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Effective Employee Onboarding: Insights from HR Expert Leigh Henderson

effective employee onboarding

Imagine transforming the often-daunting world of employee onboarding into an engaging, human-centric experience.

This is exactly what we delve into on the latest episode of the Employee Onboarding Podcast. Host Erin Rice, our resident people and operations star at Process Street, sits down with the trailblazing Leigh Elena Henderson. With over 20 years under her belt in corporate America, Leigh brings a whirlwind of HR insights and innovations.

Are you eager to discover the secret sauce to effective onboarding? Craving real-life stories from the HR frontlines? Or maybe you’re just keen to hear how a seasoned HR expert is reshaping the narrative of employee integration.

Either way, buckle up for an episode that’s set to revolutionize your perspective on welcoming new talent.

  • Podcast Introduction: Meet Leigh Elena Henderson, a seasoned HR expert.
  • HR Innovator Spotlight: Leigh’s journey with HR Manifesto LLC.
  • Icebreaker Moment: A light-hearted discussion on laundry habits.
  • Personal Experiences in HR: Leigh’s professional journey and passion.
  • Onboarding Experiences: Insights into effective & challenging onboarding processes.
  • First Week Priorities: The importance of connectivity in new hire integration.
  • Employee Engagement Strategies: Empowering new hires for success.
  • Remote Onboarding: Addressing the complexities and solutions.
  • AI in Onboarding: Exploring the potential impact of technology.
  • Organizational Fit and Culture: Leigh’s approach to hiring and cultural integration.
  • HR Besties Podcast: Introducing Leigh’s new HR-focused podcast.

Listen below, or read on for the full transcript.

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Podcast Intro

Erin Rice

Welcome to the Employee Onboarding Podcast, where we unpack great onboarding ideas and best practices from the world’s top HR practitioners and thought leaders. At Process Street, our mission is to make recurring work fun, fast, and faultless for teams everywhere. I’m Erin Rice, the people and operations coordinator at Process Street. Today, I’m joined by Leigh Elena Henderson.

Leigh has over 20 years of experience in corporate America, supporting a handful of Fortune 100 companies as an HR executive. Currently, Leigh devotes her time to social media, content creation, brand promotion, writing, and helping companies “not suck” in their HR experience. Leigh is also the founder and CEO of HR Manifesto LLC. For those who might not know, HR Manifesto was born on TikTok in June 2021.

Leigh Henderson

Thank you.

HR Innovator and HR Manifesto Founder, Leigh Harrison

Erin Rice

As a creative outlet for Leigh, she tests content while she pens her No BS Toxic Workplace Survival Guide

Focused on sharing tragic work realities and approachable coaching through inspired storytelling, HR Manifesto’s goal is to unify followers around the shared human experience of work and help others maximize their professional success. Today, the HR Manifesto TikTok has over 640,000 followers.

Wow, Leigh, a real-life HR influencer. We are so excited to have you today!

Leigh Henderson

Yeah, well thank you, Erin, for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Icebreaker Question

Erin Rice

Before we dive in, I came across this silly icebreaker. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. So, do you separate your laundry by color?

Leigh Henderson

Well, I do, but begrudgingly, right? Like, how many things do I have to ruin before I learn my lesson? You know what I mean? 

So, I was an all-in sort of person to save time, but now I do the separation. I absolutely do, you know, because I got to the point where all my whites are pink. You know what I mean? So I finally learned my lesson.

Erin Rice

Because your whites just don’t…

Discussing Personal Experiences

Erin Rice

Yeah, I completely understand that. I have three kids. So, I used to not go through their pockets. Big mistake.

Leigh Henderson

Right? Exactly, exactly.

Onboarding Discussion

Erin Rice

Awesome, so now, what we really came here for: employee onboarding. Can you start by telling us a little bit about your background and how you ended up where you are today?

Leigh Henderson

Sure, yeah. As you mentioned, I’m nearly a 20-year HR professional. I’ve worked for a handful of Fortune 100 companies. I’ve only ever done HR, but believe it or not, I actually started university pre-med, wanting to go into psychiatry, right? Then I learned about industrial organizational psychology, the behavior of people in organizations, fell in love with that, and went to business school.

