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Field Notes

Field Note: Root Cause’s Best Practices for Onboarding in a Remote-first or Hybrid Workplace

Omotoyosi Saint-Cyr
November 14, 2022

Part 2: by Omotoyosi Saint-Cyr, Root Cause Manager

Often overlooked by many nonprofits, a robust employee onboarding process is key to staff retention and an employee’s overall experience. Nonprofits hire based on their capacity needs and may pressure employees to get up and running from day 1. What happens in the long run is staff burnout and higher turnover rates. Our sector (especially smaller-sized nonprofits) is said to have higher employee turnover rates (19%)  than the industry average of the overall labor market (12%). There have been many articles on what works and what doesn’t.

While I’d read glowing reviews about the work culture and mission of Root Cause prior to joining, I wondered what the onboarding process would really look like once I had started. A recent Gallup study found that employees who had exceptional onboarding experiences are 2.3 times more likely to be satisfied with their workplace and are more likely to stay. A few weeks in, I can say that onboarding at Root Cause is a unique experience that centers the new hire in all aspects. [Note: Root Cause developed our new employee onboarding process through a continuous improvement process grounded in our Program Quality Roadmap’s Staff Support and Performance Research. We prioritize moving a pace that supports the new staff person’s learning, we connect sessions to our purpose at every step, and are intentional about providing a space for the new staff  to organically connect with other work colleagues.]

So how does Root Cause onboard its new employees and what might other organizations, especially remote-first or hybrid nonprofits, learn from our process? We have highlighted the ones we think are best practices! Read on:

  1. Center your organization’s purpose: Your new staff member joined the team because they care about your organization’s mission. This is an essential piece when designing the initial training schedule. Do not get caught up in all the paperwork that needs to get done without creating space for a meaningful dialogue about your purpose. At Root Cause, all new hires are required to attend the Racial Equity Institute’s Phase 1 training, and encouraged to complete the Intro to EquityXDesign design course within 3-6 months of joining.
  2. Buddy System: Peer learning is a proven education method that helps people solidify their knowledge. New hires are assigned a buddy on day one. It is particularly helpful to new employees because many questions and problems arise during the first few weeks. It’s a dedicated time for questions about acronyms, processes, organization historical context, and more.The new hire can converse with their buddy in a way they might not be comfortable doing with their supervisor.
  3. Scavenger Hunt: We create a themed scavenger hunt checklist as part of the onboarding schedule, with time deliberately built in for the new hire to complete tasks at their own pace. Some of the tasks include finding the location of a project report, watching a video on our youtube channel, and scheduling coffee chats with team members.  The objective is to share information and processes that the new hires need to know. What makes this fun is that it is self-led, so the employee is not overwhelmed with only traditional structured training video.
  4. Regular check-in meetings with the supervisor: We schedule a daily check-in meeting between the new hire and their supervisor in the first week and then schedule subsequent weekly ones. Since our onboarding is an iterative process, the daily debriefs provide a space for regular communication and live feedback from the new hire.
  5. Snapshot of the first 6 months: We itemize the new hire’s learning goals for the first 6 months. This is not a “do this or get fired” scheme. It is just giving the new hire an overview of what we think they should have completed at a certain point. We recognize new employees are eager to delve right in but things do not always go as planned, due to the nature of our industry.  Giving a snapshot of what to expect monthly keeps the employee engaged, excited, and informed.
  6. Building key relationships from the start: It is not easy to feel connected with other team members while onboarding remotely. We encourage new hires to have virtual coffee chats with team members at their own pace. We also recognize this might be awkward so we share prompts. Some examples: find out which employees have pets or kids, what are your favorite holidays, what were your past jobs, how did you join the team, etc.
  7. Less is more: We live out our work culture of “allowing folks to work at their own times.” The onboarding is self-paced.  We refrain from overwhelming new employees with a lot of information during Week 1. We do fewer PowerPoint presentations and have more conversations.

Root Cause’s onboarding is grounded in the key values of our strategic plan, which we rolled out earlier this year. Our People objective is to support  staff well-being and satisfaction, and we know this starts from the moment employees “enter the door.” We continue to ask ourselves – if our work is designed to center people and be shaped by the stakeholders who are most impacted, what does this mean for our staff?

We believe that a robust employee onboarding and integration process is fundamental to Root Cause if we are to remain true to our values and our mission. It must start from the moment an employee walks through our doors, even remotely.

Learn more about Continuous Quality Improvement for social service providers at our Continuous Quality Improvement Resource Library.
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