Onboarding done right

David Lee

How to Get Your New Employees Started off Right

“Onboarding” is the process of integrating new employees into the organization, preparing them to succeed at their jobs, and having them become fully engaged, productive members of the organization. It includes the initial orientation process and the ensuing three to six months, or however long it takes to get an employee up to speed in a particular company or discipline.

Why bother investing the time and resources when you’ve got so much else to do? An investment in effective onboarding is an investment in employee retention, morale, and productivity.  

Research at Corning Glass Works revealed that employees who attended a structured orientation program were 69% more likely to remain with the company after three years than those who did not go through the same program.

Research tells us that it makes sense to invest time and effort into preparing employees to be successful at their jobs. If you want them to become productive as quickly as possible, why would anyone not do whatever it takes to make that happen? If you’re going to spend money on acquiring new employees and paying them to come to work, why would you not prepare them to succeed?

Despite the obviousness of this, many organizations approach new-hire orientation with a low level of professionalism and quality they would never tolerate in their daily operations.


Are You Making These Common and Costly Mistakes?Cramming 20 hours of information into four mind-numbing hours?

From a practical point of view, doing this wastes your time and that of your new hires. If it’s impossible for them to absorb the information — it goes in one ear and out the other — why spend precious time on this exercise in futility? Smart organizations break orientation into “bite-sized chunks.” They also select the most effective medium for the particular type of information, offloading information that is best accessed on one’s own onto the corporate intranet.


Running a “fly by the seat of your pants” orientation program?

If you run a slipshod, disorganized, second-rate orientation program, you are sending the message that you’re a slipshod, second-rate company. Harsh as that may sound, that’s the message such programs send. While all operational decisions and practices can have an impact on an employee’s assessment of the overall intelligence, professionalism, and effectiveness of their employer, few moments of truth are as vulnerable to interpretation as the onboarding process. 

Once a person arrives at an assessment about a person or situation, future data are unlikely to shake their understanding — thus, the truism: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”.

Because new hires find themselves in uncharted territory, they are prone to grasping for any clues to help them understand their new environment. They are likely to make meaning out of anything and everything their new employer does — or doesn’t do. Thus, the new hire will more likely place greater significance on any displays of disorganized, or poorly thought-out, onboarding. They are more likely to take these perceptions as indicators of the company as a whole. Those first impressions can, and will, taint their future perspectives on the employer.


Making your new-hire orientations as dull as watching paint dry?

Despite all the information available on creative training techniques, interactive exercises, and games, many organizations still insist on putting new hires through coma-inducing data dumps and form-filling marathons.

Orientation programs often neglect one of the most important roles of new-hire orientation: creating an inspiring experience that reassures new hires they made the right choice and that lays the foundation for high employee engagement. Neglecting this can cost significantly, in terms of employees never becoming engaged — and therefore not working to anywhere near their potential — or just leaving.


Using the “sink or swim” approach to onboarding?

Throwing a new employee into the fray without appropriate support and coaching is one of the most common — and damaging — mistakes an organization can make. Not only does it dramatically increase the odds the employee will leave, it communicates to all employees two pride-managing messages: “Management doesn’t care about their people” and “Management doesn’t have common sense.”


Using the “no news is good news” and “out of sight, out of mind” approach to following up?

Effective onboarding means keeping in touch with your new hires as they integrate into your organization. It means actively finding out how they’re doing, and, most crucial, making it easy for them to tell HR and their boss what’s on their mind.


The Cost of Such Mistakes: 

  1. Increased turnover.
  2. Diminished productivity: New employees are not only less productive as they climb the learning curve; they’re also more likely to make errors and deliver substandard service.
  3. Reduced engagement: If a new hire’s initial experience is not one that leaves him or her feeling inspired, valued, and valuable, that impression will minimize their level of engagement, which has tremendous financial implications.
  4. Reduced respect for management and the company as a whole: This not only reduces an organization’s ability to generate employee referrals, but also increases resistance to changes and new initiatives promoted by management.
  5. Reduced pride in the organization: This costs an employer in several ways by minimizing employee referrals and positive PR. And if they don’t feel proud of where they work, they’ll find an employer they can be proud of.


Getting Onboarding Right

When it comes to onboarding, everything matters: Every choice, every action, every communication has potential consequences. Not only does every choice have a consequence in terms of how quickly an employee gets up to speed, but every choice also communicates to the employee information about your organization. Poorly organized, "fly by the seat of your pants" orientations communicate something very different about an organization than do well-organized, professionally-delivered programs.

The level of support provided to employees after leaving orientation also communicates an important message. Using a "sink or swim" approach to onboarding communicates a loud “we don’t care about or value you” message. An onboarding process that provides new hires with a mentor and periodic check-ins sends employees the kind of message that leads to engagement and loyalty.

In summary, the words “everything matters” will be one of the most useful guiding principles to use when making strategic and operational decisions related to onboarding. Applying this principle means bringing greater attention and mindfulness to each and every facet of the onboarding process. When creating or revamping an onboarding process, think “experience.” When making decisions about how to structure the orientation process, how to welcome new hires, how to introduce them to their team members and the company as a whole, consider each choice through the lens of: “What kind of experience does this choice create?”

Article reprinted from The Drake Business Review, a quarterly publication helping high performing managers and executives meet the challenges in their businesses now.

Excerpted from Successful Onboarding: How to Get Your New Employees Started Off Right with the permission of author David Lee, Principal, HumanNature@Work. (http://www.Humannatureatwork.com). David has been called "a pioneer in the field of onboarding, and has numerous articles on this topic that can be downloaded at HumanNatureAtWork.com.

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