The Value of Onboarding

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You’ve just completed a long recruiting and interviewing process, and you’ve successfully hired a great new employee to join your team. The hard part is done, right? Wrong. You need to ensure that you retain your new employee and cultivate her or his talent. [Check out my blog post, How to Ace the Interview Process: The Hiring Manager’s Perspective, if you’re still in the recruiting phase].

Onboarding is important because, according to the Society of Human Resources: “new employees who participated in a structured orientation program were 69 percent more likely to remain at a company up to three years. Additionally, onboarding programs have been shown to increase retention by 25 percent and even improve employee performance by up to 11 percent.” (source)

You might be thinking, do I really have to worry about onboarding? I never had official onboarding, and I’m still working here. Why should I waste my time?

Wait, I didn’t have to hire this person—I could have hired someone else. Shouldn’t my new employee be grateful to me for this opportunity? (I actually had a supervisor once say to me: “Well, we didn’t have to hire you”—this was after I provided constructive feedback on the interview process that this person explicitly asked me to provide.)

Also, shouldn’t my new employee want to perform because I’ve offered them a job that pays a salary and benefits? That’s what the money is for! (á la Don Draper).

So you've thought those thoughts. Okay. Don't act on them. Don’t be that guy. Don’t implement Don Draper’s team management skills. You’ll lose your great new employee.

According to Leadership IQ, a research and leadership training firm, 46 percent of new employees leave within the first 18 months at a new job, and 22 percent of staff turnover occurs within the first 45 days of employment. These numbers look scary, but the reality is some of this turnover is avoidable. Research suggests that a solid onboarding plan can increase employee retention.

In this blog post, I’m going to share five onboarding scenarios based on my personal experiences (with some creative liberties; I refer to all characters as “she,” and the order in no way maps to my job history). In my next blog post, I share 6 ideas to help you do onboarding right.

Onboarding Scenarios

Company A

At Company A, I was hired and then immediately asked to come into the office the Friday before my Monday start date so I could pick up my laptop and get some information on a new client from my new boss. That’s because on my Monday start date, the company wanted me out at the client site to kick off a new project. Nothing like getting off to an immediate start! I remember walking into the client site and meeting one of my colleagues for the first time, while I met my client for the first time.  

I took care of the HR paperwork when I was actually in the office on day two, though formal training after that was limited to a few sporadic sessions. The company did at least host a lovely welcome breakfast for me.  

Company B

Before I started at Company B, my new boss called me and left a very nice voicemail about how excited she was that I would be joining the team. The day before my start date, she provided clear instructions on when and where to arrive. She confirmed that either she or my counterpart would be waiting for me when I arrived. Sure enough, my counterpart greeted me on my first day, as scheduled.

After I got my computer, badge/parking information, and a goodie bag of company-branded swag, I had a long but casual chat with my counterpart about the company and our department (all with typed notes that I could reference in the future). She also laid out a plan (there was a plan!) for my onboarding, which included several sessions with colleagues from different departments with whom I’d be working. She took me out to lunch that day, and we talked a bit about work but got to know each other on a personal level. That afternoon, we had a long session with our supervisor where we discussed our clients and crafted a plan of how we’d move forward working together as a team.

The next day, my supervisor took me around the office and introduced me to everyone, especially those I’d be working with most often. Two days later, my supervisor told me about “Fitness Friday” at the office, where we spent 30-60 minutes doing an activity with our team and other folks in the company. We then had my welcome lunch with the group paid for by the company. 

My counterpart, supervisor, and I continued to have weekly regroup sessions as well as a larger team meeting (which always started with a fun icebreaker). My counterpart and team members were always available if I had a question, and my supervisor came with me to my first client meeting. Beforehand, she made it clear the expectation was that I would lead the meeting but that she would be present for support. After the presentation, she told me what a great job I had done.

Company C

When I started at Company C, I wasn’t sure when to arrive, so I asked a new coworker who I happened to know for advice about normal employee arrival times. When I arrived at the time she told me, nobody was in the office yet. I awkwardly walked through the office until I found someone and introduced myself as the new employee.

Eventually, the head of HR arrived and warmly welcomed me and gave me a tour of the office. She gave a brief company background and walked me through all the HR paperwork. She also made sure I was setup at my desk (where a nice welcome sign was waiting for me) with my computer and my phone.

I joined a team meeting, where I introduced myself to everyone, and the team members talked through the various active clients and projects. There happened to be pizza at the office that day, so it became my lunch.

My direct supervisor and I met informally in the afternoon, and I was told that nobody really knew what my role was. On day two, I had to weigh in about the performance of a team member, and then I proceeded to take over that person’s work.

Company D

Prior to joining Company D, I received several emails from the head of my new department and the head of HR, including notes about how everyone was excited that I’d be joining the team. The day before I started, the head of HR sent me a detailed email about what time to arrive, where to go, and what I needed to bring.  

When I arrived at Company D, I was warmly greeted by name by the office manager who gave me a tour of the office. She brought me to the head of HR who gave me an overview of the company, walked me through all of the HR paperwork, and gave me some cool company-branded swag. She took me to my desk area, where my computer, phone, and email were ready to go.

I then met with my direct supervisor, who explained the clients and the projects she was currently working on and would need my help with. She also went over the main software programs the company used and walked me around and introduced me to everyone in the company.

On that first day, I went to lunch with another person who started on the same day as me in a similar role because there were no other stated lunch plans. This person was let go three weeks later. 

From the first day, my supervisor gave me templates to use, laid out expectations on the tasks I needed to be doing, immediately invited me to meetings, and provided feedback often. She also setup meetings for later in the week with a few people in the company that I’d be working with often.

In my second week, she took me out to a company-paid lunch, where we only talked about work for a few minutes—the rest of the time, we got to know each other on a personal level. About three weeks in, the owner of the company stopped by my desk to let me know she had heard great things about me and was happy to have me on the team.   

Company E

On my first day at Company E, I arrived at the time I was told to arrive by HR in a prior email I had received with start details, including where to park. I was greeted by a friendly face at the front desk and led back to my department, but nobody was there. Someone from another department had to wait with me until my new teammates started to filter in. My new supervisor didn’t arrive for 30 minutes.

Once my supervisor did arrive, we chatted for a bit and she gave an overview of the department. I filled out new employee paperwork and started getting my computer setup. A few of the team members invited me to join them at lunch. Members of my team showed me the ropes over the first day (and into the first week), including the various software systems used and how to complete tasks. From my perspective, there was no clear schedule of training. Different people grabbed me to show me things as they were available. 

At the end of day one, my supervisor checked in with me to see how the first day was. She failed to tell me that I was responsible for starting to do tasks for my various clients starting immediately—she just assumed I knew that I needed to do all of this.

About a week later, I had started to get the hang of my tasks, and my supervisor gave me a company-branded travel coffee mug. Within three weeks, my entire team left for a work trip and I had to hold down the fort back in the office while everyone was away.

Reflection

No onboarding experience is perfect, but some are certainly better than others. From reading these scenarios, can you guess which companies I stayed at the longest? Which companies would you stay at for more than a year or two? Are there any similarities between these scenarios and your own personal onboarding experiences? Certainly, an onboarding experience won't completely make or break a new employee’s experience. However, I’ve found that the onboarding process is generally indicative of the company or the team culture and operations. So it’s important to get it right—read my next blog post to find out my 6 ideas to help you get it right.  

Do you have any great (or terrible) onboarding experiences you’d like to share? Please contact me.

Additional Reading for Onboarding

Jamie Ousterout