3 new joiner onboarding tips from Africa

Who has ever had a great onboarding experience in their new job? I hope there are some, but I am not one of them. Some of you might say that I am a perfectionist, difficult to please or simply require high standards. I could agree there is some truth to that, but it isn’t 100% just about me.

It is sometimes almost funny to see how much companies pay attention to recruit and attract the industry brightest talent, but once they sign the contract, the effort drastically decreases. Why?

This makes my onboarding experience with Integrated Villages, local NGO consisting of 4 part-time local volunteers who have 0$ funding thus they are working only part-time, even more special. It truly has been the best onboarding I ever experienced. They don’t have a business degree, proper office supplies or any special training on how to run their organization. Apparently field experience is the best.

Onboarding master Godfrey from Integrated Villages
Onboarding master Godfrey from Integrated Villages

You are probably thinking “Oh, they have way more time than me..” This is absolutely not the case. Besides their core job, volunteer work and plenty of household tasks (such as getting water and taking care of the farm) they have managed to create me a delightful onboarding experience. It was so pleasant and insightful that I decided to summarize it into three tips which I believe you can learn from.

Prepare well before arrival

Upon my arrival, Godfrey arranged and prepared everything so well. He didn’t need to jump around searching for the most basic parts. This has allowed him to spend our time in the most efficient way, focusing on the key elements.

You might think “Oh, he just got lucky that everything worked according to his initial plan”. Believe me, many things didn’t go according to his initial plan and there were some bumps on the road.

For starters, all the previous volunteers used to stay at Godfrey’s parents’ house and he would travel with them to the rural communities every day. This is going to be different for me since Godfrey got hired by a solar panel company in Kampala. This means that I will work with him only during the weekends. Yes! We are going to work on weekends, we will do everything to ensure that my time is utilized the most. Hard-working mentality has never been my improvement area which I inherited from the generations of my family.

Since Godfrey is going to be in Kampala during the weekdays and his mom doesn’t speak English, I am going to stay with another family and be coordinated by Daphine. As stated, Godfrey got a new job two weeks prior my arrival, so his previously “tested” way of working with volunteers needed to be adjusted pretty late. I guess it took him a while to arrange everything, but I didn’t feel any impact from this since arriving in Uganda. I met with Daphine and she is also well onboarded on how to guide me in the rural areas.

Godfrey and Daphine bringing to gemba to meet Luteet women group
Godfrey and Daphine bringing me to gemba to meet Luteete women group

Do you remember my first experience from when I just arrived? So Gerald, Godfrey’s brother, picked me up with a local driver. Literally in the middle of the night Godfrey messaged me that he has an urgent work appointment, making it unable for him to pick me up. Instead of me simply arranging a local driver, he asked his brother to take a day-off to join me. Gerald lives in Kampala, which is quite a trip to go back and forth, has a one month old baby and even skipped his work day. I hope Maersk won’t mind that I will borrow one of their core value “Constant Care” to describe Godfrey’s welcome gesture to me.

On top of that, he used another “smart trick” to make my onboarding experience smoother. A few weeks before my planned arrival we had regular calls discussing my assignment or him introducing the organizational peculiarities. The cherry on top of the cake was that he introduced me to former volunteers to  hear their experiences from a different perspective.

So smart! The result was that Godfrey’s thorough preparation in advance for Plan A and B, regular calls with him and even other volunteers, made me quite acquainted with my assignment already. When I came here we could start planning my activities almost right away.

I am quite sure this could be applied in “our Western companies” office environment too. As a manager you shouldn’t be running around the office to figure out why your new joiner still doesn’t have a laptop, phone, access card or has no clue about the core business activities of your company. Why don’t you spend some time giving them pre-read materials or even make a few calls by yourself or other peers?

So often I see recruiters or hiring managers heavily focused to select the right candidate thus they forget to give time for the applicant to fully understand for which exact job they are applying. Of course you always have time for questions at the end but after first or second, you get quickly reminded that we need to respect the time..

