Recently, I’ve found myself talking and thinking about on-boarding. How do you successfully bring a new colleague into your organization? What types of on-boarding have you experienced that have worked? If you could be in charge of on-boarding, how would you do it? How can every person in an organization be an active participant with on-boarding? I thought these questions might be good to bring to the ACRLoggers group for our February collaborative post. Readers, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!
We often think of on-boarding as the logistical pieces – getting a new email, setting up a laptop or device, knowing where to park, and having access to all the right systems and listservs. However we know there’s much more to on-boarding. In your opinion, what should be our philosophy with on-boarding? What should our ideal approach be?
Justin: I always think of on-boarding as setting up the new hire for success. That definitely includes the more logistical components that Hailley mentions, but also providing long-term support, things like mentorship, communities of practice, and more relational components to the profession. We’re in a helping profession and that includes helping and supporting your colleagues.
Alex: In addition to what Justin said about giving the new hire what they need to succeed, I think it’s important to give them the knowledge and opportunities they need to find their own place in the organization. A lot of that “place” is dictated by the job they were hired to do, but this extends to committee involvement, social ties, etc. It’s important to be aware of your own biases when introducing someone new to an organization you may have been with for a long time. Are they the right person to fill a gap on a committee that you highly value the work of? Maybe, maybe not. Do they need to know you had a negative experience with someone in this other department ten years ago? Probably not. Introduce them to everyone and give them the room to have their own interactions, identify where they can be of help, and draw their own conclusions.
What’s something you experienced when being on-boarded at an organization that you really appreciated or valued?
Justin: I really appreciate my library’s community of practice for early-career staff, called the New Archivists’ and Librarians’ Group. It’s a great place to share any issues early-career librarians and archivists have, and to talk about it in a safe space with your colleagues. We often talk about logistical pieces like our annual performance reviews and preparing for promotion, but we recognize the value in creating community; getting to know the early-career librarians and archivists you work is such a wonderful thing.
Alex: During the interview for my current position, I was given equal time to talk to and interact with staff as well as faculty in the library, which I appreciated. This extended into the onboarding, as I had one-on-one meetings with everyone in my library in the first two weeks, to get to know their roles and responsibilities as well as them as people.
Hailley: When I started my first academic library job, my immediate supervisor set up meetings for me that stretched throughout the first six weeks of my job. I got to meet many people, at many levels, throughout the library. It was a nice way to ease into things, move around the building, and create connections. In this job I also had a secondary supervisor. She found an opportunity for me to join the Common Read Committee, which put me in touch with colleagues across campus and gave me a project to jump into. When I think about on-boarding, I often think of these two supervisors; they were intentional about bringing me into the fold, getting me connected with colleagues, and giving me work I could start.
For supervisors, what are strategies or approaches you take when getting ready to on-board someone new into your department/unit/organization?
Hailley: As I mentioned above, I am definitely informed by my past supervisors and the ways I have been on-boarded into organizations. In thinking about on-boarding people into my department, I remind myself not everything and every introduction has to happen right away. I try to space out information and introductions over a longer period of time. I find ways to provide documentation, but also give colleagues space to read, digest, and reflect on their own time. I also try to involve as many folks as possible in on-boarding. While it’s great to hear from me as their supervisor, I want new colleagues to hear about the organization and department from their peers. Finally, when I think about on-boarding students into the library, I try to think about what context they will need to be successful. How do I set up conditions for them to have the information they need to do the work I want them to complete?
For those not supervising, what are approaches or things you do to help welcome and on-board someone who is joining your department/unit/organization?
Justin: As someone who’s been leading our new archivist and librarian group, I heartily encourage them to join us and attend meetings; it’s such a great and welcoming group! I also encourage new hires to reach out and talk to me or other librarians with any questions they have. I try to live my life by treating others how I would want to be treated, and I really, really, really appreciated the welcome and support I was shown when I was first hired. I try to remember that for anyone new that starts at my library.
Alex: I emphasize that I have an open-door policy whether you have a work-related question, want to know where the best Mexican restaurant is in the area, or just need to decompress and talk about literally anything else for a few minutes. Sometimes you need Alex the Access Services & Instruction Librarian, and sometimes you need Alex the Chimichanga Enthusiast or Alex the Pretty Good Listener.
How can or does on-boarding look different for those coming in as new professionals vs colleagues joining our organization who are mid or late career? Should we employ different strategies (and why)?
Justin: Definitely introducing those logistical things unique to your institution is important and ensuring mid- and late-career librarians are aware of anything unique to your institution (e.g. promotion and tenure guidelines). I’d also focus on establishing a welcoming and supportive work environment, which I think every librarian, regardless of career stage, can appreciate.
Hailley: Okay, so I wrote this question but I’m having a hard time answering it. This is a question I’ve been mulling over. I think as Justin mentions, there are obviously common on-boarding threads across all new hires. However, I’m wondering if there are different focuses depending on when you’re coming into a new organization and at what level (middle management, admin, etc.). No fully formed thoughts yet but something I’m chewing on.
Any other thoughts on on-boarding? Are there any resources you rely on or any last comments you’d like to make?
Justin: With job precarity becoming more common, I think it’s important to ensure you’re setting up librarians with skills and knowledge that not only benefits their current position, but also positions in the future. I recommend reading Julia Martyniuk, Christine Moffatt, and Kevin Oswald’s “Into the Unknown: Onboarding Early Career Professionals in a Remote Work Environment.” Though focused on remote on-boarding, I think their recommendation to “[cultivate] a sense of belonging for new hires” is such an important part of the on-boarding process.
Alex: I think we generally think of onboarding as being done after a couple days or weeks, but it should really be a one-year process, in my view. I started my job on January 2 several years ago, and all the year-end reports and statistics and processes like that were brand new to me even though my one-year anniversary was a week or two away the first time I encountered them.
Hailley: I agree with Alex. Especially within academic libraries, on-boarding is a year-long process so you can see the rhythms of fall, spring, and summer!