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The Future of Onboarding: Say Goodbye to Sink or Swim

Will they sink…or will they swim? Once you’ve hired the right candidates, it's important to make them comfortable and get them up to speed. Research shows that your onboarding approach makes all the difference.   

Nickey Pietila

Rookie Blogger

In my first month with Skyward, I had all of the typical worries of a new employee entering an unfamiliar workplace. Will I get the help I need? How will I know if I’m succeeding? Will I sink or will I swim?

As I go through the onboarding process, I can’t help but compare the experience to my first weeks as a high school English teacher right out of college. It took an “all hands on deck” approach to ensure that my fellow newcomers and I had the resources and supports we needed to be ready for the first bell – and for every bell after that.
Research by the Aberdeen Group shows that organizations with the best onboarding practices enjoy a 91% employee retention rate. As turnover continues to climb in K-12, this is a statistic that schools need to be familiar with. So what makes for good onboarding? Let’s dive in and find out.


Make Use of Technology

Make connections: Help new employees sustain the excitement they felt after landing the job by connecting them to key coworkers right away. Encourage veteran employees to reach out on LinkedIn, Twitter, and email to offer a warm welcome, even before your newcomers arrive.  

Simplify paperwork: New hire paperwork can be an anchor during those first few days. What forms do I need to fill out, and where do I send them? Do I hand-deliver them, or is there an interoffice process I need to know about? Did I miss a checkbox or a signature somewhere? You can take these worries off of your new hires' plates by moving the forms online. Now, all they have to do is press the submit button and move on to what's next.

Try video: Just as video is the new standard for PD, it can also be a life raft during onboarding. Work with your technology department to make sure employees are equipped with all the tools and support they need to be successful from day one. Do you have a library of video tutorials built up to walk your new office admin through your attendance processes? A brief overview of SMART boards and gradebooks for your teachers? ERP training for the new payroll specialist? Your new employees shouldn't see technology as a burden, but as a welcome medium for getting up to speed faster.   

At Skyward, I was in the loop before day one, thanks to online communication with HR staff, managers, and my new coworkers. My team made it easy for me to contribute right away by granting access to frequently used tech tools before my arrival, along with providing tutorials and videos to keep me learning.

Trust me, this is a feeling that every school district employee should have.


Impart the Essentials

Know the goals: The aforementioned Aberdeen study also reveals that a characteristic of “best in class” organizations is the alignment of onboarding with overall organizational objectives. Whether you’re taking PBIS to the next level or striving to raise test scores, let new employees know your goals early so they will be better able to help you achieve them.

Clarify expectations: Should staff expect scheduled observations or random drop-ins? How frequently should they check email? Is it ok to wear jeans? When employees know what to expect, they waste no energy worrying and will also make fewer mistakes. 

Make a help guide: Ask a new employee’s department head or colleague to take a few minutes to make a list of “need to know” information for the first weeks and months, like computer login details, supply locations, and the names of go-to people. Equipped with a help guide, your new team member will be better prepared to face everything from a staple shortage to a computer crash.

Onboarding is overwhelming. Your current staff is your best resource for showing newcomers how to make a day go well. My Skyward team prepared a help guide for me on Trello, and I referred to it often for basics like locating the office supplies and submitting my first IT service call. With the basics covered, I was able to focus on getting to know my colleagues and absorbing myself in the culture.

Looking back at my own teaching experience, I can think of more than a few practical applications for Trello in that environment, especially during my first few weeks. Plus, it's free!


Community and Culture

Take a tour: A community tour is time well-spent because it can help employees who are new to the area understand where their students come from, and it might even inspire new ideas for community involvement in the classroom. On a smaller scale, a simple building tour helps employees become comfortable in their new workplace, ready to respond to any situation.  

Celebrate early & often: Help newcomers picture their future not as a daily grind, but as a daily adventure. Find reasons to celebrate early and often. It’s your employee’s first day? Celebrate! Someone has a birthday? Celebrate! It’s Thursday? Celebrate! There's always a good reason to have treats in the faculty lounge.   

Assign a mentor: Mentors are the cornerstone of a finely built onboarding program. The advantages are hard to ignore: increased job satisfaction, improved student achievement, and growth in both the mentor and mentee. From Good to Great, a study from the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, identified access to a mentor as one of the most important early experiences of eventual National and State Teachers of the Year.

It’s not just teachers who need a mentor – all onboarding employees are in transition. Mentor relationships are the best way to extend onboarding beyond the first few weeks and make sure every newcomer benefits from the guidance of a veteran.

Now partway through my onboarding process, I am confident that Skyward won’t throw me in the deep end without a life preserver. I have the tools, information, and support I need to do my work or to find help when I need it. Above all else, I feel welcomed and wanted – what’s more motivating than that?

No employee should be left to navigate the waters of a new job alone. Take good care of your new talent during this critical time, and you’ll benefit from improved job satisfaction, greater employee retention, and a more positive culture in your school community.

For more tips on attracting and retaining the best talent, read our white paper, A New Definition for Blended Hiring, or contact us today.


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