I absolutely love being that strategic HR resource in organizations, tasked with unraveling all that organizational corporate spaghetti. So, that’s truly how I see my role in an organization doing HR client support: really just helping everybody, especially my clients, my primary clients, be successful at work.

Erin Rice

Great, so I’m sure in all of your experience, you’ve had some really amazing onboarding experiences and then likely some not so amazing onboarding. I’d love to hear a little bit of both.

Leigh Henderson

Yeah, I’ve definitely had those experiences where, like you said, amazing and positive. They remembered that I was coming that day, so that was nice, right? 

I’ve had the awesome experience where, in the onboarding process, like on day one, you get your photo done. How nice is that? So that you can populate all your headshots online and in the systems. I’ve had flowers on my desk.

I’ve had the welcome lunch with the team, right? Just a really awesome first day and onboarding experience. Everything was working seamlessly from a systems perspective. The computer was there on day one. Then I’ve had the exact opposite where I showed up and it was like, “Who are you? And why are you here?” Can you imagine?

I’ve had the experience where you don’t get the computer or even systems access for three weeks, four weeks, right? And you’re just kind of sitting there, wondering, “What am I here for?” I mean, definitely those horrific experiences where you just have no sense of belonging or connectivity to the organization, really from the jump.

Which is a shame because there’s all sorts of research out there that says people make the decision whether they’re going to stay in an organization in the first week. There may be some things where it’s like the first day even, but I think the aggregate of research I’ve seen is like within the first five to seven days, people are deciding whether this is truly a fit. That just goes to show the tremendous impact that onboarding has on a career. It’s very, very personal.

Erin Rice

Yeah, absolutely. So, what would you say are the priorities in that first week to make sure those new hires are making that decision to stay?

Leigh Henderson

The priority is really connectivity first and foremost to me, right? And so, how do we achieve that? It’s really through humanizing the onboarding process. I think sometimes we get caught in just checking our own boxes, whether we’re talking about talent acquisition or a hiring manager or the HR organization, just in general.

A leadership team in general, right? We get so caught up in just kind of ticking the boxes, like, “Okay, this person’s showing up, check. Okay, the computer’s on its way, check,” right? But how do we really ingratiate people into the team? How can we humanize the process of onboarding beyond doing all the systems things correctly and well, and making sure the things are there?

How can we humanize the process so that the person, the actual human being who’s going to be starting in this team, feels a connection to the team, right? And that’s really what that research is getting at – that human beings want to feel a sense of belongingness. 

They want to know that they can be successful somewhere because there’s a team that’s supportive, that knows who they are, that took the time to show them where the bathrooms are, right? 

That gives them the intel on, you know, so-and-so, or, you know, the best parking spot in the parking lot, whatever the case may be. You know, even introverts or extroverts alike, people want to know that they are cared for, and at least that people care about them being successful. And so, that’s really the key to unlock. And now, every culture is different. So, every culture is going to have a different way of doing that. 

And so, my, I guess, my kind of call to action or ask is just make sure you are doing something that fits your organization when it comes to building relationships with those that you’re onboarding because it really makes a difference that first week, especially for their entire career in relationship with the organization.

Discussing Proactive Employee Engagement

Erin Rice

Absolutely. And so the HR team or the hiring manager, they’re doing all these things to make sure that person feels welcomed. What tips would you give to that person then to really hit the ground running and make sure they’re prepared to accept that and also to contribute?

Leigh Henderson

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one of the things that I coach folks on is reminding people that the power is really with the talent. As employees, we have a lot of power in our positions and organizations. Sometimes we don’t feel like that, right? Because things may be toxic or we may be getting gaslighted or whatever. But we really do have a lot of power. And what I mean by that is that we really do own our career.

We choose day in and day out where we spend our time and who we spend it with and where we spend it, right? So if something’s not serving you, absolutely take the power and ownership to pivot and do something else that can suit you better or bring you joy. And the same is true when you’re starting a job. I think some of my best practices and things I do myself is that I have lots of get-to-knows. 

