First Impressions


I’m doing some work on induction at the moment.  It got me thinking about my own experiences of being a new starter.

A long time ago, I took a job at an organisation that had a fairly tough employee relations climate.  HR weren’t especially valued for their contribution.  Some of that was around the reputation of former HR team members, but some of it was just a general lack of understanding how the function could benefit or enable.

On my first day, it took until about lunchtime for the HR Director who had recruited me to tell me that she was in fact working her notice.  On day five, she emailed me from home to tell me she wasn’t going to bother working the rest of it, and wished me luck.

The rest of my induction involved being provided with a manual of current HR policies and procedures, along with a key to the stationary cupboard. A meeting had also helpfully been scheduled with every single manager on the site over a two week period.  I shuffled from meeting to meeting.  About half of the time, the other person I was supposed to be meeting didn’t even turn up.  When the meetings did go ahead, I faced a variety of responses, most of which involved a very long list of things they didn’t like about HR.  My personal favourite was the manager who told me that he didn’t see the point in talking to me now.  He suggested I came back in six months if I was still here.  Because most people weren’t.  He actually had a point.  I had four managers in two years in that role; one of them lasted nine and a half days.  He got to lunchtime on day ten and simply legged it.

I learnt a lot about induction at this company.  Mostly how to never, ever, treat a new starter.

Induction is one of those activities that we know is so important to get right, but all too often still manage to get wrong.  We don’t start it early enough, we overly rely on boring e-learning, we provide people reams of barely relevant information to read so that we can tick a box to prove it.  We call the process horrible things.  Induction, orientation, or the truly awful onboarding.  We provide too little of some information and not enough of others.  We think it starts on day one and ends around the end of week two.

What induction really should be, before anything else, is a warm welcome.

If someone was visiting your home for the first time, chances are the first thing you would do is make them a cup of tea.  Maybe offer them a biscuit.  Chat to them.  Make sure they know where the toilet is.*  You wouldn’t give them a written guide to your house and all the expectations you have of their behaviour during their visit the minute they step over the doorstep.  You wouldn’t issue them with documents to sign to confirm that you have shown them how to use the kettle, or sit them in front of your television while you go off to attend to something else in your diary.

I am well aware that there is a big difference in welcoming someone to your home as opposed to your team and place of work.  But there is something too about work and all its facades that leads us to forget that we are simply people. That stops us from behaving and speaking like human beings to other human beings.  That tips us into processes where we need only simplicity.

There is of course a need for some formality and structure within induction.  Stuff that must be done, or seen to be done.  But maybe we could have a little less paperwork and a little more conversation.  Induction should be an experience that leaves people with a great feeling.  That validates the decision to join an organisation.  That, when asked the inevitable question about how they are finding their new job, leads an employee to provide only positive responses. The answer you are striving for is not ‘okay so far’, ‘tiring’ or ‘I’m not sure yet’.  The answer you are looking for, is simply, ‘awesome’.

Like most people stuff, induction is all about how you make people feel.

*Note – this is also very important in any corporate induction for obvious reasons. 

6 thoughts on “First Impressions

  1. A lovely thing we do here is send out a welcome card even before somebody new starts, it really does help you to feel part of the team! It costs the price of a stamp but really makes a difference to how you feel about that first day!

    • Funnily enough we do exactly that – a ‘welcome to the family’ card that goes out on the day of offer. It usually arrives before the formal stuff does. Agree – we consistently get comments about how much people like it.

  2. Couldn’t agree more with this Gem! I met up with a friend this weekend who’s just started working as a psychologist in a hospital. Despite having to ask her new employer when her induction will be before joining, she still doesn’t know – it appears they do group ‘sheep dip’ inductions once every two weeks (regardless of when people start)! Long story short – she’s already been sent home early twice because she hasn’t got a desk/computer.

    As first impressions go….

  3. Is there really “a big difference in welcoming someone to your home as opposed to your team and place of work”? In smaller organizations it’s quite similar I think. And thanks to that comparison it’s easier to realize just how ridiculous the induction process is in many cases.
    My experience suggests that what some employers care about is making sure the paperwork is there to prove they’ve done everything they needed to, rather than ensuring the new starter has all of the information they will need. So there’s a standardised induction process across the entire company even if the needs of new hires in different departments or functions are completely different. It may be enough to satisfy any legal requirements but other than that it’s really not accomplishing anything. Luckily (?) most recruitment processes aren’t that great, so by the time the candidate accepts the offer they’re already used to being treated as if someone was doing them a favour by hiring them…

  4. This is absolutely on the button. Induction should be about getting new employees from chaos to comfort so that they can perform the job we hired them for. However, it is often about ensuring that they cant sue!

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