What employees experience in their first few days at an organization determines how successful and happy they are at that organization. Onboarding is not just a process but a multi-sensory experience that extends to the new hire and his/her loved ones. As MICHR, we asked ourselves what an ideal new employee onboarding experience would be and in-turn designed a human-centered experience that set people up for growth and long-term engagement.

Onboarding is not just a process but a multi-sensory experience that extends to the new hire and his/her loved ones and ultimately defines their future.

User Research

1. Listening sessions, bodystorming activities and literature reviews to understand the new employee’s experience

To understand what new employees go through when they first start at MICHR, we spent some time generating empathy with some recent starters. We conducted listening sessions, performed bodystorming activities and conducted literature reviews to understand their experiences.

2. Collaborative workshops to understand the new employee’s managers, administrators, team members and families experiences

Onboarding is an experience not only for the new employee but also for the people around. We spent some time understanding what managers, administrators, team members and families go through when a new employee joins their team through listening sessions and collaborative workshops.

High Level Insights

1. Inconsistent onboarding experiences

We found that all our recent hires had different experiences in their first few days at MICHR. Some had had long drawn out orientations while other had a one day orientation before being straight into work.

2. Too much information presented at one time

We consistently heard that starting off at MICHR was overwhelming. There was too much information presented in a very compressed time and it was hard for new employees to retain that information.

3. Lack of understanding of other programs at MICHR

Unlike most small-medium organizations, MICHR has many different programs and they offer very different services. We heard from both new employees and the people around them that while new employees knew their program well, they did not know enough about MICHR’s other programs and services causing them to miss out on making valuable connections.

4. Lack of social connections outside their team

New employees also told us that while they knew their team members fairly well, they did not know other MICHR employees as well. This lack of social connections manifested into lack of interactions and cross-functional knowledge transfer at MICHR because employees thought an extra second before asking questions or advice from others.

The Onboarding Experience

Onboarding cannot be left to just one team or group. Onboarding has the most chance of success when the organization shares this responsibility.

1. Players

Onboarding cannot be left to just one team or group. For the best chance of setting up our new employees to be highly engaged and happy, we all had to share the responsibility of onboarding them. Thus we created the following two voluntary roles:

1.1 MICHR Liaisons

MICHR liaisons acted as “buddies” to the new employee. They were tasked with guiding a new employee through their onboarding process and helping them settle into their new job. The liaison could be anyone from MICHR who volunteered as long as they were not from the same team as the new employee. A new employee would be out in touch with their liaison before they started at MICHR, giving them an opportunity ask questions and create relationships.

1.2 MICHR Program Ambassadors

Program ambassadors were individuals selected by their teams that would be willing to show and tell the new employee their program and their services. Each new employee would meet face-to-face with all the program ambassadors and learn more about their programs from them along with making further connections.

2. Activities

The onboarding experience contained various activities, each of them designed to make new employees feel progressively more comfortable interacting with their peers and understanding MICHR and the university as a whole. Among other things, the activities included:

  • A full day orientation to the University of Michigan’s traditions and values
  • A session on essentials like parking and benefits
  • A bus ride with their liaison to MICHR’s various sites
  • A meeting with MICHR’s Associate Managing Director
  • Group sessions with various programs and attending their first all staff meeting

3. The Experience Timeline

Week 1: Orientation

Help new employee orient himself or herself to the University of Michigan, University of Michigan Health System & MICHR. Activities include U-M, UMHS and MICHR orientations, meetings with manager, office manager and introduction with the liaison.

Week 2: Meet Associate Managing Director & Tour other MICHR sites

Give the new employee the opportunity to meet MICHR's Associate Managing Director and understand MICHR, it's mission and it's vision from him/her. The second week also seemed like a good time to tour our other sites.

Week 4: Learn more about other units MICHR collaborate with & attend first MICHR All-Staff meeting

Help new employee learn more about the units that MICHR collaborates with. This week also affords introducing them at the MICHR All-Staff meeting.

Months 1 - 5: Learn all about MICHR's programs

This time is about introducing the new employee to all of MICHR's programs & teams. This is done by setting up short (about 30 minutes) meetings with the Program Ambassadors where they introduce the new employee to their teams and show them what they do and how they do it. The meetings are set up by the new employee's liaison.

Month 6: Mid year progress review

A chance for the new employee to meet their manager and MICHR's Associate Managing director to see how they are feeling and to provide feedback on how the onboarding process has been for them.

4. The Toolkit

We realized that while we had designed what we thought was a good experience for our new employees, we did not have something to convey this to them and to get them excited about coming to MICHR. We designed the Onboarding Toolkit to make the onboarding process transparent to everyone and to help new employees know what to do when.

Systems are what make the world go around but it is objects that represent those systems that enthrall us.
The toolkit is in the form of a keyring.
The toolkit gets mailed to the new employees and contains information that can help them prepare for their transition into a new setting.
Each card represents an activity. If information about an activity needs to be changed, we just swap out the card for a new one. This makes the toolkit very sustainable.
The Onboarding Experience is a long process and the keyring implicitly helps bookmark the stage in process.

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