That’s what I call them. I have lots of introductory meetings with anyone and everyone—top, down, around, you name it—kind of like this 360 of intros, because the currency in most organizations is the relationships, right? The network and who you know. So, absolutely lean into that and don’t shy away from meeting people. I mean, I’m an introvert, you know? It’s hard for me sometimes to put myself out there and take those first steps, but I just know the importance of building those relationships.

And so, as a new person onboarding in an organization, take that challenge on, right? So when you have that first meeting with your manager or maybe a peer or someone even on your team, if you’re the leader, ask them, who else should I meet? Right? Like, who’s in your network or circle that you think it would benefit me to have a conversation with and introduce myself? And then when you have those conversations, I highly recommend that you talk about communication. 

You ask the other person, how do you like being communicated to? And they’ll be like, “Oh, wow, OK. Here’s all the ways I love being communicated to or I don’t like being communicated to.” And that’ll give you the opportunity to then share how you like to be communicated with and to. So, it’s a way for you to help others get to know you and then control what’s going to be coming to you and what may be coming to them, right? 

So it really helps having these intro conversations, sharing some about yourself so people understand you’re balancing, you know, this hobby or this work-family life with work, or whatever your situation is so that when something arises, maybe it’s conflict, people won’t have to make assumptions about you. They will know exactly, “Oh, well, I remember Leigh told me she has this hobby every Thursday. 

Maybe that’s why she had to miss that meeting,” or whatever. You’re just giving people information and getting them to know you so that you can create connection and that people, you know, they know what you’re good at. 

They know how to engage with you, you name it. It’s going to make it a smoother onboarding.

Remote Onboarding Challenges

Erin Rice

Yeah, and it sounds like this would be good advice for any company, even when you’re not onboarding, to continue those relationships long after. That’s amazing. Awesome. So we’ve talked a lot about onboarding, and it sounds more driven in an in-person setting. How does that translate to more of a remote setting?

Leigh Henderson

Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that’s an excellent question. And I think that is a tough nut that a lot of organizations have not cracked, right? I reflect on some of the organizations that I’ve worked for previously and that my peers have worked for, and large organizations with hundreds of thousands of employees that were already doing a lot of remote work prior to the pandemic, right? So for a lot of organizations, that’s new, like getting more into the remote space. 

But I reflect on again, large organizations that have been doing this for decades and still onboarding remote employees was not ever seamless for me in my past, you know, or easy, right? And so I do see and hear about and receive so many horror stories from followers, you know, that that’s a really, you know, I’d say new challenge again, for the majority of organizations, and just supporting remote employees on the daily, let alone onboarding. 

So I feel as though there’s a lot that can be done in this space that we aren’t yet doing. But I think that this is definitely a space where organizations should invest time, resources, and money into aligning remote onboarding and giving it the priority it needs, just like you would do an in-person onboarding. And where we see conflict and strife is the fact that a lot of onboarding efforts, they’re not global or enterprise-wide or company-wide, they’re localized, right? 

Based on the geography, based on the state, based on the country, based on that one location, because organizations really do try to personalize, and that’s where it gets so difficult with remote onboarding. 

You just don’t have that luxury of localization, and that’s typically the play and strategy organizations have taken with onboarding. So it puts you in a tough spot. What I’ve heard and seen and read is that the majority of organizations don’t have a strategy in this space yet.

Challenges of Remote Onboarding

Erin Rice

Yeah. And I would say we’re globally remote at Process Street. And our biggest challenge is the stuff. It’s like getting them the computer, getting the swag, and getting them the physical tools they need because, you know, country to country, shipping characters, they don’t talk as much as they could. Yeah.

Leigh Henderson

Yeah, exactly. And that’s just the administrative piece, you know what I mean? Even just that is difficult, with shipping delays, supply chain issues, computers out of stock, and so on. We’re not even talking about systems yet, just the admin of giving something to somebody can be so difficult, you know?

