Employee Onboarding Podcast: What Makes a Successful Onboarding Process?

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Welcome to the Employee Onboarding Podcast, where we explore the best practices and innovative ideas from the world’s top HR professionals and thought leaders. The topic for this podcast: What really makes a successful onboarding process.

Today, we’ll be joined by Maxine Dorkin, a dynamic professional in the youth employment sector and currently a PhD candidate at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. 

Maxine’s impressive journey includes managing work readiness programs that have impacted over 5,000 unemployed youth, extensive experience in the nonprofit sector, and a pivot into the technology space where she now excels in designing and facilitating onboarding programs.

Join us as we uncover Maxine’s insights on how to align personal values with organizational missions, the importance of community in the workplace, and strategies to enhance employee engagement and retention. 

This conversation provides practical takeaways for any HR professional looking to elevate their onboarding process.

Here’s what we’re going to cover in this episode:

Let’s get started!

You can also listen to the podcast on Apple, Spotify, Google, Podchaser, Podcast Addict, Deezer, & all your favorite podcast platforms!

Introducing Maxine Dorkin

Erin Rice: Welcome to the Employee Onboarding Podcast, where we are unpacking great onboarding ideas and best practices from the world’s top HR practitioners and thought leaders. 

At Process Street, that starts with our mission to make work fun, fast, and faultless for teams everywhere. 

My name is Erin Rice, and I’m the People and Operations Coordinator at Process Street. Today, I’m joined by Maxine Dorkin.

Maxine is in the final year of her PhD at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her research explores marginalized youth’s transition to work. 

She has extensive experience in the youth employment sector where she managed work readiness programs for five years, which have reached up to 5,000 unemployed youth. 

Maxine is a licensed occupational social worker and a business coach with certifications in team management. Her master’s thesis at Wits University explored the topic of coaching as an innovative methodology for social workers. She has extensive experience conducting leadership and workplace interventions from leadership teams. 

Maxine has experience in the nonprofit sector and has served on the board of nonprofits. For the last five years, she has pivoted into an HR role in the technology space, working for San Technology where she has worked in people experience, responsible for designing and facilitating onboarding programs for several hundred employees. 

Thank you so much for joining us today, Maxine!

Maxine Dorkin: Well, thank you for having me, Erin. It’s such a lovely pleasure to be with you and to be a part of this awesome Process Street conversation.

Erin: Yeah, so before we dive in, I’d like to ask an icebreaker. What is a sauce, condiment, or dressing that you cannot live without?

Maxine: I’m so happy you mentioned that because I love sauces! My fridge is not complete if it doesn’t have some hot chili sauce. It needs to be homemade with garlic and parsley and sort of crushed chilies. I use it on everything so it’s not only a condiment because I also use it to cook with. I’m a chili garlic kind of girl and I tend to like to take a bottle with me on holiday. So I’m that kind of person.

Erin: That’s amazing. At the grocery store, I recently saw to-go hot sauces, and I was like, people bring their hot sauce with them on vacation. I’m sure they do. That’s amazing. Awesome. Well, you’ll have to share that recipe.

Maxine: Yeah. I’ll do that for sure. I feel like something’s missing if I can’t get a little bit of it on whatever I cook or eat.

A little about employee onboarding

Erin:  Well, now, what we came here for – employee onboarding. What a dynamic background. I’m so excited to hear more about how your passions have evolved and landed you in this HR space.

Maxine: I guess for myself, it’s always been around people’s development. And so, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been in the people’s space. Whether working in NPOs, in the child welfare sector, or as a social worker, I’ve always been interested in people development.

But there came a point just after my masters where I really got to see a gap in the market and the HR space around bespoke workplace interventions. 

Occupational social work and looking at how to design and implement workplace interventions, particularly for at-risk populations became something that was of real interest. And so I began studying, reading, and working towards that through my masters and looking at how to develop that.

But the role that I’m currently in, to answer your question, is a combination of those things. It looks at how we can utilize highly engaging interventions to be able to make an impact and also drive employee engagement. 

