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Essential Ingredients for an Effective Onboarding Program

Essential Ingredients for an Effective Onboarding Program

by Dipak Sundaram and Niraj Patel

Story Highlights

  • Only 12% of people say their company does a good job of onboarding
  • Onboarding begins before the hiring process
  • You need to create a sense of belonging for new employees

Although companies today recognize that onboarding is a critical element of the new-hire experience, it is not adequately prioritized in organizational or HR strategic objectives.

Often, onboarding is confused with basic processes such as a getting set up with a workspace, laptop, email account, etc.

Roughly 1 in 10 employees strongly agree that their organization does a good job of onboarding.

Unfortunately, a common, fatal flaw organizations tend to make is to treat onboarding as a "new employee orientation class" or "the first 30 days," rather than a year-long process that helps employees get up to speed in their job and integrated into their new team and organization.

In our experience, it takes 12+ months for most people to get "up to speed" in most jobs. This ramp-up time is when employees learn their role and with the intention of being fully capable of performing all critical functions at a high level.

Roughly 1 in 10 employees strongly agree that their organization does a good job of onboarding.

It's important for organizations to recognize that a formal onboarding program requires structured curriculum. This includes, developing activities that span a longer time frame and accommodating multiple participants if needed -- all of which should be managed by a dedicated resource or team within the company.

Organizations often experience substantial turnover of first-year employees.

Often, organizations lose one-third to two-thirds of new hires within their first 12 months on the job. Naturally, this varies by role, as about half of all hires for senior positions leave within 18 months, and half of all hourly workers last just four months.

In fact, about a third of all new employees don't even last 90 days on the job. The good news? A better onboarding program can help reduce that high turnover.

Guiding Principles of Onboarding

  • Onboarding starts even before the hiring process.

    Employees are being onboarded the moment they visit the career page of your company website or talk to a recruiter or hiring manager.

  • The optimum time frame for a new hire to be onboarded may vary by role and industry.

    It can be the first 30, 90, 150 or even up to and beyond the first year of employment.

  • Onboarding needn't only occur at the start of an employee's time with a new company.

    There may be a need to onboard employees as they make critical transitions within the organization to new roles, be that a change of location or function.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid in the New-Hire Experience

While many onboarding programs today tout the company's vision, mission and culture, they often fail to bridge the gap for employees between those concepts and how every role can make a difference.

  • You overload them with information.

    Sometimes the training within an onboarding program tends to provide too much information and too many materials in a short time frame.

    This approach doesn't give new hires enough time to digest and internalize what is presented to them.

  • You overwhelm them with technology.

    Using new onboarding technology platforms might be tempting, but these tools have a short life span if they differ from the company's core system or intranet. What's more, some are difficult to learn.

    This results in your new hires spending most of their time learning technology with a shelf-life, as opposed to getting effectively onboarded at the organization and in their role.

You can develop effective onboarding programs by following these four key considerations:

1. Collect and use data to inform the program's design and evaluate its effectiveness.

Ensure that you are continuously analyzing new-hire demographics, reasons for turnovers and use new hire experience surveys to inform which aspects of onboarding need to be addressed.

Metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of an onboarding program:

  • engagement
  • feedback from hiring managers on time taken by new hires to achieve expected performance
  • targeted feedback from new hires on the new-hire experience
  • to what degree new hires are advocates of the workplace
  • performance of new hires
  • first- and second-year retention rates

2. Involve the supervisor and team.

Communicate with the new hire's supervisor before their first day at work.

Make sure to schedule adequate time with the supervisor to have meaningful conversations about clarifying expectations, describing what success in the role looks like, as well as discussing implications for career growth.

Team members can be involved through meet and greet activities, job shadowing, as well as other informal networking and learning opportunities to better understand how other functions of the business work.

When the manager takes an active role in onboarding, employees are 3.4 times as likely to feel like their onboarding process was successful.

When the manager takes an active role in onboarding, employees are 3.4 times as likely to feel like their onboarding process was successful.

3. Create a framework and apply themes to the onboarding program.

Establish a construct that clearly defines the areas your onboarding program needs to address. This will be the framework in which onboarding curriculum and activities will be classified.

For example, an onboarding framework could include the following categories:

  • immersing new hires in the organization's history, mission and culture
  • understanding your customers
  • knowing yourself and achieving role excellence
  • networking within and across teams

While the framework will address the structure of the program, identify three or five common themes to help determine the experiences new hires need to have while they go through the program. For example, quizzes, competitive games or new hire team projects are some activities to incorporate within the onboarding program that are fun, relevant and challenging.

4. Include a closing as part of the onboarding program.

Although an exciting beginning to the onboarding program is important, companies sometimes forget to clearly delineate the end of the onboarding period.

New hires yearn to feel a sense of accomplishment and experience a rite of passage with the organization.

Bringing an onboarding class together to share with one another their experiences in the first six months or first year, recognizing high performers, and giving a certificate of completion are examples of activities that can mark the completion of the onboarding program.

New hires yearn to feel a sense of accomplishment and experience a rite of passage with the organization.

According to a recent Gallup Panel study, when employees can strongly agree that their "onboarding process was exceptional," they are nearly 2 times more likely to feel fully prepared to excel in their new role and 2.3 times more likely to say their job is as good or better than they expected it to be.

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