Reinventing Onboarding: A New Approach to an Old Routine

Group members participating in impact onboarding.

Sometimes there’s comfort in the familiar. We rely on the “tried and true” way of doing things. In the workplace, that kind of dependable consistency often continues for years. And maybe it works — well enough.

But sometimes, the things we take for granted deserve a shake-up.

At Indeed, we are constantly trying to innovate by rethinking old strategies. From engineering to sales to client success and beyond, we challenge every individual in our organization to evaluate what’s working and improve what’s not.

So when it comes to onboarding new hires, we recently started testing a concept we call “impact onboarding.” The basic idea is simple: rather than spend days passively reading policies and attending training sessions, employees are empowered to start contributing to the company immediately. So how does it work?

What if new employees could start contributing on day one?

When companies hire new people, they anticipate a ramp-up period. But we hire people because they’re smart and they’ve shown potential. Not only that, new hires want opportunities to prove themselves early on — so it makes sense for us as employers to find ways to make this possible for them.

Impact onboarding flips the traditional, passive model by providing new employees with opportunities to start giving their best on day one. We want to communicate to new hires that we trust them and hired them for their intellect. And that, in turn, gives them the confidence to be more productive and confident, allowing them to contribute to Indeed faster.

So we’re asking these questions: What can new employees do to improve Indeed or support job seekers or employers in their first week? How can we harness their new-job enthusiasm and fresh perspectives while immersing them in the company culture at the same time?

The act of answering these questions acclimates new hires by facilitating collaboration with other new employees who are in different departments. It helps them build cross-functional relationships and learn company culture in a low-stakes way — relationships that continue after the week of onboarding is over.

How it works

Recently, we tried this new method on seven new hires in engineering, marketing and search quality. The week is rooted in play, so new hires feel empowered to explore themselves and Indeed, as well as to be creative and fun, all while operating under some constraints. We worked with an innovative boutique consulting firm called PlayWell whose mission is to make work more playful. They helped us develop the game-like structure for this pilot.

We split the group into two teams on Monday, and we gave each the theme “Happiness at Work.” Their job was to come up with a project, test and tweak it, and then present it to managers and colleagues on Friday afternoon.

Each group received these guidelines:

  • Come up with a winning idea, build a prototype and then test within one week.
  • Collect outside feedback and make adjustments, or scrap the idea and do something else.
  • Don’t worry about failing, because there’s merit in understanding data to know what works and doesn’t work.
  • Don’t worry about moving the needle; it’s great if that happens but the number-one priority is that the new hires are able to build relationships, learn how we work as a company and have the opportunity to explore, create and bring their best selves to work.

We wanted to make the experience a microcosm of our culture, so we wanted it to be fun as well as challenging. As the challenge progressed, we made teams pick a “shift card” when they hit a roadblock in their thinking and needed a fresh perspective. The card might change an aspect of the game — for instance, making them shift locations from the conference room to a space in the office to spark different thoughts.

Thumbs-up on pilot results

Happiness at work is a broad topic, and that’s precisely why we chose it for this initial, high-impact exercise.  

So how did these two groups raise the happiness factor?

One developed a new way to meet people in the lunchroom on our Austin campus. The other created a website to help new grads find their first jobs. A single theme went two directions: an internal process and an external product.

At Indeed, we develop and deploy ideas, test them and gather feedback. Then we make adjustments, and we put the ideas out there again. Impact onboarding introduces teams to this value right away and sets the stage for a career of innovation.

We are learning that people are capable of so much, even in their first few days. And we’re discovering that our hypothesis is accurate — new people do bring ideas when they first walk in the door.

The future of onboarding

We’ve tried impact onboarding twice, and we’re planning to test it more. Early results show real promise.

What worked so well? Sarah Eadie, who recently joined us on the product marketing team, participated in the workplace happiness challenge with new hires in the engineering department. What did she get out of the experience?

“There’s always trepidation when you start a new role,” says Sarah. “But impact onboarding helped prove to me that I could hold my own with other new hires and work together on something really great. It encouraged us to think expansively and to be ourselves within the group. That made me more comfortable once I started my actual duties.”

Sarah remains in touch with her group from the impact onboarding week:

“We have an existing connection that’s not tied to needing to prove anything to each other. Since we’re all in different departments, we can be candid about feedback, or asking for that ‘one-off thing.’”

Trying new things is always exciting — and it’s especially gratifying when they work. Turning the tables on employees, inspiring them to innovate and considering their ideas with open minds worked wonders for our test groups and program stakeholders. As we continue to refine and perfect this idea, our next task will be to figure out a way to scale it company-wide.

Think about implementing impact onboarding where you work. If you value fresh ideas, unhindered new hires may be in the best position to propose them.

Paul Wolfe is SVP of Human Resources at Indeed.

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