Erin Rice

Right, yeah. Yep, I’m crossing my fingers that AI will hopefully solve some of that lack of communication between, like, the requirements of a specific country and how to get stuff through their postal service and that kind of thing. Maybe AI will solve that problem for us. Yeah. So, what do you think is the future of AI with onboarding?

Leigh Henderson

Right? We can hope. It’s not easy. Oh gosh, that’s a great question. And I mean, those in the HR biz, right, we just talk about generally, like how will AI really shift how we view work, how we do the work. There’s a lot of open questions here. And, you know, I hear dialogues about people utilizing different things, just personally, you know, for their own efficiencies and whatnot. But I think that the key word is efficiency and automation. 

I mean, I don’t think this is something that we shy away from, because I do hear already kind of defensiveness in some organizations, or people not embracing is probably a better way to say that, this fear of change, right? But from an HR perspective, I welcome it with open arms, right? 

Because there absolutely is this need for automation and efficiency and enhanced productivity because a lot of the jobs, if we were to break them down from, I’d say, the value-add work versus administrative work, just for an example, just on the burden of admin, what we were just talking about from a shipping perspective, a large facet of our roles, some more than others, are so administrative, not automated, not efficient, and it’s a bog on creativity. It’s a bog on strategic progress, right? 

And so I really do welcome AI and the gift that it brings, especially for a number of core functional roles and support roles, you know, indirect roles, like HR, and what that could really, really open up for us just generally, right? 

And definitely in the onboarding space. So often we reinvent the wheels just constantly, right? I mean, I know that’s also a process discipline question or opportunity, right? Challenge, however you want to phrase that. 

But I do see that those organizations that are going to embrace AI, and really, in my opinion, they’re just embracing change. They’re going to get there faster. They just flat out are. It’s wild to me, all that I hear from my peers and others, their organizations blocking certain websites or going against certain initiatives, whatever, where I’m just like, why would we not lean in to AI here? Because it really does lean a lot of things out and it doesn’t threaten, in my opinion, the majority of jobs. It actually unlocks more value and the vast majority of talent and opportunity in the workplace. So, crossing fingers.

Erin Rice

Yeah. And to your point at the beginning, it allows us to add more humanization into our roles, unlocking our potential as humans so that machines can keep doing what machines are supposed to do. And that’s the boring automation stuff that humans don’t want to be doing anyway.

Leigh Henderson

A thousand percent, yes, exactly. And that is so much of our day, right? If you were to do the beans in the box exercise and kind of go through all these things where you’re like, gosh, if only I had, you know, a machine or an automated process or something, you know, that could help here in my productivity and efficiency, I could then spend more time coaching, right? I could then spend more time with my colleagues, ideating, right, or innovating, or whatever it is you do as a business. 

You get caught where you’re back to back in meetings, trying to solve admin problems for the most part. And then it’s like, when do you do the hard work? After hours? And then you get burnt out, and then people, you know, leave the organization. 

You know, it’s like, it’s a bad cycle. People get burnt out on the admin pieces, the things that aren’t process-driven, automated, don’t have AI, et cetera, you know, versus really the value-added work where they’re making an impact, and they then feel joy, they feel success, et cetera, right? So that really can have a huge effect on just attrition.

Focusing on Organizational Fit and Cultural Dynamics

Leigh Henderson

In the organization, organizational fit, the chemistry of the people is crucial. And now again, I’m in HR, so I’m going to be looking for that, you know? 

But a lot of my questions are going to be more cultural, to ensure that we really have fit. 

And it’s really less for us as the organization and more for that candidate, right? So I want to make sure that candidate knows everything. I’m going to be honest, show all the dirty laundry, right? I’m going to overshare because I want to make sure they have all the data points they need to make a great decision. And I want them to feel the fit as well because that’s really what it’s about at that point. 

So if you focus on that in your interviews, right? 

Once you get past the technical questions and the pre-screen and you know this person can do the job, they’ve done it three times in another organization, really, my opinion, to get that great fit so that you can get that retention, you can get that great puzzle piece that’s missing expertise-wise on your team. 

You should focus a lot of the questions on team dynamics and culture and just really that fit, that sense of belongingness for that person with the organization.

