In my last post I wrote about starting a new job, and how companies often make new joiners feel like a fish out of water. In this post I’m going to write about how we can get our new joiners to swim happily, as quickly as possible. In other words, how to set your onboarding alight. In order to do that, it’s important to understand what people do to succeed in their first weeks and months. What are the strategies that successful new starters use?


Helena Cooper-Thomas and Neil Anderson’s research sheds a lot of light on what new starters do to fit in. They conducted a series of interviews with 86 newcomers in a London based professional services company. Helena Cooper-Thomas and Neil Anderson (CT & A for short) found that the newcomers used a range of strategies to help themselves to adjust to their new roles. Below is a quick and dirty summary. Each of the strategies can be used when designing onboarding programmes.

This tactic involved the newcomer deliberately trying to do tasks that use skills that they have used before. Or doing projects that are relevant to their previous experience.

Implications. I think that this strategy is fairly obvious. It is simply a case of pointing the strategy out to newcomers. Encourage line managers to structure projects or work so that the newcomer begins with things that are more familiar.

Here, newcomers are seeking to explain or prove their abilities and experience. This gains them credibility.

Implications. I often encourage people to look for quick wins. Look for things the new joiners can do early on that shows their effectiveness. I also think that it is useful to give newcomers an opportunity to state their background, skills and experience. In my previous post I explained that colleagues and managers are not always good at listening to the new starter. So it’s important to create opportunities to hear from the newcomer by asking them to give a presentation or write an intranet blog. Or ask them to wrie a newsletter article. In this piece of writing or presentation they can give some background about themselves and their skills and experience. For rapid turnover service industry roles, it’s still important to hear from the new starter. Managers can organise this at team briefings, or using their internal social networking platform. It’s very simple.

Before going on, as an aside, I can’t stand the term ‘probationary period’. It seems so patronising and one way. How would you feel if you were ‘on probation’? In reality, both parties are adjusting and making up their minds. Not just the hiring organisation. Give it a new name, please!

Giving, and exchanging
CT & A found that newcomers establish credibility and influence by giving information. This is often done by sharing external contacts or other resources. “Have you seen that blog…?”

Implications. I think it is simply a case of making newcomers aware that this is a tactic that they can deliberately use to build credibility. Many people do it without thinking, but won’t be aware of it as an actual method for settling in. And the managers of the new hire need to be open to receiving ideas and information from their new starter. Again, it’s about listening to the employee, not dumping information from the company to the employee.

Newcomers seek out information to help them understand more about the company and their role, and about their colleagues. It can be a deliberate strategy of learning before forming opinions and formulating plans. It’s never a good tactic as a new joiner to blast in on day one with a pre-set agenda. Information comes from all sorts of places. Intranets, business plans, asking questions of a range of people, being present at meetings and events, and so on.

Implications. We need to ensure that newcomers have access to the resources that they need. Managers or L&D people can help their new joiner plan their questions. Companies often greet a managerial level new starter with a diary filled with meetings with stakeholders, customers, and other departments. That’s great, but before the round of meetings starts, sit down and help the new joiner plan the things they’d like to find out. Help them to make the most of these meetings. Regardless of how senior the new starter is, it’s really helpful to assist him or her in making their initial meetings purposeful. Showing the newcomer how to do a stakeholder map can also be useful.

Teaming, befriending, and talking
These are all socialisation strategies. Teaming involves people becoming part of a team as soon as they can. And befriending is self explanatory. It’s about saying hello, being friendly, establishing relationships. But this should happen more widely than within the confines of the new joiner’s own team. It is simply about deliberately having lots of informal conversations with people.

Implications. These are behaviours that many people do naturally. But it’s helpful to point out to newcomers that establishing relationships is a big part of them making a successful transition. Help the more introvert newcomers to realise that socialisation will actually help them to achieve their day to day tasks. Social events are a really useful part of onboarding programmes. They help newcomers to establish relationships. For example, going out for a team lunch. It’s a simple thing to do. It’s sad that we are much better at organising team lunches when someone is leaving, than when someone joins. We can do more to encourage teams to think about how they will welcome in the newcomer. It’s not only down to managers. The whole team can help new starters to flourish.

Negotiating is where the newcomer discusses the expectations for his role with others. For example with her line manager, but potentially also with other stakeholders. For example, I’ve had situations in the past where my own role was a new one for the organisation that I joined. So initially I needed to discuss the range of my role and to understand others’ expectations of it.

Implications. I think that the importance of negotiating as a tactic depends on the clarity of the person’s role. Although it can often be the case that a person is recruited as a like-for-like replacement. But in reality the newcomer brings with them a whole new set of expectations about what she can deliver in that role. For example, in my career I’ve had roles where I replaced someone whose approach was completely and utterly different from my own. But of course, at first, my line manager expected me to be exactly the same type of L&D person. They didn’t know any different. Thus negotiating is important. I’ve found that it is useful to highlight to the newcomer that this is a strategy that they may need to use. Coach them, if needed, on how to go about it.

Sorry, that’s a long post. It’s a topic I’m passionate about. Any thoughts on practical ways to help newcomers adapt to their new company and role? Are there any strategies that you’ve used in a new role, or seen used?