Prioritizing the Onboarding Process 
Nicole Zdeb headshot with birchstone logo

4 minute read

As the saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” And the first impression you make on a new associate can have major implications for their job satisfaction and performance. Add it all up, and you need to have a high-quality onboarding program.

Nicole Zdeb, Vice President of People Support at Birchstone Residential, discusses onboarding and new hires as well as the importance of having processes in place to ensure a new employee’s success.

Q: Talk about the importance of getting the onboarding process right. 

Zdeb: It could not be more vital. It’s your opportunity to make new hires feel welcome and appreciated, which is so important, especially in a competitive job market. 

It’s also a time to make your performance expectations clear and to detail how your company will train and support new hires so that they can not only meet those expectations, but can also continue to grow and develop their talents and skills. 

The hiring process attracts new associates, but the onboarding period running successfully makes all the difference as to whether someone feels valued. And that is the irreplaceable feeling a new associate wants to experience. 

Q: Discuss the ways that operators can make new hires feel welcome and appreciated both before a new associate starts their job and during their first days on the job.

Zdeb: There are so many things operators and their teams can do to make new hires feel seen and comfortable. At Birchstone, for example, we have sent flower arrangements to the spouse of a new associate and provided ‘So Glad You’re Here’ cards to new associates on the first day. We also organize meals in which a new hire gets a chance to meet their new co-workers.

We offer welcome swag boxes with branded company material — T-shirts, travel mugs, sunglasses, beanie hats and similar items — and we also allow our team leaders the chance to give personalized gifts to new hires. 

Along those lines, we’ve seen [candy] ‘flower’ arrangements, welcome balloons and banners and even donations to charitable organizations that are near and dear to a new associate’s heart.

Q: In addition to making new associates feel comfortable, how can operators best go about positioning new hires for long-term success during the onboarding phase?

Zdeb: There’s almost no way to overcommunicate with new hires during onboarding. Giving them a clear sense of what to expect in the short- and long-term is one component of setting the stage for success.

At Birchstone, our Talent Acquisition team is in close contact with new hires before they start and throughout their first day on the job; they then check in on how things are going at the 30-day mark. Before a new associate starts, we provide them with a ‘What to Expect in your First Week’ guide. In addition, our People Support team encourages our hiring managers to build a valuable but not overwhelming agenda for a new hire’s first week using customized lists of training topics that have been developed per position.

Over the course of a new associate’s first three months, the People Support team continues to reach out to our new hires directly to check how things are going and to offer guidance and suggestions as needed. 

Providing the right training from the start is, of course, absolutely essential. The training needs of each new associate will vary, but operators must make sure the right resources and programs are in place. I believe that fellow associates can be a critical, fundamental source of training, support and growth. 

Q: Speaking of which, Birchstone recently incorporated a “peer coaching” program to help new associates get the training and support they need. Describe the program and its benefits.

Zdeb: Our peer coaches are high performers who demonstrate a passion for helping others learn, grow and develop. Assigning a peer coach to a new associate gives these associates continuous training for their roles and for their desired career path. A peer coach also enables the new hire to both operate independently while having a person they can ask questions of anytime, which really helps lessen the anxiety often felt when first starting a new job. Our peer coaches also are invaluable partners with our People Support team to pinpoint areas where a new associate might need more resources and guidance.

Q: Do you have any closing thoughts about the onboarding process?

Zdeb: The first few weeks of a new job can be an extremely stressful experience. If that stress is not alleviated, a new hire can become overwhelmed and quickly look to leave. At the same time, organizations have to make sure that the pieces to get new hires up to speed are in place from the start. 

The onboarding process is a fundamental part of what makes an associate successful, and it’s something that operators can’t afford to overlook or get wrong.