Why onboarding existing employees is a must

July 12, 2022
Updated Jul 12, 2022

That employee who just got promoted is really comfortable at the company and thriving in their environment. They already know the culture and have strong, established relationships. They don’t need much help getting acclimated to their new role - they’ve got this. Right?

Eh, you might think so… but they’re nervous. They have questions. They want to do the best job they can - especially since they’ve been with the company for so long and are taking a leap in their career.

Unfortunately, something that often gets overlooked when employees take the next step could quickly cause that promotion or role change to turn into a new job search.

There are a few scenarios where an internal employee might be making a change, like promotion from individual contributor to manager, moving to a different role within the organization, or taking on an entirely new career path within the company.

We sat down with Paul Lesser, former Head of Talent Acquisition, Development and Learning at Fidelity Investments, to get his insight on the importance of onboarding existing employees into their new roles and, based on his experience, how to do it effectively.

“Internal onboarding is no different than an external employee coming on. If they don’t feel welcome, they don’t feel engaged and they’re not able to perform,” says Paul.

Trust us - it’s not something you want to overlook.

Promotions and transfers are new starts

“The correlation is really strong between employee success and the onboarding experience - whether that’s internal or external - and it should be consistent,” Paul explains.

We welcome new hires into the company, provide them with tools to take on their new responsibilities, and encourage relationship-building with their new team, right? Of course! 

Let’s face it: no one can be truly successful on a team without establishing trust and mutual respect, having the right level of support, and understanding what’s expected of them.

But it’s not only new hires who need this treatment. Our existing employees who are going through a pretty big transition need it, too.

They’re already familiar with the company culture and have made connections on their old team, which is a great value-add. But we need to consider that they might feel nervous or uncomfortable stepping out of that familiar group into new territory.

“You have to approach it the same way you would with a new hire. Each group could have their own mini-culture. So we need to help that individual get acclimated.”

“As a small example, if there’s an issue that comes up, one group communicates through MS Teams. Whereas another group might prefer to communicate over email or do a quick huddle,” Paul explains.

The reality is that every team has their own preferences and nuanced processes, as Paul pointed out.

Changing roles requires employees to learn the “mini-culture”, adjust to new responsibilities, build respect in new relationships, and join an already close-knit team, among other things. It’s a new beginning that means, in many ways, starting over.

Acknowledge the internal shift

It’s common to see companies drop the ball on introducing employees to their new team or celebrating their promotion within the organization. And far too often, we see a lack of support that turns what should have been an exciting change into an employee walking out the door.

“A lot of companies don’t put emphasis into this because they just assume this person knows the company and is comfortable enough that they can be put right to work,” says Paul.

Our loyal employees are extremely valuable to us, and there’s a reason they’ve been hired into that new role. So we need to make them feel seen and heard - especially during a transition period.

It’s easy to assume that when an employee changes roles, they’ll automatically fall into the existing dynamic. We might think they already feel comfortable sharing their opinions with their new team and speaking vulnerably when they’re trying to learn. 

Usually, though, that’s not the case - even with employees stepping into leadership positions. So how do we encourage an onboarding culture that embraces change and suggestion, as well as leading and speaking with vulnerability?

Talk to your teams and encourage open dialogue whenever there’s a new member joining. Ask for feedback on how things are going. Hold sessions to discuss how the team handles certain processes and encourage new team members to share how they did things on their old team, or any ideas they have for the new one.

Promote conversations and exercises around progress and necessary change, to invite in new voices. Your teams will be better equipped to embrace new members, along with their experience and ideas. And your “new” team members will feel accepted and supported, leading to a much more productive, positive outcome.

Prepare the tools and tech

The way we handle employee transitions can make or break company culture - and actions really do speak louder than words.

Properly supporting them through promotions and role changes shows our employees that we really care about their careers and longevity with the company. But it’s not only about introductions and announcements, or promoting open dialogue and relationship-building.

“Making sure they have access to the right systems and technology when your employees move from one group to another is critical. Put a lot of effort into day one access.”

As Paul points out, there are steps that need to be taken ahead of their official transfer date, so they’re up-and-running on day one. Show them you’re prepared for them and they’re not just some afterthought.

Get IT involved as soon as they accept their new role. Create tasks and assign each a strict due date. Use a new-hire checklist as inspiration!

  • Get them access to all of the accounts they’ll be using and send an email with a list and instructions on next steps
  • Establish a new 30/60/90 day plan
  • Reach out to see if they have any questions or concerns
  • Schedule a team welcome lunch (yes, even if they already know some people)
  • Make sure there are check-ins scheduled (day 1, week 1, 30 days, 60, days, etc.)
  • Align with the team to make sure they’re all aware of an incoming member or new leader

Remember, they might not be new to the company but they are new to their new role and will need everything a new hire would.

Hold on to your people

If employees feel like they’re failing or unsupported right after a big transition, they’re not going to be happy.

“They’re going to question their decision and start thinking about whether or not they did the right thing. And if not, then what should they do next?”

We’ve seen employees make an internal transition then fall short of expectations or leave the company entirely, shortly thereafter.

That doesn’t typically happen because they’re incapable of handling their new responsibilities. Much of that turnover comes from a poor support system.

Losing top performers to bad transitions happens way more often than it should.

Fortunately, incorporating onboarding for your existing employees into your workflows is something you can do fairly quickly with the right planning. And, of course, it will make a big impact on your bottom line to keep those top performers and loyal employees with the company.

So remember, that employee who is going through a transition to new responsibilities - no matter what that looks like for them - needs your support just as much as those new hires do.

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