Making Connections Early

If done properly, the on-boarding process can be much more than filling out paperwork and acquainting new hires with their work stations and tools.

Joe Gerstandt, speaker and author of Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships, said it can serve as a foundation for incoming talent to establish a robust, diverse network of connections — and thereby establish their roots in the company.

“Regardless of the knowledge and experience that you have as an individual, your network of relationships plays a big role in determining how much influence you have access to, what other kinds of information and ideas you have access to,” Gerstandt said.

With that premise in mind, employers can help to set new hires up for success by enabling them to tap into a network of relationships that may help them thrive in their jobs and, as a result, be less tempted to look for greener pastures.

Gerstandt said in an organization where there are disparities in engagement or retention, there is often an underlying disparity in employees’ networks of relationships. Women or people of color tend to have smaller, more siloed networks. Thus, they don’t have access to as much information or as many ideas as their peers, and their level of influence is also lower.

To correct this imbalance, companies should make sure all employees are well connected from the beginning, starting with the on-boarding process.

Gerstandt said it would behoove organizations to think of employees the same way they do customers.

“It would be easier and cheaper and simpler and faster for us in the short term to just put out one kind of product,” he said. “But we know that people have different experiences; they have different preferences; they have different lives.”

For that reason, a one-size-fits-all approach to on-boarding may be easy in the short term, but it isn’t the best strategy long term. It’s not feasible or even beneficial for companies to customize the experience for every individual, but there are ways to cater the experience to different groups.

Some organizations, in addition to the general on-boarding program for all employees, will have additional on-boarding by department or role so new hires have access to different information and people.

Others will have one general on-boarding process, but during that time will introduce new hires to various available resources so they can customize their own experience. Examples include employee resource groups as well as formal and informal mentoring programs.

“If you’re giving them choices, to some extent you’re customizing that experience because then they can leave that two- or three- or five-day session that everybody went to and they can go and seek out the things that they think are going to be most valuable and significant to them,” he said.

These connections can be further developed down the road by means of social gatherings, such as department and divisional open houses, Gerstandt said.

“Unfortunately, when the economy gets tight, organizations tend to do away with a lot of informal social [events],” he said. “It may be hard to see it at the time, but there’s a huge return on investment.”

An easier, perhaps more cost-effective solution is to encourage new hires — during the on-boarding process — to leverage social networks to connect with and learn about their peers, thereby building their sphere of influence, gaining access to new ideas and information and ultimately developing themselves.

— Deanna Hartley