Top Practices for Successful Onboarding

Effective onboarding can be the difference between success or failure for a new executive. A strong process produces better employee engagement, productivity and more. A new report from Hudson Global offers some tips for improving your approach.
Top Practices Successful Onboarding

April 23, 2018 – Starting a new job is exciting, but it can also be stressful and challenging. Without a formal onboarding process, the toughest parts of the first days, weeks and months at work are amplified – which isn’t good for the employee, or for your business, according to a new report by talent solutions company Hudson Global Inc. Turnover is expensive for companies, and often new employees make the choice to leave early on.

Executives believe 90 percent of new hires decide within the first six months whether they’ll commit to a company for the long term, according to an Aberdeen Group study.

The benefits of a strong, formal onboarding process go beyond retention. “Effective onboarding gets the worker up to speed faster and minimizes the time managers and other workers are taken away from their projects to help the new hire,” said Hudson Global. According to recruiters and HR leaders, employers believe effective onboarding results in greater employee engagement, confidence, productivity and morale, among other benefits.

Hudson Global offered the dos, and a few don’ts, for establishing an onboarding process that welcomes new workers and sets them up for success:

Formalize the Process

Don’t leave it to chance that a manager will properly onboard a newcomer to the office. Employees were 58 percent more likely to be with a company after three years when they went through formal onboarding, a survey by the Wynhurst Group found. “Without a thought-out plan in place, it’s too easy for new hires to be forgotten at a bustling start-up, or when their first day happens during a busy week, or in the midst of a production crisis,” said Hudson Global. “An established onboarding process that is repeated with each hire ensures new employees have the information they need and a proper introduction to the workplace, no matter what is happening on any given day. Many companies establish onboarding checklists to keep the process moving and make sure nothing slips through the cracks.” 

If possible, take care of the bulk of paperwork before a new employee comes in for the first day, the report suggested. Send along all forms and information about health coverage and other benefits for the employee to read and complete in advance. “This helps to avoid the communication breakdown that often happens between job acceptance and the first day of work, and prevents the new employee from sitting in the HR office for an hour or two rather than getting to know the new manager and co-workers.”

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Foster Relationships

Being a new employee is a bit like approaching a circle of people who know each other well at a cocktail party and trying to join the conversation in progress. You can ease this difficult phase by setting aside an hour to welcome the new hire with a breakfast or lunch in the conference room, said Hudson Global. “Time for introductions and chit-chat can help people get past their first-day jitters. Additionally, assign new workers experienced mentors whom they can consult with questions about day-to-day operations and to discuss any challenges they are facing.”

Mentors and managers should schedule frequent drop-bys with all new hires. Ask how they are adjusting and whether they have questions, said the report. Schedule department meetings early on. “Speaking, brainstorming and sharing ideas are often stressful the first few times for new hires, so it is best to jump in right away,” said Hudson Global. “Encourage co-workers to take a minute to say hello as well. Supporting them from the start helps newcomers establish confidence and sense that people genuinely care how they are adjusting to their new role.”

Don’t Leave It to HR

While someone from human resources can help ease a new employee through their first week, the baton should be passed quickly to a manager and others within the department who will be working side by side with the new employee on a daily basis, said Hudson Global.

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Don’t Confuse Onboarding with Training

 Too often, managers believe training covers onboarding. “They think that getting the employee up to speed on the programs they need to do their job is all that matters,” Hudson Global said. “While training is critical, onboarding is broader. It encompasses sharing how your employer brand aligns with reality and highlighting how a new employee’s career can grow.” Successful onboarding is like a road map that helps new hires envision their future with the company and look forward to the journey, it said.

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“At the end of six months or a year, hopefully your new employee feels up to speed and an integral part of the team,” said that report. “But the need for training and a sense of connection with coworkers and the company’s mission never goes away. This is where your employee engagement strategies and career development plans take over to ensure your workers feel supported throughout their tenure.”

