Small Businesses Need an Onboarding System, Too

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Onboarding in the workplaceYears ago when I developed the workshop “18 Common Mistakes Small Business Owners Make,” one mistake failed to make the list: not establishing an onboarding system. I addressed the importance of taking an idea to the marketplace, securing cash reserves, finding the right location, and using effective communication among other topics, and I still stand by my initial advice. Yet as I review the final edit for the book based on the workshop, I know onboarding must be included. It has been my experience that many small business owners, including me, have overlooked onboarding for new employees. That is definitely a common mistake.

Prior to the launch of onboarding in the business world, many larger organizations offered weekly, monthly or as-needed New Employee Orientation. At orientation, each new employee received a packet with more company information than they could possibly retain in the forty-five-minute session. A company representative explained the mission, dress code, and payroll forms, and then introduced department heads. The orientation ended with the new employees being matched with current employees as guides and then released to begin work.

When small business owners brought on a new employee or a new contractor, the orientation was much less formal. The owner wore many hats and only acquired the new person because the owner was stretched too thin and had run out of hands to complete tasks. Sometimes, as in the case of my own small business, a new staff member came on board because of expansion. In both scenarios, communication was often verbal and job information was provided on an as-needed basis. Opportunities were missed to engage the new hire for longevity with the company.

Onboarding is much more effective than New Employee Orientation or simple verbal communication because it begins before a person is hired and continues through employment. The onboarding process benefits both the employee and the employer; it is not only an orientation about initial company paperwork, but it is an adjustment to the social, organizational and performance fit between the new employee and the organization. Engagement and retention are key components.

According to Tayla N. Bauer in the Society of Human Resource Management Foundation’s Effective Practice Guideline series entitled Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success, there are four C’s that are essential for an effective onboarding system: Compliance, Clarification, Culture and Connection.  Compliance is providing legal and policy information about the business to new hires. Clarification is clearly stating duties, expectations and responsibilities of the position. Culture is acquainting new employees with formal and informal norms in the company. Connection is explaining internal networking and teambuilding in the company. Providing the four C’s creates a successful working environment that engages employees, increases productivity and alleviates turnovers. Small business owners can easily initiate the four C’s as part of their organizational plan and save time, create consistency and develop shared company goals and vision.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your organization is too small to benefit from developing an onboarding system. Take some time to set up a system that works for your company, and escape hit-or-miss propositions when working with new hires and new contractors. It’s just good business.