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Best practice in employee onboarding and orientation

  • 6 Min Read

On a new employee’s first day, both the employee and the employer will be making major decisions at lightning speed. This means that both onboarding and orientation is of utmost importance.

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In fact, psychologists tell us that it takes between seven and thirty seconds to make a first impression. How can businesses and their employees ensure they make the right impression during onboarding?

It’s natural to feel nervous about first impressions – whether starting at a new school, heading to your first day of a new job, or meeting your partner’s parents for the first time. First impressions can stick.

However, the importance of good first impressions goes both ways. Businesses should be just as mindful as new hires about making their first day positive and successful. After all, there’s no point investing time and money in recruiting new talent if they’re not given the tools and confidence needed to perform to the best of their ability. In fact, an impactful and intuitive onboarding process is the best way for businesses to ensure the best returns from their recruitment strategy.

Onboarding at Amazon

In the UK, Amazon has 27,500 employees and in October this year we announced new investment to provide capacity for an additional 1,000 new roles in our new corporate office in Manchester and development centres in Edinburgh and Cambridge. As such, recruitment is a constant and vital process for us as we scour the world for exciting, talented Amazonians who can match up to our corporate values and goals.

Those values are summarised by our Leadership Principles, which we apply in every stage of an employee’s time with the company, from their first interview through to the induction process, performance reviews and in every aspect of our day-to-day business. As a universal standard, the Leadership Principles ensure our new hires already have the right attitude and approach to hit the ground running as an Amazonian.

Regardless of which part of the business an employee joins, new hires are run through an induction session focusing on the ‘Day One’ culture that keeps us all vigilant to change and as ambitious as a start-up. Every employee is given a ‘launch plan’ which helps provide clarity on who they should meet to learn more about the business, their training requirements, what’s expected in their role and all the other vital information you would need when starting a new job.

That launch plan typically includes access to online quizzes, video and reading materials and key Amazonians to meet, to create a blended learning experience of online and offline tools. These activities all stem from our focus on customer obsession. A leader-led ‘Amazon 101’ session is also provided to discuss the bigger picture around the business, and this might occur as part of the initial onboarding plan or three-to-six months after they have joined.

As a HR professional, I want a new hire’s first day to be frustration-free.

More culture, less admin

Personally, I have been through Amazon’s onboarding process three times in various roles over the last few years. It was encouraging to see how, even several years apart, the focus on culture was consistent and passionate.

Excitement is best built by focusing on culture rather than admin. If an employee arrives with no set onboarding plan, no emails setup, or a workplace that isn’t ready, this can come across as deeply unprofessional and make a bad first impression.

Onboarding should not be ‘transactional’, by which I mean it should not be cold or typically ‘corporate’. If it’s just about getting the employee operational with a to-do list of admin tasks, it’s a missed opportunity to excite and motivate them about their future with the business. Our employees don’t join Amazon for the Wi-Fi passwords – they join to be part of an exciting culture, surrounded by smart leaders and strong role models. We want to give them a peek behind the curtain at the breadth and variety of the work we do.

Instead, that admin should be delivered by a set of tools that are available throughout an employees’ time with the company. At Amazon, our tools to improve work-life harmony include Wikis, IT first aid and the availability online of files, folders and landline numbers that make it easier for employees to work remotely.

We also support new recruits with unique ways of working that help to reduce unconscious bias and sustain that ‘Day One’ culture. What does Day One mean? I’ve taken this quote from Jeff Bezos’ 2016 annual shareholder letter which says, “Staying in Day 1 requires you to experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight. A customer-obsessed culture best creates the conditions where all of that can happen,” These typically include day-to-day practices such as keeping documents un-authored and using data to drive decision-making, as well as broader ideas like using written narratives rather than PowerPoint and a focus on customers, passion for innovation, operational excellence and  long-term thinking.

Can onboarding be automated?

Automation is certainly helping to improve onboarding processes and, in turn, can deliver better productivity as employees can access relevant content at times that are convenient to them. Internationally, Amazon recently launched a virtual new hire orientation tool that is particularly useful on smaller sides of the business where we don’t have the critical mass to get a group of people together, or for those who will work remotely. We have also launched an exciting new pilot – an easy-to-access online content site – that puts everything online for managers to easily curate an appropriate onboarding plan.

But the key point here is that technology can rarely have the same impact as the human touch.

Automation can be an extension of what we already do, efficiently covering the logistical and transactional aspects of onboarding in order to free up more time for a deep dive into our culture and ways of working.

Investing in onboarding is an important part of any HR strategy and getting it right through a carefully planned mix of online and offline tools can save the business time, money and energy. While this may include automation, our instinct to draw conclusions from first impressions will always be a hard-wired emotional process, so you should never overlook the power of human interaction to make new employees feel comfortable, confident and valued.

By Ben Farmer, Head of HR, UK Corporate, Amazon

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