Learn how to prevent onboarding mishaps and engage your new hires from day one.
Onboarding is one of the major learning and performance trends of 2012. Companies are seeking actionable strategies for efficiently moving new hires to peak performance. And even in a down economy, it is common knowledge that close to 50 percent of new hires don't stay with their organizations for more than a year. According to a report by the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkley, such turnover can cost a company up to 150 percent of that person's salary.
The costs for not investing in the development of an effective onboarding program are far greater than simply losing and replacing new employees. The International Institute for Management Development reports that some of the greatest expenses come from employees who remain at an organization but do not understand their roles—$37 billion in the United States and United Kingdom combined.
Onboarding vs. orientation
Although there is plenty of buzz about the subject of onboarding, there is an equal amount of misunderstanding about exactly what it is, how to do it, who needs to be involved, and how to measure its success. While onboarding and orientation are often used interchangeably, unlike orientation—which is what a company provides to new hires during the first days of employment—onboarding is an approximately 90-day process of orienting and integrating new hires so they can deliver results as efficiently, effectively, and energetically as possible.
While orientation—describing the history and mission of the organization, teaching employees about company rules, summarizing employee benefits, and so forth—is a facet of onboarding, the latter process goes beyond simply filling employees with knowledge.
Onboarding is about developing the behaviors that will be the foundation of an employee's long-term success. In an effective onboarding program the HR and learning and development (L&D) functions collaborate to design formal programming. Yet because behavioral development takes time, it's as important, if not more so, that new hires' managers also are involved in the process.
Mistake 1: Failing to engage employees on the first day
When an organization conflates onboarding with orientation, one of the first mistakes it often makes is frontloading too much discussion of compliance into a new hire's first day. While knowing how not to get fired is important, new hires are more interested in knowing how to be valued team members and are looking for reinforcement that they made the right decision by accepting the job offer.
Focusing too much on rules out of the gate is problematic for all employees, particularly Gen Yers (who, according to ASTD President and CEO Tony Bingham, will comprise 50 percent of the workplace by 2014). In Y-Size Your Business, a book on harnessing Gen Yers' workplace strengths, author Jason Ryan Dorsey says that Gen Yers make a decision about whether to stay with a company long term by the end of their first day.
As Gen Yers become the workplace majority, employers need to ensure that the first day's experience gives these employees the opportunity to solidify their excitement in their new roles. By creating opportunities for them to immediately sink their teeth into an engaging task, meet their co-workers, begin to build relationships, and address lingering anxiety, employers create the foundation for long-term engagement.
Mistake 2: Failing to articulate clear responsibilities
Because there often is a disconnect between the chief responsibilities listed in a job description and the specific, repeatable tasks that employees must complete to be successful in their roles, it's vital that managers are trained to discuss exactly what they expect from their employees. They also should be clear about why these duties are important and how success will be measured.
For example, it's one thing to tell an employee that she needs to recruit 50 co-workers to attend an open house. But if that employee understands that her department wants to enroll 15 new students in its training program and that the organization has a 30 percent sign-up rate from open houses, then she understands exactly why she is aiming for 50 people. Such discussions will facilitate greater buy-in, performance, and accountability.
Mistake 3: Failing to address culture fit
Too many companies do not intentionally build employee culture integration into their onboarding programs. Perhaps company vision and values are discussed during first-day orientation, but then they are never mentioned again.
Department managers can reintroduce vision and values and help employees connect them to professional goals and interests. They may explain company and field jargon, provide a calendar with company events (the big activities such as holiday parties and all-staff community service days, as well as the small ones such as team birthday celebrations), and consider matching new hires with peer mentors. As Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has famously professed, "If you get the culture right then most of the other stuff will happen naturally."
Mistake 4: Failing to link onboarding to desired skills
Long-term employee success is usually determined by three factors: engagement in one's role, strong relationships with one's colleagues and clients, and performance of key functions. While new-hire training may focus on the tasks that employees must understand to be successful in their roles, such as how to use particular computer software, too often it is not hands on or skill specific.
Regardless of role, most companies agree that in addition to certain technical knowledge, long-term success is predicated on keen communication skills—mutually beneficial relationship building, the ability to present ideas clearly and concisely, managing conflict, and so forth.
For onboarding training to be successful, it's important for department managers to work together with L&D to create a role audit—identify exactly what an employee in a given role needs to do to be successful, and then work backward from the end of the onboarding period to day one to ensure that those skills, particularly in the area of interpersonal communication, are continuously developed.
Mistake 5: Failing to deliver feedback early and often
Considering onboarding as a 90-day process is not arbitrary. Neuroscientists have concluded that it takes approximately 90 days to create a habit—whether that is exercising 30 minutes each day, transitioning to a plant-based diet, or achieving and sustaining professional peak performance. Since onboarding is about establishing behaviors that will create the foundation for long-term workplace success, it's important that new hires receive feedback as they are developing their habits to ensure that they are forming the right ones.
Your organization or department may have a more formal performance evaluation at the end of the onboarding period. However, managers must understand that it's in their best interest to laud the employee behaviors they want to reinforce, and ask employees to tweak behaviors that do not support success beginning from day one.
Not sure where to start?
One of the greatest impediments to creating an effective onboarding program is getting overwhelmed by all the possibilities for what to address. Do we scrap our new-hire orientation and begin again? Should we put every manager through a new employee development program? The long-term answers may be "yes," but consider what you can begin to do today.
You can instantly begin identifying how to give the new hires with whom you interact opportunities to confirm that they made the right decision to work at your company. Then as time, resources, and organizational buy-in build, begin the more long-term work, remembering that a successful onboarding program will help you to reduce turnover, curb unnecessary mistakes, save money, increase employee engagement and morale, and free your leaders for important long-term, strategic planning.