Go to gemba as soon as possible

I know that some of you might be bit bored of me bringing back gemba (i.e. word comes from Japanese and refers to the location where the real value is created) again. But yes, this one is also important here.

As you probably already read and understood I looove gemba! The gemba experience is simply magical and always eye-opening (e.g. my container vessel trip). None of the presentations, readings or meetings can replace it. Once you are where the real “action” or value is created, you understand things from a different perspective. I cannot imagine a better onboarding experience for your business.

The problem usually is that we don’t go to gemba soon enough. Often we spend the first days, weeks or even months in the internal team meetings, presentations, 1:1 introductions, online trainings or reading lengthy documents. It’s not that rare that new joiners especially the fresh ones to a new industry, get a full end-to-end view only after a year. How can you perform in your role if you haven’t even seen the real business first?

Good food for thought. I was lucky that Godfrey had prepared everything so well before my arrival thus in the second day we went to gemba already. We have visited Luteete women group who are making hand-crafts from locally available resources. From the first 10 minutes just by getting introduced, seeing their workplace, interactions and production process, I knew more than my weeks research on Google or Youtube.

It takes a full day to create one fruit basket
It takes a full day to create one fruit basket

So one more time. Grab and drag if needed your new joiner to gemba asap (AS SOON AS POSSIBLE)!!! You won’t regret it, I promise.

New joiner needs to feel socially accepted in the new environment

How much do we spend working with our colleagues? I don’t know how about you, but I have spent more time with my boss and other colleagues than with my boyfriend.

I think it’s okay, but if I spend so much time with the people in the office, I would like that they are somewhat kind, a bit nice and we can at least get along for the most part. Apparently it’s not only me who thinks like that. HBR came to the same conclusion and I almost always trust them.

In my previous job, I always felt like a weird duck and I guess I was. I struggled to identify myself with the “main group” and at some point even given up to try. I have formed small sub-groups with a few cool people and thus managed to survive for two years. I guess some of you have better records because you have more patience than me. Unfortunately this is not one of my strengths… 😉

I was amazed how Godfrey did everything from day 1 and even in advance to ensure that I would be well accepted in my new environment. I myself started to learn basic local Luganda language words prior to my arrival although have received quite a few pronunciation adjustments whilst here. Unfortunately learning foreign languages isn’t also one of my strengths.

I am staying as a guest in Godfrey’s parents’ house. And yes, the travel blogs are not lying that Ugandans, especially in rural areas, are super friendly. Godfrey’s mum treats me like a princess, making sure I feel at home and doesn’t want me to make my hands dirty.

Godfrey’s beautiful and hard-working mum prepared to attend the neighbours’ wedding
Godfrey’s beautiful and hard-working mum prepared to attend the neighbours’ wedding

Godfrey has a different strategy, even though he lost so many 4 in a row games, here his strategy is well thought. At least I am good in something. 😊

He created me such a local experience, making me don’t feel new. Today I was collecting fresh eggs from a chicken coop, carrying water from the distant well. He didn’t allow me to drink this water, which I think is also a smart decision on his part. After all, we don’t want to make it too authentic by potentially ending up in a local African hospital.

All those rural experiences make me so much more connected to the local people and the same goes from their side. Godfrey’s mum was really angry on her son that he took me to that water well…

Filling up a jerrycan with 20l water from the local well
Filling up a jerrycan with 20l water from the local well

It’s important that managers put as much effort as possible to make their new joiners feel at “home”. It’s equally important they set realistic expectations about an environment before joining, not over-selling, because in the end the truth will come out. Godfrey prepared me so well, so when I arrived I had an even better experience than I expected from the stories I heard.

Thank you Godfrey from Integrated Villages for a very warm welcome and great onboarding experience.

I hope you got inspired too. I would love to hear your stories, ideas or thoughts on new joiner onboarding experiences.

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