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It’s What Every New Hire Wants to Know, And What Few Employers Explain

Employers have long recognized that a solid onboarding process can make a real impact on improving retention. In fact, one study showed that an employee with a positive initial employment experience and a poor work experience is still more likely to stay with an employer than will an employee with a negative initial employment experience and a positive work history.

Today, the hallmark of a good onboarding process is often judged by a tidily sequenced paper chase (W-4, I-9, page saying we’re super glad you’re here and oh by the way we can fire you anytime we want so just sign here, etc.), a tour with introductions, an earnest explanation of the core values, and a stirring hagiography of the founders and their vision. And in the interest of covering all the bases, even the mundane details are meticulously reviewed, like where you get the staples and creamer, and when everyone meets for the ice cream on Fridays.

That’s all great, and important, and always appreciated by the incoming staff who themselves generally want to get fit in and producing as soon as possible. But for all the carefully crafted checklists and reminders to current employees to make the newest feel truly welcome, there’s one question above all others that is top of mind for everyone starting a new job, and it’s rarely covered:

“So, what does it take to get a raise around here?”

For many employers the response would be a sheepish grin implying raises are like rain; maybe you’ll get some, maybe you won’t, but either way there’s nothing apparent to we who dwell below the clouds that you can do about it. The dutiful HR person might respond with an explanation of the annual performance review process. That’s an improvement, but the mechanics of raise distribution isn’t really what the person is asking for – and it shouldn’t be a satisfactory answer for the employer.

Of course, the person asking that question wants to gauge their prospects for future economic improvement. But most anyone knows that, whether the process for getting a raise is spelled out on paper or of Olympian inscrutability, their own effort must factor in somewhere. At its core, then, the question about how to get a raise is a question of what the employer truly values.

The core values provide an answer, but only partially. Sure, the employee who goes above and beyond in customer service can expect to be held up as a sterling example of her employer’s core value of Customer First along with getting her pay raise. On the other hand, low Integrity will get her fired; but what gets her a pay increase and management plaudits for high Integrity – whistleblowing? (In many companies that can also get you fired; trust me here.)

The job description won’t provide a meaningful answer either. Job descriptions list duties, or what people do. Raises – the kind of raises new employees are hoping to earn - are based on what results people deliver. In fact, results are the reason they got hired in the first place (if not in your case, then you really should ask yourself why you hired them, or anyone else).

So when that new employee asks what it takes to get a raise, what he’s really asking is, “how do I become successful here?”

That’s why anyone – especially anyone who’s any good – joins your organization. They join because they want to be successful, and they know they become successful by helping your organization succeed. They didn’t join for the staples, the creamer, the ice cream on Fridays, or 95% of the rest of the content in the onboarding process.

All the first-rate presentations, welcoming smiles, and impassioned recitations of the core values won’t really help anyone succeed if you can’t explain to employees what you really want from them. The willingness to invest in solid onboarding is great; but no one has unlimited resources, so if you can only cover some things and not others, it makes so much sense to make sure new hires are clear on what results you want from them, how they’re measured, and why they matter, so they can become truly successful in their new job - and let them find the creamer on their own.


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