The onboarding experience 

Editor’s note: Trudi Sampola is the director of people and culture at strategic insights consultancy Nature. This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared under the title “The Employee Experience: Lessons from a Marketer’s Onboarding Journey.

On the eve of hitting my six-month milestone at Nature it feels like the perfect time to stop and reflect on my onboarding experience and capture my life through this lens, both as the person responsible for leading this experience and as someone going through it.

According to research by NAB, almost one in 10 Australian workers changed jobs in the last quarter of 2022, and that included me. This means more than 1.1 million people have been going through the onboarding experience in their workplace in recent months.

As someone who has spent most of my career in consumer marketing, I can’t help but borrow customer-obsessive thinking when mapping out what makes a great employee experience. As with great brand experiences, it involves so much more than just focusing on acquisition or conversion; it is about nurturing and retaining great people by giving them a brilliant lifetime experience, no matter how long their “lifetime” is.

Onboarding is ultimately the first part of the employee experience and, critically, the period during which new employees (like me) will decide whether what was promised during the recruitment dance actually plays out.

Having spent six months sitting on both sides of the onboarding experience at the same time, here are the three things that took my experience from standard to gold standard.

Three onboarding journey lessons

1. Create an owner’s mindset

In the world of customer experience design, typically the faster a brand can help a consumer discover all the great things it has to offer, the deeper the consumer’s engagement and confidence in the brand is likely to be. If you use this approach to power your employee onboarding experience, it’s a superb way to fast track an employee’s sense of confidence and ownership in their new role, too.

Starting a new gig can be truly nerve-racking. You feel like a fish out of water, you usually don’t know many of the people you are about to start working with and imposter syndrome often creeps in as you are drinking from the proverbial fire hose of new information while simultaneously wondering if you are going to be good enough.

Throughout my first months, I was sequentially invited to join in everything and spend time with everyone across the business – not just for chemistry catch ups but to understand the whole business and contribute with my fresh pair of eyes on how we do things. I was brought in on everything from commercials, to product, to the fine detail of the culture, including the in jokes, so I quickly felt like I was “in” too.

The idea of everyone having an “owner’s mindset” is part of the vernacular at Nature and it does a great job of encapsulating the potency of what can happen when everyone – new and old – has a genuine and deep sense of engagement in their role and where they work.

2. Prioritize ease and organization

Most places I’ve ever worked have had a central server with a folder structure that looks like a hoarder’s house. Only those people who have lived there forever know where anything can be found. Everyone else saves most things in their personal folders because, frankly, when you’re time-poor there’s nothing worse than having to go searching through the piles of document versions for what you need. I realize that the architecture of folder structures isn’t going to set the world on fire, but I can’t help but wonder how many hours are lost every year trying to find that missing document!

I do have to preface my next comment with the fact I am a structure junkie, and I may have stumbled across a corporate miracle here. I discovered a structured folder system with known and working conventions for ensuring there’s a place for everything and that everything is in its place. It was so obvious where to find things that I didn’t even need a tour. Is it a corporate miracle? Do I also work with 60 structure junkies? Or is it simply that when a system is defined, agreed and it works, it doesn’t take much to keep it on track. Everyone likes things that work.

For anyone who has ever joined a new business and had to go find something lost under the rubble of endless versions, it’s got to be one of the great handbrakes to getting immersed in the work, being productive and feeling in control. The greatest gift you can give to a new employee is to make it dead easy to get into the work rather than getting lost trying to find the work.

3. Be comfortable with feedback

I suspect many of us are inundated with feedback requests from brands asking for ratings and comments on our recent experiences with their products or services. I would also take a punt and say that if you decide you are going to take some time to respond to that feedback request, you are probably comfortable being straight up with it too.

The average full-time employee spends at least 2,000 hours per year at work. That work is also powered by relationships. It makes sense, then, that feedback loops should be one of the big rocks that we invest time and effort into throughout the employee experience. Following that line of reasoning, we should start as we mean to go on and ensure feedback loops are baked into the onboarding experience.

Candid feedback is one of the areas that people are most awkward about. That said, it’s one of the quickest short cuts to building a trusting and honest work relationship, so it’s worth pushing through any awkwardness and finding the right way to start a conversation.

The formula isn’t complex: regularly ask good questions, have different channels to manage feedback as a conversation, share observations with curiosity and compassion, stay open minded and be responsive to what comes back. That’s all.

Those are my top three things that I am confident will supercharge any employee onboarding plan. It would be remiss of me not to include one final thought for anyone who is also going through their own onboarding somewhere. Remember to take responsibility for onboarding yourself, too. Don’t be passive. You’re here now. Lean in. Stay curious. Be patient. Be you!