I believe there’s a thread from all parts of my background that has landed me here. Ultimately, it’s about being a part of impact-driven work that’s meaningful, and that really keeps me motivated.

Erin: That’s amazing. And how does employee onboarding fold into all of that?

Maxine: Good question! So, I would say that I started in the people experience space, that’s what we called it. And I know there’s a number of different names for that. I started right before COVID and it was a new kind of role. 

I think we as an organization got to see the value of being able to be intentional about designing interventions remotely for our employees. I had the privilege of being able to lead that team and get it kickstarted, but I also could see the value that it can add to the business. 

People operations has always traditionally been a real part of sort of setting up core systems, HR, IES, and all of this. The people’s experience was almost nice to have, but during COVID that almost changed. The value around belonging, company culture, and looking at onboarding experiences became a focus to drive retention and employee engagement. 

The key pieces to a successful onboarding experience

Erin: Yeah, onboarding is so important. What would you say are sort of the key pieces to making a successful onboarding experience?

Maxine: I think I like to look at the building blocks as three main chunks. 

There’s this big piece around welcome and alignment, making sure that our employees have a sense of belonging and understand that there’s a space that they belong to. 

I think if I just look at the overall structure running through the thread with the sense of welcome, alignment to what it is we do, a deep sense of belonging. 

And I think, just touch on belonging again because it’s quite overlooked in how we design and think about these processes. There’s a huge part of our culture that needs to flow through in that onboarding piece. But it is also the last element around the functional and team onboarding.

So aside from the overarching alignment to the organization and all of what fits into understanding the role and the awareness of the organization, mission strategy, core products, all that kind of thing, there’s this piece around the belonging that holds the glue between that and between the functional or the team onboarding. 

And you have supporting elements like pre -pre-onboarding or an onboarding course or material around reading and decks and just support content that fits into that. 

But then also just one-on-one relationships. It’s like these coffee chats and these serendipitous ways in which people can get to know people who are similar to them. So, it’s creating space for people to feel like this is an environment that I want to be in. I feel like I’m a part of what I found has worked over the years running the onboarding programs that I have run.

Erin: Yeah. And it’s almost like that pre -pre-onboarding piece, you have to deliver on everything that they expected, right out the gate for them to be like, “I made the right choice. I picked the right company. I took the right job”. Yeah, that’s so true.

Maxine: Exactly! This makes sense to me, and I’m confident now to come into this. That’s key, I think. 

So, setting that up in a way that helps people to feel like, “I want to take this further. I want to commit to making this my kind of home” before they get into onboarding fully. But how we run it is in the virtual space, a week-long onboarding process.

So it’s quite intense, but it’s a real culture immersion after the pre -onboarding. So that’s the kind of process in terms of how the pieces work together, the functional kind of happening either in between or during.

Erin: Yeah, for sure.

At the end of our company onboarding, we always go back to the new hire and say, what is your impression of Process Street now? Did we over-promise what this was going to be like? Did we deliver? Is this what you expected? And gratefully, they normally say yes, which is always a positive. But you never really know if they’re taking the information throughout the process.

Maxine: Yes, yes. What is your impression of Process Street now?

Creating a sense of belonging

Erin: Speaking of that interview process, I’d love to hear a little bit more about pre -onboarding and what that looks like for you.

Maxine: So, I’d say there’s a lot of work to be done around in the pre-onboarding space.  So, there are elements that we haven’t fully worked out in the best possible way. I’ll speak to what I’ve been doing and what would be the ideal. 

I think if we talk about the onboarding space, we need to separate the systems onboarding, which will be set up in terms of all of the processes and all of the tools and all of what you need to get yourself sort of running. 

A lot of that happens a week or two before, immediately after the contract is signed, and then after the person has joined. So some of that sits into the people operation space, and that pre -onboarding happens there. 

From the cultural perspective, I’d say the pre-onboarding begins with a formal pre-onboarding course.

