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Paul Matthews

People Alchemy Ltd


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A litmus test for your onboarding process


John was incredibly excited. Why? He was starting his new job today. Oh sure, he had started other new jobs before, but not one like this. This one was different. But then, was it? In fact, as he thought about it, on paper, the job was actually not that different to his last job. The difference was that this time it felt right.

Somehow this company was different. It was the way they had treated him when he was applying for the job that made him want the job so much. It was no one big single thing that they did; it was a host of small things. If that’s how they treated their people, he wanted ‘IN’!

He was early for the train. While he sat in the warm waiting room away from the cold platform wind, his mind wandered to what the day might bring, and of course, to what he would say to his wife when he got home that evening. After all, this job was important to them, and she would be full of questions about how it went.

The train arrived…

In town, at his new company, Sally was getting ready. She had put a whole train of things in motion to welcome John on his first day. She knew how important this first day would be to John, and given the amount of effort and the cost of the recruitment process, and the fact that John had been selected from quite a few applicants, they wanted him to like the job and stay.

She also knew there was a test that would be applied, and she didn’t want to fail.

Sometimes she called it the ‘litmus test’.

It was in the 14th century that scientists discovered that litmus, a mixture of coloured organic compounds obtained from lichen, turns red in acid solutions and blue in alkaline solutions and, thus, can be used as an acid-base indicator. Six centuries later, people began using litmus test figuratively. It can now refer to any single factor that establishes the true character of something or causes it to be assigned to one category or another. Often it refers to something (such as an opinion about a political or moral issue) that can be used to make a judgment about whether someone or something is acceptable or not.

The litmus test occurs, to decide whether the job is acceptable, when John gets home at the end of his first day and his wife asks “How was your new job?”

For every job that is started, at the end of the first day, there is a litmus test. If the job fails, the new starter is already in his mind looking at the door. If the job passes the test, the new starter goes back the next day with commitment and engagement, and looking to do well.

Sally wanted the job to pass John’s litmus test, so she set up the activities on day one so that when asked that crucial question by his wife, John would respond positively. During day one, the company had to earn points in John’s mind.

Look at your own recruitment and onboarding process.

If your new starter is giving you a score for each of the activities and impressions they get during that process, and especially on their first day, would you get a positive or negative score? Imagine going through the process yourself. How would you score it? Would your own company pass your own litmus test?

The reason that so many organisations do so poorly when subjected to this test is that their whole recruitment and onboarding process is focussed on what the organisation needs rather than also taking into account what the applicant and new starter is looking for. This is understandable, but a mistake.

Look at all the activities in your process from the perspective of a new starter and make a note as to whether each activity is being done for the company, or for the new starter. If you were a new starter, how would that make you feel?

Now… what changes are you going to make to your recruitment and onboarding process so it passes the litmus test?

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