Effective Onboarding

Despite the importance of effective onboarding, many organizations fall short in that area. A recent CareerBuilder study found that over a third of employers (36 percent) lack a structured onboarding process and a significant number are reporting costly consequences. Forty-one percent of these employers said the lack of a structured onboarding process had a negative impact on their company, including lower productivity (16 percent), greater inefficiencies (14 percent), higher employee turnover (12 percent), lower employee morale (11 percent), lower level of employee engagement (10 percent), lower confidence among employees (10 percent), lack of trust within the organization (seven percent) and missed revenue targets (six percent).

“While onboarding is a critical component of setting new employees up for success from Day One, this study shows some companies are neglecting fundamentals in the onboarding process – and running into serious consequences that can impact the bottom line,” said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder. “Employers need to establish a comprehensive checklist for every new employee and incorporate more automation to provide a better, more efficient experience for employees, their managers and HR.”

“Too many businesses believe they are successfully bringing newly hired executives into the fold, when in reality they are simply covering administrative basics,” said Egon Zehnder partner Mark Byford. “That level of onboarding is outdated and largely ignores the most challenging obstacles for new leaders – unfamiliar cultural norms and expectations.”

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The consequences of improper onboarding include financial repercussions and talent retention issues. “Organizations must focus on getting integration right upfront to ensure new leaders succeed in today’s high-stakes environment,” said Mr. Byford.

Five Tasks

Egon Zehnder recently released a report that identified five major tasks that leaders must undertake in their first few critical months. These are the areas, said the search firm, in which they need the greatest integration support:

1) Assuming Operational Leadership

Even with the best possible exchange of information during the recruiting process, any leader in a new role (especially an outsider) will have an incomplete picture of the business — its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. A new leader builds his or her credibility by demonstrating awareness of important operational issues, swiftly solving urgent problems and identifying and achieving quick wins. Good early decisions on the ground have a material impact on his or her reputation as an effective leader.

2) Taking Charge of the Team

New leaders naturally focus on their direct reports at the outset. They know they must quickly confirm or adjust the team’s composition and goals. It is often easier to decide toward the beginning whether or not to retain people, because the team’s makeup is not then seen as the new leader’s choice.

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But this window soon closes, and focus and discipline are required to efficiently gather information for smart decisions. It’s valuable to allow a new leader to take a fresh look at the talent without coloring his or her view in advance. And it’s equally valuable to share insights about individual team members’ performance and development. Striking the right balance requires careful planning and coordination with HR and, typically, one or more facilitated sessions between the executive and the team during the first few weeks.

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The goal is to create a safe environment for both to give timely, constructive feedback and to ask potentially awkward questions when relationships are just beginning to form. In this way any misperceptions about the leader’s words, actions or initial decisions can be identified and clarified before mistrust or doubt about his or her values or capabilities takes hold. Building trust early enables the new leader to make key decisions with confidence that people will follow through.

3) Aligning With Stakeholders

New leaders must also gain the support of those they have no direct authority over, including their bosses, peers and other colleagues. Because they arrive with little or no relationship capital, they have to invest energy in building connections, and clearly signal that they know it’s a priority.

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After identifying the most important stakeholders outside their teams, they must take time to understand their colleagues’ expectations and develop a plan for how and when to connect with people. That means learning how decision making works in the organization, who has influence over it and where the centers of power reside.

4) Engaging With the Culture

It’s also critical to get up to speed on the values, norms and guiding assumptions that define acceptable behavior in a new organization. Missing cues early on can negatively affect how others perceive a new leader’s intentions and capabilities. The executive must also walk a fine line between working within the culture and seeking to change it.

5) Defining Strategic Intent

Finally, the new leader must start to shape strategy. Sometimes executives are hired for their expertise in a particular approach; other times they are chosen for their ability to develop and implement an entirely new strategy. If a new strategy is required, corresponding elements of the organization — its structure and its talent management and performance measurement processes — must be transformed to execute it. Either way, the new leader must be clear about the path ahead.

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Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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