Maybe your team has limped along undermanned for months, and finally the new budget has been approved. Or maybe you've found the perfect candidate for that hard-to-fill spot. Or maybe there's been such rapid grown that it's time to bring it new blood.

Help is on the way. It's time to rejoice, right?

In the long run, sure. But first, there's the pesky process of onboarding.

Under ideal circumstances, onboarding a new hire can be a difficult process, but if your team is part of a very structured organization, or has rapid turnover (or very slow turnover), or mixes in contractors, it can be an outright nightmare.

At my current engagement, it's not uncommon for us to be in the process of onboarding two, three, maybe even a half-dozen contractors at the same time, often with each of them reporting to different managers. To make the experience as painless - and as consistent - as possible, we've created a manual and checklist, broken into three parts:

  • Preparation: This is all the work required before the new hire enters the building, such as making sure they'll have a computer and workstation, access to the proper systems and tools, and even access to the building.
  • Introduction--Day One: If everything done during the preparation stage was handled properly, this should be a piece of cake. Still with respect to handling the new hire, it can be a minefield. It's tempting to throw too many names and too much information at them all at once. One of the things I like to do is give a quick tour, starting with where the restrooms and snack machines are. After all, isn't that on all our minds when we first start a new job? Then I give an overview of policies, procedures, and expectations, along with key introductions.
  • Integration: This can be the trickiest stage, generally lasting from a few weeks to six months. The goal of successful onboarding is to develop an independent but integrated employee, and this is the point in the onboarding process where it really happens. Anyone can recover from a bad first day, though it reflects poorly on your organization, but if the integration process is overlooked, you risk having to start the onboarding process all over again with somebody new.

Don't overlook the value of easy wins: an introductory e-mail takes no more than five minutes and can immediately change someone from "the new guy" to "the new guy working on the Northern Project," which is going to alter how their co-workers relate to them. Taking even few minutes to address any unusual cultural aspects, or issues that have recurred with other team members may help set the new hire at ease, not only on Day One, but also moving forward as they realize "It's not just me!"

Once a new hire is through the doors and the basics are taken care of, it can be easy to neglect them prematurely. "This is really important for you to know. We'll talk when I get back from my three hour meeting." Oops - no follow-up meeting... we've all been there. Something our team has done to provide ongoing support to new hires has been to assign mentors to those recent additions to the group. This results in a great experience for everyone involved. The new hires get to learn from someone who can offer them practical knowledge, and they also have a venue for questions besides their busy manager. The mentor can share their experience and knowledge, and perhaps even learn from revisiting ideas from a new perspective. And the manager can be confident that her new hire is in good hands. As an added bonus, it's a great way to evaluate an experienced employee (the mentor) who may be ready for more responsibilities.

Each organization faces unique challenges when onboarding new team members, but we can all benefit from taking a little time to standardize the experience for our new hires and those who support them.