Successful Onboarding: Creating an Environment Where New Employees Can Succeed

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 25, Number 3 (January/February 2021), pgs. 18-20.

By Janeen Williams, User Services Librarian at Texas Tech University Law Library and Allison Reeve Davis, Librarian Manager at Littler Mendelson

Strategies, guidelines, and a checklist for creating a structured, purposeful, and engaged onboarding process.

Onboarding is exciting for both new employees and the law library. The organization has likely operated short-staffed for a few months, and new librarians are hopeful for new challenges and opportunities. A methodical orientation program is the first step to creating a successful environment for new staff and the institution. Employers provide training and orientation to welcome new hires to the law library, make them feel part of the team, align them with institutional initiatives, and teach procedures. These goals are not reached as a result of a few emails or brief meetings. It takes time for someone to feel confident in a new job. It is also imperative for managers and existing staff to recognize that they possess institutional knowledge and acknowledge that an expectation of early retention of all new information is untenable. Structured, purposeful, and engaged onboarding will alleviate future struggles with integrating a new hire into projects and the library’s culture. Additionally, a standardized onboarding process helps to ensure that all new employees are given equal opportunities to succeed.

Goals for Orientation and Onboarding

New employees lack three areas of knowledge necessary for job success and satisfaction: policies and procedures, institutional culture, and colleague personality. Policies and procedures are passed down through manuals and training. The other two types of knowledge are tacit and challenging to transfer. A manager’s response to continued inquiries from a new librarian should not be to ask them to memorize or refer to previous emails, because new hires should feel comfortable contacting colleagues, requesting meetings with management, and asking questions. However, gaps in knowledge need to be addressed early in a librarian’s tenure. The goal is to provide undocumented information in a methodical trajectory that also encourages collaboration and continued communication throughout the first few months after a new hire begins.

There is a balance between spacing out information and keeping a new hire engaged. We all remember new jobs where, during the first two weeks, we read manuals front to back with little hands-on experience. This scenario creates boredom and confusion over the job description. Instead, offer a variety of emails, videos, meetings, and task training to keep the day interesting. Below are strategies for creating successful onboarding programs that can easily be adapted across various institutions.

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