First Impressions
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First Impressions

First Impressions

Karen DiGioia, September 8th, 2018

In one of his more serious moments, humorist-philosopher Will Rogers said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Notice – he did not say a GOOD first impression – just “a first impression.” The message here is that the first impression – good or bad – is one that will most likely stick.

Most of us are aware of this on a personal level. We do all we can to make sure that the first impression people have of us is a good one. We wear that special outfit for a first date. We get our hair cut before meeting our son’s girlfriend’s parents for the first time (true story – of four parents – three of us had gotten a haircut in the past two days). When going to a neighborhood party, we review tips on how to remember the names of new people we meet (still working on this one) and how to maintain eye contact (enough but not too much) when we speak to people.

The need to make a good first impression is also true in business. Chances are you’ve invested a considerable amount of time and money into making sure that the impression, first or otherwise, your organization and your employees are making is a good one. From the look of your website to the appearance of your office. The way employees dress and speak with customers, the length of time a customer can be kept on hold (and the music that plays during that time when they are on hold) – the focus of all these things, any oh so many more, is to make a good impression on current and prospective customers.

But what about your employees? Have you put as much time and effort into making sure the first impression you make with your employees is the best that it can be? If you haven’t, you should. To help you with that task, we are going to talk about orienting and onboarding new employees and how to make sure the first impression is a good one.

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s talk about why it’s important to make a good first impression on your new employees. You hired them and are giving them an opportunity. Isn’t it up to them to take it from there? While you can take that approach, that’s kind of like saying “I invited you out on this date. That’s all the effort I am planning on putting into this.” That approach isn’t likely to result in a second date, let alone a long, meaningful relationship. Likewise, taking this approach with new employees isn’t likely to result in a long, meaningful relationship, either (and, chances are, you’ve invested a good bit more time and money into hiring this new employee than you ever spent on a first date!)

By properly onboarding your new employees, you’re accomplishing a number of things. First, you are greatly increasing the likelihood that the employee will stay. You’re also providing the information and tools the employee needs to succeed. Well-onboarded employees (yeah, that’s a thing) are shown to perform better, have higher commitment to the company and stay longer. There are even studies which also show that these employees are less stressed. Bottom line – proper onboarding benefits the employee and the organization. A win-win proposition!

So how do you do it?

First – Understand the difference between orienting and onboarding

Orienting typically refers to the paperwork side of things. Onboarding has to do with integrating the new employee into the team. Orienting is the required stuff – I-9, W-4, benefits forms, etc… Onboarding is the meaningful stuff – mission and values of the organization, where the employee fits in, how they can help the organization succeed and grow. Make sure you don’t focus only on “orienting” and forget about “onboarding” your new employee.

Second – Begin before day one

As we said, the paperwork needs to happen, but you don’t want the employee’s first day to be spent just filling out forms. Send out paperwork and benefits information ahead of time. Have a plan for the onboarding process and share that and the details of day one with your new employee. It’s fine to set aside some time for collecting that paperwork and answering questions about the benefits available. It’s also good to have someone walk through the employee handbook and discuss key policies. You just don’t want the first day to be nothing but forms, rules, and regulations.

Also, make sure your new employee’s workspace and office equipment are ready for them before day one. Nothing makes a bad impression like a new employer who is unprepared. Make sure the employee’s workspace is clean and waiting, have all technology tools ready and waiting (laptop, user access, passwords, etc…), schedule any training that may be appropriate. While you’re at it, let other employees know that the new employee is starting (and when) and what they will be doing. Make sure there’s someone available (you?) to take them to lunch on the first day.

Third – Dedicate a lot of time to the employee on (and after) day one

Plan to spend a good bit of time with your new employee (and commit to making it happen). Take them around and introduce them to other employees; then spend some one-on-one time with them. Explain the organization – its history, mission, values, and strategic and tactical goals. Begin to create a connection between the organization and your new employee. Review the employee’s job description and explain your expectations. We’ve talked about this in past articles: employees need to clearly understand what is expected of them. All too often managers assume that an employee knows what’s expected and ends up frustrated when the employee doesn’t meet their expectations. Next thing you know, that employee who was being held accountable for those *secret* expectations is on *double secret* probation with one foot out the door.

Fourth – Provide your employees with broad exposure and experience

While it’s good to pair your new employee up with a more experienced one by assigning a mentor, make sure you give your new employee a broad exposure, too. In addition to the mentor, assign them a “buddy” who they can go to with basic non-technical questions (“What’s the receptionist’s name?” or “Which way to the restroom?”). Over the first weeks (or months), give your new employee a chance to spend time with many different employees throughout the organization – employees in the same role and employees in different roles. In previous articles, we talked about the many advantages of a diverse team. Ensuring that your new employee has diverse exposure across your team will broaden their perspective and understanding, and will, in the end, make them more effective at their own job.

Fifth – Look at onboarding as a process that, when done best, will take months.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a new employee. The paperwork stuff may happen all at once, but good onboarding takes time. It’s also important to recognize that new employees need time to learn and grow and, yes, even make mistakes.

Sixth – Ask for input and feedback

Check in with your new employee regularly. Ask for feedback. It doesn’t have to be fancy – “How’s it going?” can get the conversation started. Let your new employee know that you are available to answer questions or just chat (within reason). Welcome them as a new member of your team and let them know you value their input and perspective. Much of onboarding involves the employee listening to others. Make sure you give them an opportunity to be heard, as well.

After reading all that’s involved in quality onboarding, you may be thinking “Nah.” Sure, it’s easier to just hand the employee the forms, show them where the bathroom and fridge are, take them to their workspace and expect them to take it from there. After all, you hired them because they had the experience and skills you were looking for – it’s time for them to get to work and produce. However, as the saying goes, “What you put into things is what you get out of them.” (according to Google, Jennifer Lopez said this). What is true of “things” is true of employees. The time you invest in thorough onboarding will go a long way toward producing a dedicated, high-performing employee who’s committed to their job and to the organization.

If you have questions or want more information on the topic of employee onboarding (or any other HR topic), please contact Karen DiGioia at or