Six Tips for Effective Employee Onboarding

Let me begin with some stats:

  • 22% of companies have no formal employee onboarding program
  • The cost of employee turnover can reach up to 300% of the replaced employee’s salary
  • 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experience great onboarding
  • Onboarding programs have been shown to increase employee performance by up to 11%
  • Manager satisfaction (i.e. your satisfaction) increases by 20% when their employees have onboarding training.

As someone very familiar with the pressures of working in a small business/ startup, I understand that it may feel like you simply don’t have the time to spend on an elaborate onboarding strategy when hiring new people.

Nevertheless, as supported by the above stats, I have found that investing in employee onboarding is actually a very difficult proposition to argue against. Why make efforts to sign your future leaders and star performers, then refuse to give them the support required to flourish as you planned? Remember:

  • Careless onboarding creates a careless culture
  • World class talent expect investment in their development, or will find it elsewhere
  • Onboarding mistakes are extremely expensive for the business
  • Onboarding mistakes will drain your energy and your confidence as a manager.

Here are my six tips for you to make sure you get employee onboarding right as often as possible.

1. To the interview and beyond

Every interview could mark the beginning of a new career. It’s important, then, to give would-be-employees a great first impression of your company. All things going well, a gesture as simple as offering an interviewee a short office tour could let them know that you value your employees’ wellbeing and development.

Don’t forget that the time between your offer and their start date is likely to be their period of greatest nervousness, stress and doubt. Communicate with them as often as possible using phone calls and emails; keep sending them key information so they remain excited and engaged.

2. Plan ahead to get ahead

Making the effort in advance to plan, timetable and visualize their onboarding journey will offer you peace of mind and give them the comfort of structure. Ideally, send them this information before they begin - the earlier expectations are delivered, the better.

This also allows you to prearrange shadowing sessions, 1-to-1 catch ups and end-of-week reviews to help them settle in. Give them the platform to ask those ‘stupid’ questions and get to know people without worry.

3. Match their learning style

Whilst planning (see above), ideally you will provide some structure to their learning. HOWEVER, despite what school teaches us, not everyone learns the same way (check out The Manual of Learning Styles by Honey & Mumford). Provide different forms of learning and be flexible; tailor the onboarding process to their style. Consider:

  • Training - sessions ideally by subject matter experts in your team
  • Research - let them take the time to learn on topics you determine
  • Reports - giving them the opportunity to show off what they have researched will cement their learning, give you a platform to ask questions and provide fresh eyes on old concepts
  • Tests or modules - done in an open and helpful manner - can be a great measure of progress and provide reinforcement of learning.

4. Employee Onboarding 101: Achieving balance

Providing the right level of challenge is essential to effective employee onboarding. You have hired someone who is a talent and raises the standard in your team, so you will want them to stretch - but not snap.

To start with, realize that they will need more direction and exposure. Remove roadblocks by acquainting them with the vernacular (i.e. the dreaded jargon, A.C.R.O.N.Y.M.S and in-jokes) and introduce them to a wide range of teams. When they are ready, you can then loosen the cord by giving them ownership to unleash their expertise.

5. Set goals, give feedback, create a paper trail

You have a short period of time. Make the most of it. Set objectives as early as possible so expectations for you and them are understood. Provide clear, direct and instantaneous feedback to highlight issues and opportunities as soon as possible. This gives your new starter the best chance to improve - how else are they going to know how they are performing?

Make sure you record as much as possible. Not only does it provide evidence and support for those tricky conversations, but it will help you realize how to improve the process with your next new starters as the company grows!

6. Get off that fence

As their manager, it is your responsibility to ensure you have gathered enough information to determine whether they will be retained or not at the end of their probation period. Mitigating circumstances apart, it will be the failure of the manager that causes a costly probation extension. Extensions degrade the confidence of the new starter and put a pause on their development (and indeed other valuable things you could be working on).

Be transparent and honest with feedback and get yourself into a position to make a confident decision. You’ll feel so much better for it too!

So there they are; my six pieces of employee onboarding advice for you and your business to implement with new hires. I am certain you will see great impact on you and your new starters’ effectiveness and happiness all round. And if you don’t believe me...

“I truly believe that onboarding is an art. Each new employee brings with them a potential to achieve and succeed. To lose the energy of a new hire through poor onboarding is an opportunity lost.”

Sarah Wetzel Director of Human Resources at engage:BDR

"I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day you bet on people, not on strategies."

Lawrence Bossidy Former Chairman and CEO, Honeywell International Inc.

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