Career Success

Get Employee Onboarding Right

By Melissa FlemingJanuary 25, 2018

The typical new hire process

Most of us are familiar with a typical new hire experience: We spend our first day or two filling out paperwork, getting acclimated to the company, meeting co-workers, undergoing training and taking care of organizational odds and ends that set us up to do our job. Often it’s a loose process–two thirds of companies have no formal onboarding program.

But while orientation-type activities are necessary and important, they don’t create an exciting first impression. And not having a longer-term, structured onboarding program puts the onus on managers without equipping them to get their new team members up to speed.

But onboarding matters

Why is paperwork-focused, ad hoc employee onboarding not ideal? Most people don’t realize how much onboarding matters. Retention is one reason: Some of the blame for high employee turnover can be traced to as early as a new hire’s first day on the job. As many as 4% of employees leave after a disastrous first day–an extreme example of poor onboarding (and likely hiring).  Beyond the first day, the entire first six weeks are critical, with 22% of turnover occurring during that time.

The onboarding practices of the past – completing checklists of tasks, filling out forms, and even watching old grainy compliance tapes – may no longer cut it, particularly in industries like knowledge work, where talent (and therefore turnover) is very expensive. Even a semi-modern onboarding practice, like access to eLearning courses in a learn-as-you-go approach, is not the best way to engage, retain, and ramp up talent.

Without a structured program, the enthusiasm of starting a new job can quickly fade. In fact, one in three new hires becomes disengaged and starts looking for a new job in the first six months at a new employer.  But the good news is that there are changes you can make to ensure new hires transition into your organization as smoothly and positively as possible.

Create a balanced, effective onboarding program

The most effective onboarding programs incorporate three key success factors to engage and empower new hires from the start. The crucial ingredients are:

Make it timely

Effective onboarding starts before an employee signs an offer letter – they’re already developing impressions of your company, though that’s a topic for another post – and continues long after their first day or week on the job. Continuing onboarding until full productivity is achieved, which often takes 6 months, helps new team members gradually come up to speed without overwhelming them in the beginning. Many employers dump way too much information into new hires’ laps, too fast. In their haste, they overlook context and delivery.

A compelling program balances organizational information with external content, socially-reinforced learning experiences, and feedback and guidance from others. Having a culture of learning – one that encourages new hires to practice by doing and seek out help from fellow team members and beyond – will make it much easier to create a consistent, personalized and scalable experience. If you’re curious to learn more about building a learning culture, watch this webinar by Jeff Diana, former Chief People Officer of Atlassian and SuccessFactors.

Structure social connections

Successful onboarding is as much about getting acquainted with the people in the organization as the material and physical environment. Connections with the manager, the team, a mentor and relevant people within and outside your organization provide a rich understanding of the job and the company values and culture. Your people will make the experience much more personal. They also provide immediate and helpful feedback, enabling new hires to apply learning quickly. And external coaches or mentors provide a different perspective and a safe sounding board.

Showing new hires that your organization cares about individual and team growth and development speaks volumes about the organization’s values and culture of learning right from the get-go.

Empower new employees with accountability

Accountability and empowerment go hand in hand. Help new hires develop accountability and trust by giving them a voice in establishing, measuring and reporting on onboarding goals. Another powerful empowerment tool is in asking new hires to provide feedback on how the organization is doing with its company goals–a new hire has a limited time to provide a fresh perspective; take advantage of it.

Giving a new hire some control over their milestones, while asking them for feedback on the organization, is a win-win way to personalize each hire’s onboarding. Not only does this make a new hire feel important, but it will also help them be productive faster. Implementing these changes is definitely worth the effort: 69% of employees are more likely to stay for at least three years after a great onboarding experience.

Putting it all together

When you’re bringing in new people, it’s critical to set a positive tone. In our experience, making sure a program is timely, social and empowering will a) make new hires feel confident they made the right decision to join your team, and b) and set them up for success within your organization. New employees want to be embraced by the organization, but not in an assimilating way–they still want to be treated as individuals with talents and objectives of their own. Demonstrate that your organization trusts, empowers, and connects each new employee, and they’ll be far more likely to invest themselves in your company. And that translates into more engagement, higher retention and better performance.

For more tips on improving employee onboarding, read our longer article and download our ebook.

Melissa Fleming

Melissa Fleming

About the Author

Melissa is a Southerner by birth, New Englander by education and New Yorker by choice. A writer and editor by trade, she runs marathons, travels whenever possible and usually has a book in hand.

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