I've learned that a bad onboarding experience can sour a new employee's experience.
I vividly recall multiple times when my team and I were excited by a new hire coming on board - only to see our new CSM struggle mightily because the onboarding process didn't prepare them adequately for their role.
This, in turn, created a lot of downstream effects: higher turnover among new CSMs, decreased morale, strained relationships with customers, and a general sense of frustration among new team members and the existing team.
Fortunately, I've learned from my past mistakes. I now see onboarding as less of a checklist to be run through quickly and more as a real foundation for a new CSM’s long-term success and experience.
Here are some of the more impactful mistakes I've made.
Hopefully, you can learn from them.
There may be a temptation to engage new CSMs with customers immediately, especially if they have experience as a CSM at other companies.
This mistake can hurt you – and your new employee – in the long run.
You never want to throw them into the pool's deep end when they're not ready to swim. In some cases, I've had to manage a CSM's book of business while they are up to speed. It's well worth it.
New CSMs that engage with customers too quickly can get frustrated, make mistakes because of their lack of knowledge, and inadvertently harm customer relationships. Having them engage with customers too quickly is not worth it.
Many managers – especially new ones – may feel that creating and executing the onboarding process falls solely on their shoulders. This is a mistake I’ve made in the past, and it has affected my new employees in a couple of ways.
First, if the new CSM isn’t actively engaging with the rest of the team, they won’t learn what the job is like from a peer perspective. CSMs who are “in the trenches,” so to speak, will have more insights into the role and the team’s best practices than you will as the manager.
The second reason this is a bad idea is because it doesn’t leverage the power of your team’s good ideas and insight. Collectively, your team has more knowledge and insight about the role than you do as the manager. If the team can provide input and help coach and mentor the new employee, they’ll feel more of a sense of ownership.
Below are a few ways I’ve gotten existing team members involved in onboarding. I’ll also share some techniques other organizations have used, which may inspire your thoughts.
Additional ideas you can try out:
By implementing some of these creative strategies, managers can improve the onboarding process and foster a sense of community and shared responsibility within the team.
When I started building onboarding plans for new team members, I assumed they were "one-and-done" documents. I'd develop and roll them out and then change them if we had a new product or process a team member needed to know.
I got pretty consistent feedback from my new team members that the onboarding process was good, but modules "x," "y," and "z" needed to be changed. It was always the same modules mentioned. Why? Because I never incorporated the feedback!
Boy, have I changed!
Now, when I hire a new CSM, the most immediate previous hire is instrumental in helping update and tweak the onboarding plan. We have open and honest conversations about what worked, what didn't, and which sections or topics need to be added to the plan.
We have a much better onboarding plan and an improved experience for each new employee. An additional benefit is that the existing CSMs feel ownership in the onboarding process and, as such, are more likely to accept and excel as a mentor - which leads to my next point.
I mentioned the idea of mentorship earlier in this article and wanted to get back to it. In the past, I've made the mistake of not focusing on a strong mentoring relationship. Not doing so can create a poor onboarding experience for your new hire and may lead to premature attrition because they don't feel comfortable in the group.
In many cases – myself included – managers ask a senior team member to be a mentor for a new employee with no structure or guidance. It's very likely your Sr. CSM will get distracted by customer engagements and fighting fires, and so may not spend as much time as they should with the new team member.
Ideally, a mentor should be more than just a friendly person for your new CSM to go to. That's part of it, but the best mentors do more. Good mentors help shape the new employee's onboarding. They should help with the creation of the new hire's onboarding plan. Having the mentor cover some topics in a one-to-one interactive style is also a good idea.
Mentors should also schedule weekly check-ins with the new hire. The mentor can use these calls to answer new team members' questions about what they've learned or experienced. Perhaps more importantly, the mentor can help the new CSM feel at home.
Every company has its own culture, customs, and history. A mentor can help explain this to their new colleague to help them feel comfortable and welcome in an intimidating environment.
I mentioned at the beginning that I’ve made many mistakes in onboarding. True - but my goal is never to repeat a mistake.
As you start formalizing and revising your onboarding process, remember that you’re never really “done” with the process. It will always require tweaks and tunes along the way. Hopefully, the points above have helped you think about how to get your onboarding program started…or how to take it to the next level.
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