Onboarding – Part II

In part one, we presented a slightly dramatized horror story of how companies sometimes initiate the newcomer, and we emphasized that defining the process as an "important, but not urgent" item is the bedrock of an effective onboarding experience. Assuming your organization commits to this, what now?

Put it in writing

Develop a customized, written timeline and activities for onboarding. Beware, though, of a "set in stone" approach. Scheduling with C-suite executives will prove challenging, emergencies will threaten to shut down the process, and the job specs may even change after the first couple of months! Adjust and stick with the goal of completing it despite the obstacles.

Make mentoring new people an assessed job component for managers

A trusted HR representative has a leadership role in contacting the key parties to ensure that onboarding stays on-track and the employee isn't floundering. To ensure success, however, be sure your performance evaluation systems holds the supervising manager primarily accountable.

Make the first day special

Bring on the welcome wagon! Remember that negotiating the hallways, learning names and deciding if lunch is in or out may be the big events of the day, so don't pour too much on. A few one-on-one meetings with key players who introduce their perspective on the organization's goals is a good beginning.

Save orientation for another day

A quality orientation can provide an early bird's eye view of the organization, and in a large organization, a glimpse into departments and functions the employee might never have again. Make the most of it.

...But not on the first day. New employees are anxious to know about benefits, but give them a night or two to absorb the materials and discuss them with family before being faced with decisions. Orientation is best left to day two or three, when sensory overload no longer impedes learning.


This is where most companies drop the ball. The time dedicated to the new employee has already taken a toll on work schedules, so people tend to prematurely strip the new person of her "new" status and expect contribution. However, a well-conceived onboarding philosophy includes a plan for the first 1-6 months. Depending on the position level, this may include:

  • One-on-one meetings with the key line, staff members and leadership
  • Attendance at other departments' meetings to gain a feel for their priorities
  • Field visits to company, customer or vendor sites (depending on the nature of the job)
  • Continual shadowing opportunities with peers and the department manager

Start strong with smart training

Too many employees find themselves plunked down in front of their predecessors' full in-basket, forced to "pester" others to find their way through the maze. Brain research shows that the neurological "groove" that is cut when one first learns a new habit is critical because it takes significant effort to break out of later. Enlist the best to train the new person, and hold that person accountable for an organized process.

The Society for Human Resource Management found that half of all new senior level hires fail within 18 months of starting the new position. Other studies show similar results across levels. The cost of these failures includes tangibles like search fees, sign-on bonuses and compensation, and intangibles like other employees' time in search and training. Plus, there is the unmeasurable loss in productivity and morale over what amounts to an extended, bumpy transition.

Invest the time and energy into creating a top-notch onboarding program. It will pay far-reaching dividends!

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