And this is essentially all for LMS. It’s going through content related to the high-level understanding of who our business is. 

It’s almost giving a bit of a snapshot into some of what that is. It’s around our mission, our vision, our culture, our history, all of the kinds of real building blocks in video formats, and then a few questions. What we do is we take that, and then we say, “Okay, let’s come into an onboarding week and talk about what you’ve learned.” 

We see the value of one-on-one engagement around bringing understanding back to how you see this, small group discussions, and this kind of thing. 

Essentially, that is what the pre-onboarding piece looks like – an LMS course, which is four to five hours long, nothing too intense. 

But if you’re going to have to wait until the full onboarding week, because typically we would need a cohort of people to be joining the organization at once to run that sort of culture immersion piece, you’ve at least got a good sense of who you’re joining and why you’re joining and what our main projects are and access to that. 

Another piece of it, and it’s not quite pre -onboarding, but it does look to the beginning phases of those important one-to-one contacts, that very first week of joining key individuals you need to meet with, and how you need to position yourself to get ready for your role. 

I speak of onboarding week as such. It’s more now this culture immersion week-long onboarding fiesta that happens for a couple of hours. And that’s how I’ve run it.

The role of culture in onboarding

Erin: Yeah, for sure. I love that onboarding Fiesta. Is that then where your cohorts come into play? So it’s like a group of new hires that are doing this?

Maxine: It’s a group, exactly. And the beautiful thing about this, and what I’ve found and tried all different versions of it, is that because we’re scaling quite rapidly, we can easily have 15 to 20 people every two to three months because we’re hiring quite fast.

What’s beautiful about it is that there’s almost a group of people who journey on the whole employee journey together. And they become onboarding buddies. So it’s like, “I did onboarding with you, I’ve got a connection.” 

You find these conversations happen. And it’s like, there’s this common point. Another thing that happens just so magically is that employees who have been on onboarding together become friends and want to connect on their own, irrespective of what we set up. 

So there’s that sense of belonging and connection and “I’m not alone in this.”  I think it’s such a beautiful, important part of coming into a workplace that you want to show up in. Cause you know people. And so that’s the value of a cohort kind of piece.

Erin: Absolutely! I bet that having that camaraderie and that sense of belonging when things get stressful, workloads increase, that having that group of people to lean on that learned all the same things that you learned at the same time is probably really helpful in creating some fibers that will help you through those difficult times that companies sometimes go through.

Maxine: And I think there’s a lot more anxiety and nervousness around being part of a whole new group. “Have I made the right decision? Is this a part of a group that I want to be a part of?”

So I think that that community that you create allays those fears. And it helps us to just bridge that gap around, “Do I belong?”

Advice for HR professionals

Erin: Yeah, for sure. I’d love for you to circle back to the studies that you’re doing with youth entering into the workforce and hear a little bit more about what companies can do to change things for them or any other feedback that you can share as we have these new generations joining us.

Maxine: I love that question. I’m so passionate about it because I think it’s just one of the overlooked pieces around how we approach onboarding. 

I think it’s this whole piece around what needs to be customized and personalized for our employees. And in this instance, it’s not just for young, marginalized youth employees, but it’s any cohort of employees coming into an organization. 

Organizations would benefit from looking to a more personalized approach to understanding what it is that their workforce needs. So it’s about saying not just “What do I need to do to get this person up to speed,” but a lot more about “What’s the background that this person comes from? How do they integrate into a new work environment?”

So if they’re someone who’s never worked before, what is it we need to do to be able to put in place to give them a sense of confidence from early on? 

But I think it’s so critical that we are empathetic to the journey that young people walk and what systems we have in place that either help to build that or are built for a generation that doesn’t work for young people or doesn’t work for the kind of spaces that will make for engagement.

I think taking a good hard look at the types of processes you have in place, who was that developed for when was that developed, and how are we tweaking what we have now for the type of young person or the type of employee that we have coming into? 

