Do you remember your first day at your current job? What was it like?

As organizational tenure declines, the gig economy ramps up and an entire new generation enters the workforce, the task of “getting new people up to speed” has become increasingly challenging.

While the foundational elements of a good onboarding program (logistical information, clear expectations, training plans, etc.) are seldom missing, the majority of programs leave out three crucial elements:

Organizational norms

In some organizations, not responding to an email for a few days is expected. In others, ignoring an email for more than 12 hours is considered an act of war.

Organizational norms go beyond the traditional what to wear and where to park memo on the first day.

They cover things like meeting norms (Should every meeting have a formal agenda?); whereabouts norms (If you’re going to be more than an hour for lunch, is there an expectation to tell your boss?); and calendar norms (Is it assumptive to book time on someone’s calendar?).

These seemingly small inflection points are the difference between fumbling through a few organizational faux pas and feeling like you’re right at home by the end of the week.

Anticipated challenges

Employers tend to shy away from mentioning potential challenges to new employees as to not “scare off” their fresh recruit. But no job is all sunshine and rainbows (not even Disneyland).

Imagine this: You have a new sales job. You are onboarded with no mention of challenges. That Friday, you go to run your first pipeline report. It’s a 404 error. You try again. Another error. Now you’re frustrated. Your confidence is fading, along with your new-employee enthusiasm.

Compare that to an onboarding experience that’s exactly the same, but with a small addition of, “A lot of people find the reporting process in our CRM system difficult at first, so let me know if you run into some system roadblocks and I can ask our sales enablement team to take a look with you.” First Friday. A 404 error. But this time, you’re prepared. You know this is expected, common and solvable.

Ultimate impact

Hyper-specificity of job function should not be achieved in sacrifice of the larger context.

For example, a social media manager for an athletic wear company produces content, distributes content through company social platforms and monitors customer engagement. That’s the function.

The impact they have is that for every successful interaction, employees are inspired to take their fitness to the next level. Healthier people are happier, they live longer and they’re kinder to their community.

Mapping a new employee’s role back to the ultimate impact they have on customers helps them emotionally connect to the organizational purpose and deepen their commitment to the work.

A bad onboarding experience is like a bad first impression – it’s really hard to bounce back from.

In “The Power of Moments,” Chip Heath and Dan Heath dive in to the John Deere first-day experience. After painting a picture of personalized welcomes, warm handoffs, impact-focused conversations, here’s how it ends: “You leave the office thinking, I belong here. The work we’re doing matters. And I matter to them.”

New employees are going to go home, sit down at the table with their family and divulge every detail of their first day. As a leader, you have the ability to make that conversation one of excitement or one that goes, “Eh, it was fine.”

– Lisa Earle McLeod is a leadership consultant and the author of several books. For more information on her company, visit McLeodandMore.com.

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