How to Wow Your New Hires With Memorable Employee Onboarding

August 26, 2020

It doesn’t get any better than finding inspiration from other communicators! We first met Lise Harwin, Employee Communications Manager at Port of Portland, at the ALI West Conference and were blown away with her approach to revamping employee onboarding. We had to chat with her more about the robust program she’s built to welcome new hires and bring them into the fold before Day One.

Whether you’re easing back into the office or still fully remote, we hope Lise’s excitement for designing inclusive, meaningful experiences rubs off on you! 

How did you decide where to start? Where was the first place that you focused your time and energy?

Benchmarking against other companies was a great starting point for us, and we were drawn to those that welcomed new hires with warm, friendly language and swag that reinforced their organizational culture. We also kept our managers top-of-mind and made sure that whatever we developed wouldn’t add too much work to their plates and could be rolled out consistently across the organization. Based on what we saw at other organizations and the experience we wanted our people to have, we then decided where we wanted to go next.

What motivated you to overhaul your onboarding program? Why did you revamp the program instead of making tweaks to it? 

As communications strategists, we do so much more than writing—our purpose at its core is to shape the employee experience. If we think about it that way, building a memorable onboarding program is 100% within our scope. Here are a few questions you could ask yourself when you’re reflecting on your existing program: 

  • Is the onboarding experience consistent for employees? What is the baseline or standard process?
  • Are onboarding expectations consistently communicated or reinforced with managers?
  • Is HR and Internal Comms fully aware of all the interactions that new employees experience?
  • Is there brand consistency throughout the experience?
  • Beyond job-specific questions that a Hiring Manager can answer, who is answering cultural questions?

Once I dove into data about new hire productivity and retention (great employee onboarding can improve employee retention by 82%), I knew we needed to do more than simply slap on a new program name and logo. We needed an overhaul, not just a facelift!

The tagline of your program is “We’re not what you’d expect.” What do you mean by that?

When people think about a job in government, they envision something old-school and traditional, not interesting or innovative. We wanted to tell people right away that working at the Port of Portland isn’t your typical government job. 

Could you describe your onboarding experience from a new hire’s perspective? What do they see and when?

Our program is called Ready (pre-boarding/early welcome), Set (Day One), Go (Long-term engagement). The very first communication is a welcoming and warm email from the manager, which comes right after the offer letter. We’ve “pre-written” the text for managers to cut and paste, but they are welcome to customize as they wish. This helps set a baseline right from the beginning.

During the “Ready” phase, we also share a pre-boarding website and customized checklist with paperwork new hires can complete before their first day. Giving them time to review it all with their families, especially their benefits options, was important. Folks can fill out a lot of the information in advance so that their first day isn’t all about paperwork. This makes the day much better and more memorable.

We’ve also built a Ready, Set, Go! website where people can see videos from the leadership team and their soon-to-be-colleagues, learn about perks and benefits, and order a fun Port branded t-shirt of their choice.

And lastly, we give them a heads up about simple, yet important things. Our offices are at the airport, and we send them a map so they know where to park on their first day. We also let them know that parking will be validated – airport parking is expensive, so this logistical information can be a huge relief! We also send them a lanyard for their employee badge and let them know we’ll be taking a badge photo on their first day. Who wouldn’t want to plan ahead if they’re getting a photo taken on their first day?!

During the “Set” phase, we give them a swag bag of fun, branded items that are tied to our core values. As an example, a reusable lunch bag and durable silverware that represent our commitment to sustainability and a Fitbit that shows our passion for wellness. This was a really important value-add for us—we wanted to give a welcome gift to new hires while also reinforcing our organizational values.

Finally, we match new hires with a peer guide outside of their immediate team. A peer guide can become a friend; someone who takes a new hire out to coffee and answers questions about culture, volunteerism, resource groups and the overall employee experience. This relationship is designed to continue throughout the first six months. 

Let’s say you had no size or scope limitations for onboarding. What would you want to offer to new hires? Go crazy (or not!).

Think about every touchpoint where you have an opportunity to enhance a new hire’s experience. Consider ways to make their journey exceptional—and how to make it plug and play so your managers and the HR team aren’t customizing it every time. Then, measure your work, conduct a survey and ask questions so you can continue to fine-tune the program.

Remember that your welcome kit, swag and anything else you share with your new hires doesn’t need to be expensive to be valuable and memorable. We’ve thought about creating a special employee badge for 1st year employees. It would be a different color, so people could see right away that you’re relatively new and extend a welcome or help answer questions. If we created a cohort of new hires, we could even celebrate a “graduation” after a year. It’s these little, thoughtful moments that mean a lot to employees and make them want to stay with your company over the long-term.

Looking for more ideas for your onboarding program? Be sure to listen to Lise’s episode on the Internal Comms Pro Podcast and check out our posts 6 Remote Onboarding Program Ideas We Love and Eight Onboarding Programs We Love.

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