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Onboarding—A Vital Piece of the People Puzzle

Let me give you a few facts about onboarding:

  • Unproductive employees who do not understand their jobs cost companies in the US and UK about $37 billion a year.
  • Standard onboarding processes increase new hire productivity by 54 percent and retention by 50 percent.
  • 35 percent of companies spend $0 on onboarding.

These statistics from UrbanBound state loud and clear that getting candidates to the alter, the recruiting process, is just the beginning of solving the people puzzle. Every organization should spend at least as much time and effort on things like building a positive culture and developing a welcoming and effective onboarding program.

It’s all of these pieces working together that help sustain your investment in the candidates you’ve so carefully chosen. Or as Barb Van Hare, President and Founder of Kinetic Clarity, so aptly states: “It boils down to strong recruiting deserves strong onboarding. It’s just good business.”

If standard onboarding processes bring the kinds of benefits we’ve listed above, imagine what an onboarding program based on best practices can do for your bottom line. I’d like to offer a few suggestions about what that might look like.

Best practices in onboarding

Onboarding starts immediately after your offer has been accepted by the candidate—before day one on the job. You’ve made a good first impression; don’t waste it with silence between the offer and start dates followed by, “here’s your desk and your computer, get to work.” A lack of communication means that you’ve missed an opportunity to develop strong bonds with your employees that last throughout their tenure with you. If you remember to “always communicate,” you’ll avoid a lot of pitfalls and be on your way to attracting and retaining the best talent.

Because details can be lost or forgotten, write out a comprehensive onboarding process that includes everything from the time the offer is accepted to the end of the training period and follow up. Make sure that the plan includes an owner for the entire process and a list of who is responsible for doing what along the way for each new employee. And be certain to include both job and cultural aspects of working at your company. Create a similar, appropriate onboarding plan for remote workers.

Here are some of my guiding principles for onboarding:

Before the start date:

  • Put yourself in your new employee’s shoes. What most of us want is to be welcomed, to know what the onboarding process is, and understand what to expect next. Your welcome packet should be sent immediately to the new hire’s home and all information in it should be clear and relevant. Provide the name and contact information for questions or concerns.
  • Separate from the welcome packet, send a handwritten note from the CEO or the new boss and another note to the spouse, if married.
  • If possible, provide an online training portal to introduce employees to your culture and some of the day-to-day policies they should know on the first day, like your dress code and what kinds of personal décor are allowed or welcomed in their cube or office.
  • Inform the front desk staff and relevant team members in advance of when the new person is starting and what his or her role will be so there are no surprises.

First day on the job:

  • Don’t begin the day by sitting the new employee at a desk to fill out endless paperwork and learn about company history and policy on a screen. Balance whatever is necessary to HR with extensive human interaction.
  • Make sure that the new employee’s desk, phone and computer are set up and ready to use—and that there is someone to show them how to use the technology on the spot.
  • Lay out the schedule for the first day and explain what training will be available to them and when.
  • Be flexible, allowing new employees to choose things for themselves—type of computer, choice of desk or office, daily schedule, whatever it might be—showing that you care about their individual comfort and satisfaction.
  • Ensure that the direct supervisor meets with the new hire early in the day to review the job responsibilities, set expectations, and define initial success.
  • Assign someone to be a buddy or mentor for at least the first week on the job, and make sure that person is willing to serve in the role and be accessible.
  • Don’t overwhelm new employees with information and introductions the first day on the job. Start by providing only what they need to know and introducing them only to the few people they need to interact with in the first few days. Then expand on that as they begin to get acclimated.
  • Ensure that the CEO or other senior executives make themselves available. Ideally, leaders would stop by to say hello to the new employee on the first day. If that’s not possible, invite new employees to attend a small-group welcoming meeting to get introduced to the CEO and/or executives along with other newcomers.

Ongoing support:

  • Follow up regularly with new employees for at least a few months, whether onsite or remote. Don’t depend entirely on technology, especially for remote employees. Check in regularly with them by phone or Skype.
  • Make sure training is complete and includes an appropriate mix of technology and human interaction. Check regularly for understanding.
  • At frequent intervals, provide feedback on employees’ progress and ask for feedback on your onboarding processes.

Yes, it takes extra effort and resources to develop a well-documented, standardized onboarding process. As with anything worthwhile, you get out what you put in. In this case, the benefits are clearly evident in the statistics. Start now to make effective onboarding an important factor in solving your people puzzle.

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