Andrea Miller, Chair, NACADA Small Colleges and Universities Advising Community
In preparation to welcome three new advisors, the advising leadership team at a small, private, liberal arts college was charged with acclimating and sharing important resources and information while simultaneously opening a new academic advising center and transitioning from one academic advising model to another. Despite the department and university changes, they knew they had to find a means of providing the new hires with the time to learn, meet with key people on campus, submit new hire paperwork, gain technology access, and obtain specific trainings to be fully prepared for the roles. In addition to the charge, there was not a lot of time to acclimate the new hires as they started one week before the spring semester began.
Onboarding is an opportunity for employers to teach skills, share information, and outline behaviors that will set the new hire on a path toward job success (Bannon & Brewer, 2019). In this stage, hiring managers need to be intentional about sharing specific knowledge to ensure the employee feels part of the team and valued (Gallup, n.d.). From the new hire perspective, this stage is where they decide if the first day’s experiences match the hiring process. The onboarding experience impacts how the employee performs, how they feel about working at the organization, and how long they remain with the organization (Gallup, n.d.). Losing a new hire is costly in both time and money. “SHRM estimates that it will cost a company six to nine months of an employee’s salary to identify and onboard a replacement” (Ratanjee, 2016).
Taking an opportunity to refer back to my own recent onboarding experiences with the university, leadership had an opportunity to improve future experiences, beginning with providing a smoother transition. Current team members were asked for feedback regarding the onboarding experience and areas they would like improved (Bannon & Brewer, 2019). Some recommendations noted were time to complete human resource paperwork and ask questions, identify correct people to gain access to technology systems prior to meeting with students, and have a training schedule that includes locations of meetings.
In addition to interviewing current team members, leadership listened to feedback with the goal of applying and changing prior experiences and researched best practices and guidelines. The research findings were then tailored to the culture, values, and mission of the university and the newly created advising center (Bannon & Brewer, 2019). Findings included identifying key people the new hire needs to meet with to begin establishing good working relationships (Association of Talent Development, 2019, p. 2). In addition, it is valuable to note people who are transitioning out of a role with the goal of transferring knowledge and skills. Another consideration is timing and when the new hire begins in relation to the academic calendar to train for what is most applicable to keep the learning relevant. Also, note the current university environment, challenges, and initiatives taking place. Including the new hire immediately in the happenings of the department or university is an opportunity to seek feedback and expertise of the new hire and give the new hire a chance to make an impact and feel valued right away.
Areas with similar themes were bundled and lists were made to show specifically what and who needed to be included in the onboarding, as follows:
- Prior to the first day
- Initial contact: hiring manager contacts new hires to confirm the start date, share the expected time of arrival, give directions to specific location, provide parking information, give specific transportation options available such as a campus shuttle, note the office attire, and share a schedule for the first day including any provided meals and scheduled meetings.
- Welcome items: leadership purchases and gathers small desk plants, snack items, water, and university swag. Ensures a clean office space with proper furniture and office equipment.
- First week (and ongoing) priorities
- Human resources materials: new hire completes forms, meets with HR, acquires a campus ID card and parking permit, signs up for new employee orientation, etc.
- Office: new hire obtains office keys, a name tag, a name plate, and office area and campus tours provided.
- Teambuilding: leadership provides a welcome breakfast, lunch on first day, etc.
- Meetings with key people: new hire supervisor schedules meetings with deans, managers, department chairs, administrative staff, etc.
- Technology access: new hire supervisor collaborates with IT for access to shared drives, systems, computer, laptops, phone, etc.
- Student services/campus offices: new hire supervisor provides opportunities for the new hire to establish contacts in each office and learn about the services provided.
- Meeting with hiring manager: new hire meets with the hiring manager to learn unit history, culture, performance expectations, dress code, office hours, details of regular meetings and committees, current retention goals, etc.
- Training: new hire supervisor schedules training on the center’s processes and policies, events, caseload management, technology, systems, advising theory/techniques, student populations specific to the institution, etc.
- Documents to read: new hire reads materials provided by their supervisor, including the university catalog, degree plans, student handbooks, training manuals, university website, portals, etc.
- Establishing regular 1:1 check-ins: new hire supervisor sets weekly meetings with each new hire to discuss professional goals, review materials, answer questions, etc.
The next step was to prioritize each area based on human resource deadlines, determine what is relevant based on the academic calendar, evaluate the skill level and skill set of each new hire to adjust training needs, and determine the upcoming priorities and deadlines for the center. As time was a factor, considerations regarding the best use of time in which to learn specific information was necessary to best prepare new hires for initial performance expectations.
Once areas were prioritized, the preparation duties were divided by department and role (Association for Talent Development, 2019, pp 7-8). For example, the hiring manager completed forms to authorize access to university systems and scheduled trainings with campus offices. The administrative assistant ordered name plates, coordinated the welcome breakfast, and put supplies in the offices. In addition, working as a team and establishing deadlines kept the tasks on schedule and made for an organized onboarding.
Finally, schedules were created, and copies were distributed to each new hire, the managers, and the administrative assistant. When a revision was made, revised copies were provided to all. The schedules included group trainings with campus offices. Individual meetings were scheduled for each new hire and specific key stakeholders. Information technology was scheduled to work with each new hire to set up computers, phones, and grant access to systems. Regular staff check-ins were established from day one. At the end of the first day, new hires met as a group with the managers. This was a time for questions from the new hires and an opportunity for the managers to gauge levels of energy and connectedness. The managers took this time to assess the day and make necessary adjustments for the next days. These check-ins continued once a week for the first six months.
New hire success can stem from a thorough onboarding program that meets the new hires expectations and achieves the learning outcomes of the center. Creating and revamping onboarding programs as each new hire is welcomed ensures the relevancy of the information provided. An established onboarding program improves the likelihood of new hires remaining with the organization and being successful, which reduces employee turnover and improves employee retention and productivity for the organization (Association of Talent Development, 2019, p. 11).
Andrea Miller, M.A.
Association for Talent Development. (2019). OrgDev New Employee Onboarding Guidebook. https://d22bbllmj4tvv8.cloudfront.net/4c/2e/3986f6cd4247b99db0f4b9f95de4/onboarding-ebook-v5.pdf
Bannon, K., & Brewer, J. (2019, September). Setting the stage: Onboarding using NACADA’s core competencies. Academic Advising Today, 42(3). https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Academic-Advising-Today/View-Articles/Setting-the-Stage-Onboarding-Using-NACADAs-Core-Competencies.aspx
Gallup. (n.d.). Designing the employee experience to improve workplace culture and drive performance. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/323573/employee-experience-and-workplace-culture.aspx#ite-323588
Ratanjee, V. (2016). Why the onboarding experience is key for retention. Gallup Blog. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/235121/why-onboarding-experience-key-retention.aspx
Cite this article using APA style as: Miller, A. (2021, June). Creating an onboarding program for newly hired advisors. Academic Advising Today, 44(2). [insert url here]