It must be said that whilst onboarding processes have generally moved to a higher standard across sectors in recent years there are still some significant flaws being experienced by new staff as organizations fail to set the right tone and create the right impression for newly recruited employees. A recent survey by just about everyone indicates as much.

Onboarding is really important – we know this personally, don’t we?

The best recent research comes courtesy of the trend taking place across companies to share photos of a new recruit’s first day desk, which has grown into a highly visible and visual demonstration of the care (or not) taken by employers across the globe to connect staff to their brand and employee experience from the outset. With a range of branded goodies and tech to greet new staff, we have had some sneak peaks into the inner workings of the employee experience at some organizations most notably Uber and FanDuel.

With an Open Heart and a Bottle of Bacardi: Onboarding Kits of Forward-Thinking Companies>>

The inevitable backlash has also unfolded with other protagonists popping up to kindly remind us all that humor is also important. One of my personal favorite examples on that note was the response from the good people of Yorkshire, England; one company showcased their new recruit’s desk via the photo above- an authentic employee experience- no branded stuff, no MacBook, no mobile, no hoodie… just the basics- barbecue sauce, post-its, and a penguin. Nice.

There is something very cool about the desk craze and it shows how competition between employee experiences is hotting up. As the example from Yorkshire shows, you don’t need to be cash rich to make a memorable impression on a new colleague’s first day. Come on, employee experience goes much deeper than new toys.

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A tongue-in-cheek welcome; Yorkshire, England

Yet it is new toys and a big welcome that is delivering millions upon millions of brand hits. Hundreds of thousands of likes. We are liking the great big and authentic welcomes as part of the onboarding experience. Most certainly, and we also know that that kind of experience may not be the norm, and therein could be a mistake amongst many others within onboarding processes. Remember your first day? Good, great or indifferent?

“The new game in town is about engaging your employees, the employees of your talent rivals and other companies generally, and also your customers!”

Across organizations and sectors, some of the more common mistakes involve a less than adequate welcome and induction; employees not being treated as an important member of the team and not being provided with clear information about the organization and what their experience within it is all about, and more importantly, what matters in terms of performance, values and culture. There are also process issues with the set up of related workstations, delays in getting the tools employees need to get their job done, and a visible lack of senior leadership presence in those early stages integrating new staff into the workplace. There could also be a distinct lack of connection to other teams and colleagues; this element may be left to chance, which may not be the best approach to position new staff in and may not lead to early productivity outcomes.

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This feeds into a sense of disconnect and could be made worse if those initial manager conversations are not properly led. Relationships matter and none more so than the one that takes place between employees and managers. It is important to get this relationship on the right track early. It isn’t about giving new staff their work and saying get on with it; it’s much more than that. It’s about creating that great team and community atmosphere around the new member, and demonstrating the values of the business in and through a range of planned experiences.

As part of a connected employee experience, the onboarding process really is significant and allows employers to really express their unique culture in many different ways, and more importantly, help new staff integrate quickly. The simple and effective way to avoid issues is to fully consider, and engineer, the onboarding experience to get new colleagues up and running quickly, and to enable them to connect with the organization and the people around them in a meaningful way. This can be achieved through mapping any and all of the moments of meaning such as the offer letter, the first day, and other important points during onboarding.

We know that a strong focus on the employee experience energizes everything, from pre-hire to retire, so it must be given due consideration if you wish to attract, guide and retain the best. What do you want that experience to look like? How do you want the new colleague to feel? How do you want them to interact and experience their new environment? What does the data and information from past onboarding experiences tell you about where you should focus attention?

This could be a desk already set-up with a standard issue kit and tech, a mug with the new colleague’s name on it, a talk from the CEO and top team about the values of the business to new recruits, a pre-determined buddy to show people the ropes, a learning experience shaped on the values of the organization. The list is endless. It’s all about the context, being authentic, and creatively shaping those initial experiences.

Successful onboarding is fairly straightforward in theory, and should be in practice too. The easiest method of charting a successful onboarding process is to stop thinking of it as a process in the first place, but more an experience. From that perspective you are free to design the experience in full and shape an employee’s early stages within the organization aligning learning and orientation activities that set the right context for what is to come and the future stages of the employee experience journey.

In effect, keeping in mind the employee experience and intentionally designing the first experiences of new employees is the best way to ensure new staff thrive, not just survive, in those initial interactions with their new workplace.


ben-whitterBen Whitter is one of the World’s leading figures within HR & Employee Experience.

Ben’s HR/OD work, in practice and theory, has been acclaimed at the highest levels; he is a winner of numerous local, regional and national awards including the prestigious ‘best in the UK’ Training Journal Award ’12, which celebrated his creation, development and delivery of officially one of the best HR-led programmes in the UK and Europe across all sectors. Ben’s approach has been backed publicly by the World’s leading organizations, in UK Parliament by MP’s, and by the British Royal family; one of his HR projects received an official Royal visit in 2013.

In 2016, Ben chaired and co-designed Europe’s first Employee Experience conference.

Ben is the Director of OD at The University of Nottingham Ningbo China; Co-Founder of ThriveInAsia.com- the progressive Asia-wide HR movement; Member, British Chamber of Commerce Shanghai HR Focus Group; Global Ambassador, Engage for Success.

To work with Ben, please visit www.benwhitter.com or his LinkedIn page.