Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success

After effective recruitment and selection, one of the most important ways that organizations can improve the effectiveness of their talent management systems is through the strategic use of onboarding.

Onboarding New Employees

Onboarding is the process of helping new hires adjust to social and performance aspects of their new jobs quickly and smoothly. This should always be a priority for HR departments, because in the United States, every year more than 25 percent of the working population experiences career transitions. In Fortune 500 companies alone, about 500,000 managers take on new roles each year, and overall, managers begin new jobs every two to four years. Unfortunately, in the midst of all these transitions:

  • Half of all senior outside hires fail within 18 months in a new position.
  • Half of all hourly workers leave new jobs within the first 120 days.

This blog post will explain why onboarding is so important, where it fits into the larger HR context, how HR managers can proactively manage onboarding.

A Range of Approaches

Research and conventional wisdom both suggest that employees get about 90 days to prove themselves in a new job. Every organization has its own version of the complex process through which new hires learn attitudes, knowledge, skills and behaviors required to function effectively. Academic researchers who study onboarding also use the term organizational socialization. No matter what the terminology, the bottom line is that the faster new hires feel welcome and prepared for their jobs, the faster they will be able to successfully contribute to the firm’s mission.

The Four C’s

Onboarding has four distinct levels, the Four C’s:

  • Compliance is the lowest level and includes teaching employees basic legal and policy-related rules and regulations.
  • Clarification refers to ensuring that employees understand their new jobs and all related expectations.
  • Culture is a broad category that includes providing employees with a sense of organizational norms— both formal and informal.
  • Connection refers to the vital interpersonal relationships and information networks that new employees must establish.

The building blocks of successful onboarding are often called the Four C’s.

The degree to which each organization leverages these four building blocks determines its overall onboarding strategy, with most firms falling into one of three levels.

Level 1: Passive Onboarding

Almost all organizations naturally cover compliance as part of formal onboarding. For firms that engage in Passive Onboarding, or Level 1, some role clarification may be given, but neither Culture nor Connection is addressed.

Some informal ways of guiding new employees in terms of Culture and Connection may have developed over time, but no one—including HR staff—is coordinating the task to maximize onboarding success. If your firm is engaged in Passive Onboarding, you are likely to view onboarding as a checklist of unrelated tasks to be completed.

Research shows that approximately 30 percent of organizations—large, medium and small—work at this level. Passive Onboarding can be functional, but it is certainly unsystematic.

Level 2: High Potential Onboarding

When compliance and clarification are well covered by a firm’s formal onboarding practices and some culture and connection mechanisms are in place, Level 2—High Potential Onboarding—has been reached.

In these organizations—about 50 percent of all firms—the complete process has not yet been established in a systematic way across the organization. Resource groups and a 30-60-90 day checklist. Kellogg’s transition web site is a focal point of onboarding revitalization. On the web site, employees can assess their own onboarding status by using the onboarding track record tool. This tool analyzes potential strengths and weaknesses of past onboarding activities, so it becomes easier to pinpoint areas for improvement of a formal onboarding plan.

To better understand your organization’s onboarding level, you may want to try an inventory like the Onboarding Track Record see next page. This will identify strengths and weaknesses, help you analyze your current situation, and establish where you would like to be in the future. Other helpful tools are available later in this blog.

Level 3: Proactive Onboarding

All four building blocks are formally addressed in Level 3, Proactive Onboarding. If your firm is systematically organizing onboarding with a strategic human resource management approach, you are at Level 3. Only about 20 percent of organizations achieve this level.

Onboarding track record:

STEP + Successes -Opportunity to Improve
1. Understand how onboarding can take the organization to the next level.
2. Clarify how the new employee will meet organization’s needs.
3. Align stakeholders’ expectations of new employee.
4. Create a powerful slate of potential candidates.
5. Evaluate candidates against the recruiting brief.
6. Make the offer and close the sale in a way that reinforces your leadership message.
7. Co-create a personal onboarding plan with each new employee.
8. Manage the announcement cascade to set the new employee up for success.
9. Do what is required for the new employee to be ready, eager and able to do real work on Day 1.
10. Manage first impressions both ways.
11. Create conditions for new employees to work well early on with those who were most helpful.
12. Give your new employees the resources and support they need to deliver better results faster.
13. Follow through to ensure ongoing adjustment and success.

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