota engineering and manufacturing in North America.

"When bringing Gen Y employees up to speed quickly, first impressions are key. We have a Week 1 experience we offer all our IT new grads and interns where we cover Cisco culture, our strategic priorities, and really focus on building their new grad community. The week has been designed by past new grads and it is interactive and fun. In order to make these best practices fit for new college graduates, or Gen Y hires, community is key," says Monique Edmonson, senior management of IT talent and onboarding with Cisco Systems.

Set, clear expectations and goals: This should be done before the offer letter is signed. Walking in to a job that is completely different from the job description is not a good feeling for a new hire. The immediate supervisor should convey the evolution and history of the role, where they feel the most significant challenges lie and the internal politics they are likely to be confronted with.

"This might be heresy but--as a resume writer--I coach people to forget about the job description. It's mostly white noise. The new employee must go out of his or her way to find out, 'what is the top priority you want me to accomplish.' When I'm rewriting a resume one of the first questions I ask for every position. 'What was the #1 thing they wanted you to accomplish?', "says Burns.

Assign a mentor: "Internally, when we hire a new employee we pair that person up with a senior-level person, not so much for the initial online training, but more so to have a sounding board and a person they can go to with various questions, someone to show them the ropes and ask for advice. That someone is tasked with making sure that ramp up is as effective as possible," says Ripaldi.

"We call it a peer buddy [at Cisco]--somebody who can help them with the actual work and with navigating through the company," says Edmonson.

Experts agree that paring up a new hire with a mentor is the way to go, but they also caution that a mentor is someone who will be emulated so make sure when assigning someone to choose carefully.

Identify career paths and demonstrate the skills and traits required to get to the next level: This demonstrates to new employees that they are an important part of the company and that the company is invested in their professional development. Creating a career map will help employees achieve their goals and increase retention within your company.

Make sure any necessary paperwork is delivered and ready for the new employee on day 1 or preferably before the first day via attachment or download. If there is any thrill associated with starting in a new position an hour or two of paperwork is likely to kill it. Having all the paperwork done before the new employee's arrival allows him or her to focus on more germane items like introductions and tasks.

Prepare their workstations or offices--This can include things like making sure their computer, email, passwords and logins are set up prior to their arrival, setting up phone systems, stocking their office with supplies or providing an organizational leadership and/or phone charts. Some other items could include en employee handbook or any additional paperwork that needs to be completed.

If there is any data available from a predecessor or collaboration software that contains details on ongoing projects have this data ready upon arrival.

Make introductions to supervisors, stakeholders and team members: The manager should introduce a new hire to all the employees and managers that they will be working with, including their team, co-workers and anyone else who could have on impact on their future success.

Keep the momentum going: "It doesn't all happen on day 1," says Platt. Onboarding doesn't end at the end of the employee's first week or month. The process can take months and feedback from multiple sources is essential. Figure an appropriate amount of time, for example the first week, 30- and 90-day intervals, dependent on the position and check back with the new employee's managers and key stakeholders to find out where and how the new hire can grow professionally and can better meet expectations and goals.

Presenting this information to the employee helps highlight key areas for improvement, allows them to build a plan for their professional development and builds a path to success within your organization.

"Following the on-boarding week, we host a yearlong series of early development brown bags (one-hour lunch) events where we have IT Subject Matter Experts share their knowledge and tips on either working at Cisco or sharing knowledge on a specific technology area," says Edmondson.

Send a companywide email: Let everyone in your company know that someone new has arrived and encourage people to introduce themselves and welcome the new employee.

Depending on the company size some experts argue that a more targeted email might be appropriate. "A team or group email would likely be more targeted and appropriate," says Edmondson.

Have multiple employees start at the same time: If possible have multiple new hires start at the same time. This way, portions of the onboarding can be done together. This can also help the new hires to bond.

It's Not a One-Size-Fits-all Process

Experts warn that onboarding will be different for employees at different stages of their careers and that there should be a different approach taken for each. For example, an entry-level tech support hire will not only have to deal with learning a new role, they are also learning about the workplace in general, what's expected of them professionally and building a professional network. However, a senior IT manager will have competency in those aspects and will require more support learning about the corporate culture and managing their teams.

"The key difference between a Gen Y onboarding program versus a regular onboarding program is building that sense of community. They [Gen Y] want to work together; they're a highly collaborative bunch. Whereas professional hires--they're more likely to get a new job and just go do it. The new grads want that sense of community and collaboration in addition to diving into the work," says Edmondson.

The Onboarding Choice Is Yours

Your new hires will become oriented one way or the other, but this process will help foster success and create better outcomes. Your onboarding process should be evolving with your business and organizational structure. The benefits of effective onboarding are far-reaching. They not only get your new hires up to speed faster, they also help build a cohesive culture and improve retention.

Whatever you can do to shorten the learning curve of a new employee will help them be more productive in a shorter amount of time.

This story, "Get New IT Pros Up to Speed Fast With This Onboarding Checklist" was originally published by CIO.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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