Onboarding With STEPS
Helping New Employees to Thrive
When new people join your team, you want to settle them in, track their progress, and ensure that they're a good match for the role.
STEPS is a simple but very effective onboarding framework that can help you do just that.
What Is the STEPS Onboarding Framework?
STEPS stands for:
It's a structured approach, created by Mind Tools, that can help managers and HR professionals to support and monitor the progress of new starters during their probation period.
STEPS is not designed to replace your organization's existing processes for induction or onboarding. These are unique to you, and cover all the details that new employees need to know as they get up to speed in your company.
But you can use it alongside your own internal processes, to ensure that your new hires are fully supported to succeed in their role from day one. It also enables you to gather valuable feedback about your current approach to recruitment and onboarding, which you can use to make improvements as necessary.
For guidance on establishing a strong induction process, see our article, Successful Inductions.
How to Use the STEPS Onboarding Framework
Despite its name, STEPS is not a linear process, and most parts of it happen side by side. But each aspect is designed to assess something slightly different, to paint a full picture of how new starters are getting on.
Let's explore each part of the STEPS framework in more detail.
This is about ensuring that your new people feel welcome and comfortable in your organization, in their team, and in their new job as a whole. It includes the formal induction process, where they'll get essential information about the inner workings of the organization and their role.
The Settle stage also involves helping them to form connections with others across the organization, especially those they'll be working with closely. This could mean arranging a "welcome breakfast" in their honor, setting up key meetings, or just introducing them to people online.
It's also an opportunity to help new employees to see their job in a wider context. Introduce them to the mission, vision and values of your organization, and explain how their role impacts the business – and why it's important.
The crucial thing at this stage is to allow people adequate time to get settled. Many new employees will want to "hit the ground running" and get involved straight away. That's admirable; but, as a manager or HR professional, you'll need to make it clear that they're not expected to know everything all at once!
However, new team members also need to feel productive, so look for valuable tasks to give them early on. These might include researching the product or service you provide; reviewing key processes, policies, and systems; getting familiar with other departments, customers, and competitors; or reading up on future projects, so that they can begin to plan their workload.
Our articles, 9 Ways to Use Your Dead Time Wisely and How to Reduce Dead Time in Your Team, offer great advice for keeping people engaged when workloads are relatively light – as they often are for new hires.
This part of the STEPS process doesn't actually involve any formal testing or assessment. Instead, it's about both you and your new team member comparing expectations with reality, as honestly as possible. The aim is to answer the question: "Is this the right "fit"?
This requires regular meetings between an individual, their manager, and HR. Ideally, discussions should take place at several different milestones – for example, after one week, one month, and three months.
Helpful questions to ask new starters include:
- Is this what you expected, in terms of culture, work, and business operations?
- What tasks do you feel most/least comfortable with so far?
- What motivates you most/least in your role?
Asking these questions will help new people to assess whether the role really is right for them. Encourage openness, and explain that they're not being judged – and won't be penalized – for speaking up about their experiences so far.
They may report that it's not quite what they expected. Perhaps the job description didn't fully convey the scope of the role, or the recruiter misrepresented the company. If there are any concerns, completing this activity early gives both sides the chance to make adjustments.
This is also an opportunity for you, as a manager, to assess whether your expectations are being met. Does this person have the skills you need? Is their attitude right for your team? Do they still promise as much as they did at interview?
Again, if you discover any mismatch, you can address it early and prevent long-term frustration on both sides.
In some cases, the Test part of the STEPS process shows that there's no point going any further. This person, and this role, simply don't fit. If so, it's best to be open about it, and to take appropriate action; for example, the employee resigns, or you let them go.
Frustrating as this is, in the long run you'll be glad you made the decision during the probation period, rather than struggling on with an employee who's not happy, or not able to fulfil the job role adequately.
For more advice about understanding and assessing fit – in a way that honors diversity, while matching your other values – take a look at our article, What Are Cultural Fit and Cultural Add?
This stage of STEPS is about evaluating the work that your new starter is doing, along with other aspects of their performance, such as their attitude, teamwork and communication.
This will continue beyond the onboarding or probation period, but it's important to put the process in place from day one.
One-on-ones are essential for people to "check in," raise any issues, ask questions, and get feedback on their performance.
In addition, set up some formal performance meetings/appraisals, to discuss and evaluate the individual's core job skills and competencies. You might assess them on a specific piece of work, on their contribution to a project, or on how well they're fulfilling their job description as a whole.
It can also be helpful to get feedback from some of their new colleagues, focusing on the quality of their teamwork, communication, and attitude to work.
The purpose of these evaluation meetings is to provide new team members with clear criteria for success, along with detailed feedback to help them to get there. If you've communicated well so far, these meetings shouldn't contain any nasty surprises!
Over the course of the onboarding or probation period, you'll ideally see clear improvements in performance. Keep your eyes open for them and give praise when they happen!
Common things to look out for include an increased and well-managed workload, greater responsibilities, improved capabilities in core skills, and higher involvement in team projects.
In addition, look for signs of strong relationships being formed – across the business, as well as within the immediate team. Maybe a new member of the production staff has already made strong links with people in the delivery department, for example. This shows that a new starter is finding their workplace allies, which can also help to prevent and break down silos.
More subtle – but equally important – changes might include improved confidence to speak up in meetings, more eagerness to share ideas, or greater willingness to put feedback into practice.
All of these things demonstrate growth and progress, and your new employee will appreciate being praised for positive attitude changes, just as much as for the impact of their work.
Paying attention to all the aspects of STEPS will help new team members to succeed in their role. The benefits should be both short- and long-term, and they may even extend beyond the person's current position in your organization.
Questions that you can ask to assess the Success part of STEPS include:
- Is the person productive, happy, and contributing to the business?
- Are they comfortable and competent in their role?
- Do they have adequate industry knowledge?
- Have they built the necessary networks to complete their tasks efficiently?
- Do they have a career plan/personal goals to work toward?
"Success" completes the STEPS acronym – but the process doesn't stop there. For ongoing success, you'll need to keep a close eye on people's career and personal developmental needs.
Continue to offer support, feedback and guidance as your new employees evolve, so that they stay engaged, and keep performing at their best throughout their time on your team.
Onboarding a new starter virtually can come with its own particular set of challenges. Check out our handy guide on how to do this effectively by reading our article, Virtual Onboarding.
STEPS is a structured process designed to help managers and HR professionals support and effectively onboard new hires in their first few weeks and months.
STEPS is a five stage process, and includes the following stages:
- Settle – give new starters the time and resources required to get comfortable in their new role.
- Test – assess whether the "fit" between them and the organization is right.
- Evaluate – monitor and give feedback about key aspects of their performance
- Progress – watch for signs of improvement and progress, and give appropriate praise.
- Succeed – discuss current successes, and continue to support people as they move forward within their careers.
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