It’s about being flexible. This is the way we’ve always done it. This is how it always needs to be done. It’s being iterative around the fact that the workforce is changing. Every five years, we have different kinds of individuals who come into the work. 

In terms of where we hire and who our hiring pool is, we need to be able to say if there’s a geographic kind of space that we’re hiring from, what are some of the needs of that community? What are some of the issues that young people in certain spaces have? What will make for benefits and packages that make work more attractive?

And these are not easy questions to answer. It’s not like we can understand this just automatically, but I think coming from the perspective of, “I want to be able to improve what it is we have so that we can meet the needs of our employees” is the type of mindset that employees and HR practitioners need to dial into.

Erin: Yeah, for sure. And all that’s going to do is help with retention, right? If you’re prepared, if you’re personalized, if you’re well taken care of, your experience is managed positively, and your background is factored into all of the decisions that are made in helping you ramp. 

Those people are going to feel very welcome. They’re going to get that sense of belonging. And ultimately, they’re going to want

Maxine: Yeah, absolutely! And it’s been willing to let go of ways in which we’ve been doing things, to open ourselves up to this particular process, or try these particular tools.

And if it still works the way that it does, keep doing it. If not, scrap it.

Erin: And as our world is changing so rapidly, we always have to be ready to pivot, and that’s not just onboarding.

Maxine: Yeah!

Creating lasting impressions

Erin: This has been so great. I always like to end with one final question. What is one thing that companies can do to create wow moments for their new hires?

Maxine: I love that! So maybe we can talk about one of the things that we do, that I think is special.

We look to align personal values with organizational values through an exercise of creating a personalized mission map in the onboarding process. This is done in a small group setting.

So three or four people within the onboarding week. And you would look at the things that are important and you value about yourself. 

And so it’s getting to know your values, getting to understand a little bit of your history, like the things that make you tick. And then saying,” This is who I am; this is the kind of impact that I want to make and the mark I want to leave in the world.”

And you end this week on this high of, “I’ve learned something new about myself.” And we’re able to take that thread and say, “This is how, within the space that you’re joining in this organization, your mission fits into the organization’s mission.” 

I think because we’ve worked with the group for five days, ending on this particular mission map creates a sense of cohesion and a sense of, “I want to share because you’re now sharing at a really deep level.” 

But because you’ve been kind of journeying with people for five days, you can be vulnerable. And there’s that part about opening yourself up to other people and being vulnerable that allows you to show up at work in a very real way, in a very genuine way, you know? 

And so all the pretenses, and all the nervousness, the whole sense of bravado when you first join, it almost just falls off. And you have these very beautiful, rich individuals who are here to get their hands dirty. And it shows a sense of common ground; that we are all the same.

Ending onboarding at that level always gives us the highest NPS rating because people are like, “Wow, this has been so useful. I’ve gained so much out of it.”

So yeah, that’s been a really beautiful process for me to run. I facilitate that piece. I’m doing a different part of working in a different part of the business now. But I love that. I just think it’s so beautiful.

Erin: And to connect that back to what we started this conversation with, that sense of belonging is then sort of just reiterated in one other new way.

Maxine: Yeah! The sense of community, of “I’m just a part of something where other individuals are here with me.” I think creating that, especially in a remote work world, is so powerful. It is so powerful.

Erin: Absolutely. And the more connected we can be, the more we’re going to produce and ultimately push goals forward and just hopefully make the world a better place.

Maxine: Yeah, and just get along with people and enjoy the process. Have fun while you’re doing it.

Erin: Absolutely! Well, Maxine, this has been so wonderful. Thank you for your time.

Maxine: Thank you, it’s been such a pleasure chatting with you. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this errand.

Erin: I’m hoping you’ll share that chili pepper recipe with me soon.
Maxine: I certainly will do that!

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Anna Hase

Anna is a coffee-obsessed content writer with a master's degree in psychology. Her main area of interest is employee psychology. When she's not writing, she's either reading or lifting weights at the gym.

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