Never underestimate the importance of properly onboarding new associates.
Of course, it’s easy to do in today’s crazy busy multifamily life. Onsite associates are slammed with a seemingly endless variety of tasks and responsibilities. In an effort to relieve the strain on leasing staffs, it may be tempting to limit orientation practices and throw new team members into the deep end of the pool immediately.
This is short-sighted and can potentially harm the value of the team you are trying to build. In the long run, everyone―the new hires themselves, their team members, residents and the company as a whole―is better served when operators implement a thoughtful onboarding process. The goal should be to steep new associates in both the details of their jobs and the company culture.
We all know that onboarding is the vital first step in building high-performing associates who feel a real connection with and loyalty to a company. Below are best practices for designing, implementing and delivering truly impactful onboarding:
Tap into your teams. It’s impossible to improve what you don’t know needs improvement. Offer opportunities for your teams to provide honest feedback into training. Ongoing employee surveys, conducted throughout the year, can provide insights into how the teams are feeling about their roles with the company and if they feel their training has set them up for success. Look for trends in this feedback, such as how ongoing training may be lacking or if team members would like more support in the months after starting.
Conduct training offsite and before an associate sets foot at their community. Most training programs begin with a day or two of offsite training with the HR manager or a training manager. After those initial days, which often only cover traditional HR procedures and maybe an overwhelming amount of technology training, the new team member is off to their community. Consider extending this process considerably to a five-day orientation and training program to be held at the corporate offices before new team members begin their jobs. Breaking training up into multiple days enables associates to be fully immersed into all facets of what multifamily is and best positions them to successfully navigate life in this exciting but demanding industry.
Emphasize company culture. Obviously, onboarding is the time to begin training new employees in their jobs and to educate them about important workplace issues such as Fair Housing compliance, sexual harassment and how to use technology systems.
But it’s almost more important to leverage this time to soak associates in company culture. Use the first day of orientation in part to show employees who the company is, explain what its values are, highlight where they fit in the puzzle and outline how valued associates are to the organization. Doing so will help further create excitement and further validate to the employee that they made the right decision to work for your organization over another. Because multifamily is somewhat fractured, as most of a company’s employees work offsite and not within main office, it is important to establish this bond between team member and company.
Make it fun. Everyone is nervous on the first day of their new job. But a fun, energetic onboarding process puts people at ease and puts them in a good frame of mind to absorb what you want them to learn.
In the initial orientation―as part of giving new hires the big picture about a company―not only share who executives are but give associates some fun facts about them, like what their favorite movie is or where they’re from. It makes leadership seem more approachable and real when someone learns, for example, this male executive’s favorite movie is, surprisingly, a popular romance film.
And don’t overlook the power of a funny meme to make an educational session more memorable and enjoyable. They deliver a great mental break during training.
Accommodate different learning styles. Everyone learns differently, so it’s important for an onboarding process to be designed accordingly. Some associates just want to listen to an instructor and take a zillion notes. Some want to be interactive, and some want real hands-on experiences. Offering variety in the training process gives everybody the right platform to make sure that they’re learning the way they need to learn, not the way you want to teach them.
Realize it’s an ongoing process. Let’s be real: You cannot expect an initial orientation to be the be-all, end-all of a new employee’s training. Not everything can be covered at once and associates won’t remember everything shared during this time.
Follow up on the initial offsite orientation with a “drip campaign” of webinars. Within the first 30 days or so a new employee beginning work at a community, they should be required to complete a series of training webinars through the learning management system. These webinars should be short – somewhere in the ballpark of 45 minutes is ideal. Also make sure the onsite teams are prepared to provide their team members time to complete ongoing training.
Collect feedback. When new hires have completed their onboarding, do not be afraid to ask for their unvarnished feedback. Hearing directly from them about their experiences can only improve the onboarding experience you provide for subsequent associates.
Building and implementing a strong onboarding process is not an overnight effort. It takes time and a lot of thoughtful, careful planning. Be honest, be open, create excitement and ongoing engagement with all your team members to ensure you establish, and continue to foster, a strong, cohesive and tenured team.
Jennifer Henderson is vice president of Team Development at The Bainbridge Cos.