Erin Rice

Yeah, and I think it’s really easy for us as the hiring team to forget that it’s mutual, right? Like we’re going out of our way to pick the right person, but they’re going out of their way to pick the right company too.

Leigh Henderson

Absolutely. And you should be reminding them of that. You know, I always love to preface interviews like, “Hey, this is really a conversation and a dialogue, right? I mean, this is, please ask questions of me. I’m going to ask questions of you. This is us really figuring out whether we want to work together or not.” 

Because at the end of the day, that’s really what it is, especially in higher-level roles, right? And that’s a lot of roles that I’m hiring for. Boy, that’s everything for me. Right? 

Like, I want to really know about their leadership philosophy. I don’t really want to know so much about their analytical skills per se. Like, I’m going to think that they already checked that box in school or in previous work experience. I want to hear more about how they interact with the team, how they treat people with dignity and respect, or they don’t. Right? Like, so I’m going to get into a lot more of that. 

And then I want them to be able to ask me the same questions. “Well, tell me how your leaders work around here. What’s the communication like here?” All the questions, bring them to me. And if you are listening to this podcast and you’re like, “Well, gosh, I’ve been in interviews where it felt unsafe to ask those questions or I asked those questions and they wouldn’t transparently answer,” then thank you. 

Thank goodness that happened, right? Because that is probably an indication then to you, ooh, that’s not a fit. 

Because you yourself as a candidate are seeking something else that they can’t provide you. So it’s not worth trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, right? That’s insightful. People say that to me all the time. “Well, there’s no way you… the times I’ve said that, they shot me down or whatever.” 

I was like, “Well, great that they did that. They showed their true colors. Do you really want to work for a place like that?” And then they’re like, “Oh gosh, good point, right?” So all of that is information.

Erin Rice

Great.

Leigh Henderson

If they don’t answer things, that’s information for you. That’s a red flag potentially for you. For some people, it may not be. For me, that would be a huge red flag, right? 

So be thankful for all of the data points and then take that in. Soak on it, right? Reflect on it, yeah.

Erin Rice

Yeah, because that’s your sign!

Leigh Henderson

That’s your sign. Listen to them, you know?. Try to stop making those red flags green in your mind, you know what I mean? Just accept them for what they are. They’re laying them out. It’s a parade of red flags. Watch the parade and then walk away, go home.

Erin Rice

Yeah.

HR Besties: Bringing the Human back to Human Resources

Erin Rice

Yeah, unless you just need a job, and then I guess ignore all of it. Right.

Leigh Henderson

I know, right? And hey, we’ve all been there too, you know what I mean? Like do the best you can and pivot out if you have to, if it doesn’t work, you know so.

Erin Rice

Yeah, for sure. Awesome. Well, this has been so great, and I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but before we go, did I hear that you have a new podcast coming out? Tell us more.

Leigh Henderson

I do, yeah. And so actually, a couple of content creators and I, there’s three of us total, we’re kicking off HR Besties

You can find it on Apple and Spotify, but the whole point of that podcast is that, hey, HR may not be your best friend, but we’re not your enemy either, right? 

So we want to dispel all the myths of the function, try to change the face of HR, try to bring the human back into human resources by sharing all that we know and all the behind-the-scenes tips and tricks in corporate to help you maximize your professional success. So definitely check it out, HR besties.

Erin Rice

Yeah, we love that. I can’t wait. Do you have an ETA on when that’s going to be published?

Leigh Henderson

Yeah, so it comes out October, next week, October 17th. Yeah, yeah. So by the time this goes live, it’s already up to a few episodes. Definitely go check it out.

Erin Rice

Oh, great. Awesome. Yeah, for sure! 

Well, Leigh, thank you so much for joining us. These insights have been so great. And we can’t wait to watch your success as you continue.

Leigh Henderson

Thanks so much, Erin. Thank you so much for having me. Always love talking HR!

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Oliver Peterson

Oliver Peterson is a content writer for Process Street with an interest in systems and processes, attempting to use them as tools for taking apart problems and gaining insight into building robust, lasting solutions.

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