Leadership insight #1 / 2023: Starting well: Onboarding tips for employees and their leaders

9 February 2023

Effective ‘onboarding’ of new starters presents an important opportunity for individuals and team leaders. This is particularly important in medical teams who have new starters commencing continuously throughout the year. Ensuring a new member ‘starts well’ presents a great opportunity to cement clear and transparent expectations, communication patterns and strong professional relationships: All important building blocks for a healthy workplace culture. This is important whether the new start is a senior person, in a permanent position (e.g., as consultant or deputy director) or someone joining the team for a single rotation/term or a contracted amount of time. While specific actions may be important for an ongoing role, there are many actions that are important for both rotations and ongoing positions, and which are important because they contribute to strengthening a healthy collaborative culture in general.

Starting a new job permanently or on contract, or a rotation/term– which we will refer to as ‘onboarding’ – is experienced by many as messy, disjointed and sometimes lonely, leaving new starters / team members unsure of what’s going on and meaning that leaders miss out on an opportune moment to start strong. These first interactions – just like first impressions – count: For leaders, these provide moments for you to introduce yourself and your team, share what you want from your team and introduce these expectations, norms, and activities of your team from the outset.

So, as you begin to prepare to start a new role or rotation, and as leaders prepare to welcome new members into their teams, here are some ideas to hold in mind:

The next two sections discuss what these can look like in everyday thinking and behaviour for both team or department leaders and for individuals starting in a role.

For the team leader

Know the basics: Take the time to find out, or check-in with your new hire/starter(s) and/or medical workforce/HR, to confirm that processes have been completed effectively to enable employment, and to check their start date. This gets your relationship with them in their new role off to a proactive and positive start. You may want to ensure that a colleague – or yourself if suitable – is available to meet with them on their first day to welcome them and introduce them to others. This duty of care aspect of leadership is a powerful foundation for a strong relationship.

Clear communication: As well as checking-in with them, check that you have announced their role, name and start date to wider team. This is particularly relevant for permanent & contract employees and ensures that others are expecting them and know a bit about their role and responsibilities which is incredibly helpful for supporting a good start. You may also want to think about inviting them to any team/department meetings, relevant groups, WhatsApp group or any other team specific arrangements. Ensuring they have contacts and phone numbers for relevant people is also helpful and welcoming. Finally having a strategy for remembering people ‘names’ goes a long way and supports making a strong first impression

Strong professional relationships. Building a network of strong collegial relationships across the team and area is crucial for effective collaboration. So, while leaders can have too much on their plate to ensure a good orientation for each new hire, another member of the team could do this.  Think about asking a colleague or peer of the new person to be their ‘buddy’ for the first couple of weeks. Often someone who has recently started can be helpful for this as they have gone through the process recently and know what you need to know (they may also know what didn’t go well for them and be able to help the process go better for the next person). A buddy role doesn’t have to be onerous, it could simply be someone to meet them on their first day and show them around for 15mins. This can make a world of difference, especially if the alternative was that nobody would meet or greet them.

Performance or probation requirements. Many contracts will have a probation period and will stipulate a review or evaluation mid-way and/or at the end of this period or the term/rotation. Raise this with your new hire / starter in the first couple of weeks and ensure that they have an opportunity to meet with you or another colleague at a couple of intervals before these formal requirements. Plan time for these conversations and any review meeting and put it in your calendar. Employee engagement and retention is important. Ensure things are going well before it’s too late.

For the individual starting out

(note, these tips are written more for new hires into ongoing roles, however the general principles are also relevant for new rotations).

Know the basics. Following the interview and selection process, it’s important to ensure that you receive a contract and that the role title and description of responsibilities are correct. This is the foundation for any review of your performance in the first weeks, months and year. Also ensure that you know where to go and who to meet on your first day. Just as for your leader or manager, first impressions count. Consider reaching out to your new boss and or colleagues before you start to say hello and let them know when you’re coming in or working offsite. For new rotations, this step may include speaking with your new supervisor or visiting the department prior to commencing the rotation ensuring you have correct start dates/time, as well as details for communicating with them if required.

Clear communication. Following your recruitment, ensure you know who it is that you report to and who you can go to for questions – relevant HR or workforce people and medical colleagues. If you have things to find out and set up – such as provisions for bathrooms / change facilities, parking /transport needs, prayer, expressing milk or anything else, consider a visit prior to your start day to see the lay of the land.

Strong Professional relationships. Building strong relationships with colleagues starts immediately. Prepare to introduce yourself and to get to know your colleagues. The first days and weeks can be busy and exhausting. Take time to plan to get to know people and ‘grab a coffee’ where you can across the first weeks.   

Performance or probation requirements. Check any requirements in your contract for an interim review for a probation period &/or term the term assessment process.  Knowing  the timing of the annual performance review cycle in your department is also a good idea. These things go so much better when you are prepared!  

In summary, taking some time to think about and prepare for a new start pays off. Learn the names of your new colleagues – and get them right! Introduce yourself and ask questions to get to know your new area form the outset. In general, strong relationships and open communication support effective collaboration in complex environments and setting these up starts from the get-go.

The leadership insights review many key leadership actions and behaviours and consider practical ways for enacting them from your role. Take a look at past articles and feel free to take up the leader check-in as a member benefit.

Dr Anna Clark (PhD)
Dr Anna Clark is AMAVs Leadership consultant, coach and educator, currently offering individual coaching for doctors and directing the AMA’s professional development programs in leadership, the Emerging Leader Program and Middle Leader Program.

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