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  • Writer's pictureHandled Leadership

Don’t be Fazed by the Phases: Orientation and Onboarding

Updated: Jan 26

Understandably there is confusion around employee orientation and onboarding. While they are crucial proponents to the overall goal of integration and employee success, and eventually gel into one another, the experiences have separate focuses and outcomes.

To mitigate axing an employee before their potential blooms and help you understand the signs and stages of a working professional relationship, HBGM&Co. leadership is supplying you with the tools to weather the storm of integrating a new employee.

Typically it can take 5-8 months for an employee to reach full productivity.

A small number of companies extend their onboarding program past one month. Don’t be one of those companies. Read on.

Phase One: Orientation & Formation

The phase where first impressions matter, employees tend to shrink, introverts want to hide, extroverts want to stand out, the welcomes are warm and jolly, administrative tasks are never ending and employees are secretly deciding how long they can see themselves lasting within your company.

Orientation should last no more than two weeks. More than enough time to allow your employee space to become acclimated with company policies, structure, hierarchy, office layout and internal organization such as systems and processes. During this phase, helping your employee define their goals, strategy, and how they will contribute to the company mission is imperative to ushering a sense of belonging and long term care. Building a professional development plan with your employee will go a long way here as well.

Forming and orientation go hand in hand. Described as: A team first comes together, they orient themselves to the task, establish relationships, test boundaries around ground rules and behaviors - at this point people are usually positive, polite if not a little unsure. This stage doesn’t last very long before the actual work begins, and the second phase commences.

Be strategic in your approach here from day one. Strategies for this phase include taking the lead, being highly visible, facilitating introductions, providing the big picture, establishing clear expectations, communicating success criteria, and ensuring that response times are quick.

Phase Two: Storming

At this point orientation bleeds into the actual onboarding process and emotions begin to fly. You may find yourself pondering if the new hire will work out and your employee may find themselves pondering if they can meet your expectations.

Traits of Storming include resistance, lack of participation, conflict related to differences of feelings and opinions, competition, high emotions, and starting to move towards group norms.

Far too often we find employers, especially solopreneurs and small business owners, wanting to scrap their employees during this phase. We get it! Time is money and reputation and the cost of poor performing employees is expensive. However, it is during this phase both parties need to buckle down and nurture the working relationship, have open dialogue around missteps and expectations. Most importantly, test for competency within the role before setting the employee loose. Testing for competency is the most stepped over and around area of development.

Asking your employee if they are comfortable without their training wheels is not a competency test. More than likely they will nervously agree they are ready in order to prove themselves and test the waters. While we applaud the ingenuity, do you remember how many times you fell off of your bike before you were comfortable without the training wheels?

Some strategies for safe landing include requesting and encouraging feedback, identifying issues and facilitating their resolution, normalizing matters, and building trust by honoring commitments.

Phase Three: Norming

You have given the employee space, grace, and development while they tried out their new bicycle without the training wheels. The environment and relationship is feeling less hectic, tense, and emotions are beginning to settle. Entering into the Norming phase will feel this way.

By now you all are feeling an improved sense of purpose and understanding of goals, higher confidence, improved commitment, team members are engaged and supportive, relief—lowered anxiety, and starting to develop cohesion. Behaviors, rules, habits and agreements become the norm.

Great! Remember, because things feel normal and smooth, don't take your hands off of the pulse. Continue to check the temperature of your employee, keep lines of communication open and gain a better understanding of who they are personally, what makes them tick, how they prefer to be acknowledged, develop areas of weakness and further develop their strengths. Further outline the professional development plan you all put in place during phase one. Strategies for this phase include recognizing individual and team efforts, providing opportunities for learning and feedback, and monitoring the ‘energy’ of the team. Working relationships should be nurtured and trust proven constantly just as you would any other relationship.

Phase Four: Performing

You both have weathered the storm and the ROI from this hire is looking promising.

Experiences of higher motivation, elevated trust and empathy, individuals typically deferring to the team's needs, effective production, consistent performance, and demonstrations of interdependence and self-management (also referred to as self-organization) are surfacing.

To keep the momentum pulsing, consider guiding from the side (minimal intervention), celebrating successes, and encouraging collective decision-making and problem-solving.

Encourage your employee to use their voice, invite them to the table and really listen and consider their ideas. Should an idea spark, invite them to the implementation process. While their ROI to the company may be measured by financial gain, your ROI to them is fostering an environment that is safe and helps to diversify their skillsets. Mentorship, coaching, ERG’s and opportunities to shadow leadership are great ways to level up and engage your employee.

Don’t be phased by the phases. Educate yourself so that you can recognize the signs and approach barriers with clarity and strategy. Feeling like you need to talk this out or even develop a process? Reach out to and schedule a consultation. HBGM&Co. has got your back.

Creating Safer Spaces,



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