Why Strategic Onboarding Just Makes Sense

As I sat across the table at the small diner with a good friend I was surprised to learn that he had just left the company he joined 9 months earlier. The obvious question was: “What went wrong?” It had sounded like such a great opportunity when he started. It was a senior position with a lot of opportunity to effect change within the organization – at least that’s how it was portrayed during the interview process. However, it soon became clear that the executive leadership of the organization was less interested in real change and more interested in maintaining the status quo with only surface deep projects.

The disappointment in my friend was obvious. He had joined the company full of enthusiasm, ready to devote all his talent and energy to making the role and the organization a success. However, after 9 months of resistance and lack of interest he was deflated and disillusioned.

The result:  an expensive waste of time and money for all concerned. And now the organization had to start the process all over again. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated example. We have seen it happen time and again in companies we talk with.

So was this simply a case of a poorly written job description or an overly optimistic interviewer? These two elements were faulty, for sure, but there was so much more.  One factor that could have helped the outcome of this story would have been the presence of a thoughtful onboarding process. It is tempting to write a checklist of what an onboarding process should look like, but in reality the details are different for each organization. However, there are certain considerations of what a program should do that you should keep in mind when designing your program.

Before we go into the considerations of an effective onboarding program, let’s look at what onboarding is not. Most importantly, it is not a glorified orientation session. Orientation is an event that provides the information a new hire needs to get started. Onboarding is a long-term process that fully integrates a new hire into the organization and provides the information and support needed for success. Typically this process takes place over 6-12 months.

Also, onboarding is not 6-12 months of training. It is an incremental process integrated with the regular work flow that makes up a new hire’s first year. It can be helpful to think of this in terms of “customer experience.” Many successful companies have a customer experience management position, the role of which  is to see the organization through the eyes of a customer – to consider all the touch points that a customer has with the organization. The same thinking can drive a strategic onboarding process.

If we look at all of the interactions that a new hire is likely to experience in the first yearand assess how they foster the enthusiasm and commitment of the new hire we are on our way to establishing a strong foundation for an effective onboarding process. So, what should onboarding do in order to build new hire enthusiasm, commitment, and actual performance success? An onboarding process should address the needs of the new hire and the strategic needs of the organization. Therefore, it should be  a process that helps the new hire:

  • Understand the culture and performance values of the organization
  • Create an effective interpersonal network
  • Ensure ongoing career support (including short-term success in their new role and long-term career development and growth)
  • Understand the strategic direction of the organization.

Thinking of my friend, there could have been a different outcome if he had been encouraged and helped to develop:

  • An understanding of the company culture( that is, who the players were, how decisions were made, and the underlying values of the organization)
  • A network of contacts within the organization to help navigate the politics affecting his ability to move forward
  • A reasonable expectation of short- and long-term career opportunities and a mentoring relationship
  • An understanding of the strategic direction of the company that would have helped him provide relevant context for his ideas

If you’ve been considering a review or revision of your onboarding process, be encouraged. Know that:

  • The beauty of the described elements is that most organizations have resources and capabilities already in place that can be used to implement a thoughtful onboarding approach.
  • The onboarding process doesn’t need to be perfect to have an impact. The good news is that the impact immediately affects the bottom line.

Effective onboarding can lead to increased new hire productivity and efficiency, improved new hire retention and tenure, and reduced time to proficiency.

To learn more about our approach to effective onboarding click here.

To assess your need for a strategic onboarding program and how you can increase your bottom line, download our additional onboarding resources.