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This is Part II in our Onboarding Series designed to help making the new hire process easier and more fulfilling for employees and employers. Read How to Successfully Onboard and Engage New Hires for Part I.

We recently posted our thinking on the clear difference between new hire orientation and onboarding, both so necessary in bringing new employees into new organizational environments, whether that environment is onsite, remote or a hybrid arrangement. Because of the new ways of working and interacting within our work teams, thorough onboarding is even more important now. Here are some helpful steps to help employees feel they belong and can perform at their best.

Onboarding is a shared journey, not an event. 

Orientation generally provides an informational starter kit, a ‘check in’ process for the new hire. The onboarding process goes deeper into communicating the culture, helping new arrivals understand how things really get done in their area of the organization, and fostering connections and community. In our view, it encompasses the whole first year of a new hire’s journey, a shared journey extending from welcome to belonging. A feeling of belonging doesn’t happen in a day, but welcome can. It can imbue every interaction.

A Culture of Welcome and Belonging

A few years ago, I worked with a global nongovernmental organization [NGO] seeking to break down the walls of separation between themselves and the organizations they worked with in more than sixty countries. Because the NGO provided funding and both strategic and subject matter expertise, it was easy to fall into the trap of hurried visits, dictation of terms and conditions, and a ‘we have the final say’ attitude. People don’t go into this kind of work unless they are committed to service, yet they kept catching themselves marginalizing the very people they wanted to work with and learn from. What they really wanted, they told me at the time, was to create a culture of welcome, accompaniment, mutual learning, and belonging in their relationships throughout their huge system. 

We spent time defining what such a culture might look like in action and how that might connect them more fully to their global partners. We invited their partners into the process of co-creating their shared journey to greater connection and belonging. We all came to the conclusion their onboarding processes for both individual employees and for new organizations coming into their global fold needed to be more extensive, inclusive, and intentional as part of their commitment to what they’ve come to see as overarching organizational values. 

Many organizations have grappled with these concerns in one form or another, and the recent emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) lets us know creating a culture of belonging for all isn’t something we can assume will happen in an organization just because we, ourselves, might feel a sense of belonging there.

Onboarding is a key place to begin creating better experiences of inclusion and belonging.

In June, Harvard Business Review [HBR] published an article on building a culture of belonging. Authors Kennedy and Jain-Link used research by CoQual to formulate a quantifiable definition of belonging. Here’s what they came up with:

For employees, belonging means:

  1. Seen for our unique contributions
  2. Connected to our coworkers
  3. Supported in our daily work and career development
  4. Proud of our organization’s values and purpose

The two authors then surveyed thousands and brought hundreds more into focus groups on the topic and came to the conclusion, “In analyzing the data, we found that belonging yields a competitive edge for employers: Compared to employees who score low on our 10-point belonging scale, those with high belonging scores are far more likely to be engaged and loyal and to promote their organizations as good places to work.”

Their conclusions track closely with what we’ve been learning from working with clients on upgrading and updating their onboarding programs, both during the COVID work-from-home phase and now in their efforts to create connected-up hybrid environments.

We worked with one organization recently to introduce a buddy system, in which each new employee not only spent lots of structured time with their immediate manager but also had a colleague as a buddy for three months to accompany them in learning the ropes and having a network of support. [More to come on setting up successful buddy programs.]

Why go to all this trouble? 

Because without a sense of belonging and feeling valued, your staff will jump ship as soon as another opportunity comes along. And because, although people have vastly different temperaments and habits, we all want to feel like we were picked for the team and are appreciated for what we bring to it. 

Great onboarding programs work to make new employees feel prepared for, welcomed, informed, accompanied, safe, and valued—to feel that they belong.

Action items, or something to think about:  

  • Think about a time when you’ve felt both welcomed and that you belong somewhere. What were the elements that created that feeling?
  • Leaders, in your organization, how have you contributed to a culture of welcome and belonging for those who are newly arrived?

Are you wanting to learn more about successful onboard programs, applicable case studies or new-hire journeys? View our Team and Culture Building service, and contact us with any questions/

By Sallie Lee

Sallie Lee is part of Continuum’s consulting team. She has served as a thinking partner, strategist, and facilitator for a global client base.