We spend tons of time talking about how to interview new hires or manage existing team members. But we hardly ever talk about exceptional onboarding. And we SHOULD.
The business case is clear. Employees change jobs more often and average tenure is decreasing in most organizations.
That means you have more people to onboard and less time to do it.
Consider the math. If someone has taken 6 months of a 5-year engagement to be fully effective – you were both investing 10% of their time. Not so bad.
That same 6 months could now be 25% or more of someone’s employment. Or 100% if they start in a 6 month engagement and leave just as they’re fully capable.
Great onboarding will both decrease that ramp up time and increase that tenure.
That’s a worthwhile investment.
This is true no matter how much you insist on hiring someone who can “hit the ground running”. Experience helps for sure. But experience doesn’t guarantee that someone will be able to navigate your environment or that they’ll love it enough to stay. At least (some studies are higher) 40% of new executives hired into a company fail within 18 months. Not because of skill or intelligence.
Because of integration.
So, how do you create real onboarding beyond forms and a welcome lunch?
Effective onboarding delivers on three core outcomes as quickly as possible:
- This new person knows and acts your values.
- This new person feels interpersonally connected.
- This new person has the information they need to do their job well.
The cleanest way to plan and prioritize these outcomes are to look at each at moments of key transition.
Enthusiasm wanes as people start seeing the chips in the paint. The feeling of being new wears off and areas for improvement begin to stand out no matter how great the company. Knowledge and connections increase over time adding increasing value as an employee.
The success of onboarding depends on consistency and crystal clear intention.
You must say anything important more than once and in more than one way. Maybe even put it in bold font. DO NOT DO ALL CAPS. THAT’S TOO MUCH.
Here’s an example.
Meaningless… One slide on the first day that says “We collaborate here”. This will be forgotten by week four and replaced completely by everything this person has seen and observed in their team.
1. Stating that value and asking questions about that skill during your interview process.
2. Restating it during the first day overview of company and values.
3. Providing tips and tools like how and when people typically collaborate for instance Slack vs. meetings.
4. Lower the friction for collaboration by facilitation connections. You could book coffee conversations or be as simple as personal introductions.
5. At six months in, this person should get a request for feedback on this from their manager. Who have they collaborated with? How? What would have made it easier? That step both provides you with feedback and reinforces the value.
6. When you promote people, collaboration should be part of the selection process.
7. If you have a performance management process, this is a spot for reinforcement.
8. Exit interviews should ask about this. Is it real here? What’s in the way?
Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.
Your time spent facilitating is precious as more frequent hires mean more repeat programming. Ideally, your HRIS or another tool could be schedule these activities and automate the workflow. If not, you could use checklists in Trello and copy the board as a template including alarm reminders.
Avoid overwhelming anyone with minutia. Instead make sure what new hires read, hear, and see all focus around the most important information. Deciding on the most important what and from who will depend on your specific organization but it should span HR, management and executive leadership to the greatest extent possible. Each of these parties should deliver the same messages in their own way.
An easy first step is to centralize common frequently asked questions on a basic intranet (you can build one on Google sites) and make sure people know where to find it. Your new hires are the best people to tell you what they wish they had known and when. You can also compile this list in real time as you hear similar questions over and over.
Like anything in people operations, this must somehow live and breathe. It must evolve as your organization evolves. As leaders we have so much bias for the systems we created and the systems we thrived in. We love the company that promoted us and the chances we got to make decisions and implement change. Being conscious of that bias and soliciting feedback from a wide audience will help us keep the focus on the outcomes rather than the traditions.
Success can be measured in your employee referral numbers, retention and any quality of hire metrics. Depending on your performance management process there could be indicators there as well. Those are relevant data points and you can use them to watch trends and quantify the return on your investment.
Where you can really feel it though is in the spirit of your culture and the health of your teams.
New employees will build trust faster. They will form more meaningful connections. They will be effective earlier. Employees will stay longer.
That's the power of onboarding.