It is widely known that a successful onboarding experience is critical for new hire engagement, retention and performance. According to research done by Glassdoor, successful onboarding can help increase retention by 82% and productivity by 70%.

Getting onboarding right is a complex and time-consuming endeavor, but it beats the alternative. According to the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), up to 50% of new hires leave their jobs within their first 18 months of employment and it costs 6-9 months of an employee’s salary to identify and onboard a replacement.  For more Senior levels, the estimate is 200%+ of their annual salary.

In my 20 years of experience, I’ve seen a number of key challenges that typically afflict the onboarding process:

  • Onboarding ownership

Many managers do not recognize how central they are to their new hire’s onboarding experience. They think this is something Human Resources (HR) should be handling and that they are supporting HR rather than the other way around.

Successful onboarding helps set a strong foundation to enable long-term performance and engagement. Yes, it includes providing new hires with an overview of the company and organizational structure, but it is much more than that. It is a learning journey that is meant to take the new hire from from understanding “in theory” to understanding “in practice”, from being an outsider to being an insider, from learning to performing. In effect, onboarding can be viewed as the first step of the broader, ongoing performance management process since it involves:

  • establishing the dynamics of the relationship with the manager;
  • setting the tone for collaboration and working with others;
  • outlining of the rules of the game;
  • helping the new hire understand performance standards and expectations, responsibilities and accountabilities, and written and unwritten norms of the organization;
  • and at a more detailed level, teaching the new hire how to do his or her job.

Clearly there are a number of functions involved in delivering a successful onboarding experience (e.g., HR, IT, etc.), but the driving force in this effort has to be the hiring manager because s/he is the one that owns the hiring, development, management and, ultimately, the performance outcomes of their teams.  If HR, IT and others do their part well, but the manager doesn’t, onboarding fails; if HR and IT fail to deliver their parts, but the manager does a stellar job, onboarding succeeds.

  • Knowing how to onboard new hires

While it is essential that HR craft a structured onboarding program and provide managers with checklists that specify the items managers need to do to effectively onboard employees, this is not enough. Many managers don’t necessarily know how to execute on those steps and may not  know what “good” looks like.

For example, an onboarding manager checklist may indicate the need to “establish relationship expectations with the new hire” and to “clarify job responsibilities and performance standards” (two things that are clearly owned and established by the manager). Two managers reading those items in the checklist may have completely different understandings of what these mean and what doing it right looks like (or may have no idea on how to do that).

There is a difference between telling managers to establish relationship expectations versus reminding them why this is important, outlining all that the step actually involves (e.g., discussing work preferences, leadership style, personal style and needs, understand what is important for each other, etc.), and providing guidance on how to go about it. The same applies to clarifying job responsibilities and performance standards and many other items usually included in an onboarding manager checklist.

If your company is anything like the ones I’ve been exposed to throughout my career, it is likely that individual contributors get promoted to manager roles with little to no formal training in how to be a good manager, let alone in how to drive an effective onboarding process. In this vacuum, they are left to mimic what they see around them or just do what they think is right. This applies to experienced managers, as well, as they also likely never received training on how to properly onboard their new hires. They need more detailed and practical knowledge to get this right. They are not onboarding experts and given the complexity of the task at-hand they need more guidance.

When successful, the onboarding process helps establish relationships and create the strong foundation on which ongoing performance management is built. And, it does so in a very compressed period of time. It is, therefore, too important to be done haphazardly and without the proper training and support.

  • Metrics and Accountability

We too often only pay attention to onboarding effectiveness when it is too late–after we discover a significant turnover or disengagement problem or learn of a social media storm brought on by a series of negative Glassdoor reviews by angry (former) employees. Part of the problem is that onboarding effectiveness rarely gets measured and, therefore, we don’t typically hold managers accountable. We know that what gets measured gets done.

There are many ways of measuring onboarding effectiveness, from measuring activity (did something take place or not) and outcomes (performance, engagement, turnover), to doing surveys and pulse checks, and regular check-ins. However, to do this right, there are two key issues that need to be addressed:

  • Measuring onboarding effectiveness at the manager level not just organization-wide. Having company-wide metrics is helpful to drive broad program efforts, but not as helpful to drive manager accountability. Engagement and productivity need to be monitored for each new hire under a given manager to both hold the manager accountable on their onboarding effectiveness and to proactively address any early red flags about the new hire’s engagement or job fit. You can consider adding a people management performance goal that includes key performance indicators (KPIs) related to onboarding activities and outcomes (in addition to other key people management areas).
  • Getting a more accurate read on the reasons for turnover. Some of the predominant reasons departing employees provide for their decision to leave an organization is that they found a “better job opportunity” or because of “personal reasons”. These masquerade the real reasons behind their departures which make it harder to track accurately. Leveraging exit surveys and interviews that allow tracking of termination reasons is critical to get a better understanding of this information.

The bottom line is that these three key onboarding challenges are interdependent:

  • Onboarding ownership,
  • Knowing how to onboard new hires
  • Metrics and accountability

You can’t hold managers accountable if they are not clear about the critical role they play in onboarding, if you don’t provide them with the necessary training and support, and if you don’t measure their effectiveness. You can’t expect managers to do their job well if they don’t know something is their job, they don’t know how to do it and they don’t know what good looks like.

Getting onboarding right is a complex and a time-consuming endeavor, but it beats the alternative.

Additional Resources

The Predictive Index® (PI®)—get the right people into the right roles. https://www.predictiveindex.com/blog/design-employee-onboarding-process/

How to build an onboarding plan for a new hire.  https://www.inc.com/guides/2010/04/building-an-onboarding-plan.html

Don’t underestimate the importance of good onboarding https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/dont-underestimate-the-importance-of-effective-onboarding.aspx

About MCG Partners

MCG Partners is a leadership and talent optimization firm– aligning your business and people strategy for maximum results. MCG Partners a woman-owned consultancy and is also a Predictive Index® (PI®) certified partner. To learn more please contact John Griffith at john.griffith@mcgpartners.com and at mcgpartners.com

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