You've made it through a search and extended an offer to a truly great candidate. Mission accomplished! You should be home free, right? Unfortunately, new hire turnover is becoming increasingly common; about 20% of hires leave within the first 45 days, and some studies have it around 30-40% of hires in the first 90 days. Think about that: You just invested deeply in a hiring process, including sourcing, screening, interviews, reference checking, discussions with a hiring manager, and more. All this time was used to find “the right fit” and, bam, they’re gone in less than three months. Now, some of this is the current North American economy, which is generally good right now. When the economy is good, employees have a bit more choice, and if they want to bounce quickly to another opportunity, they can; that’s harder to do in a recession or downturn. But a big chunk of the issue is onboarding. Onboarding programs are unfortunately not often done all that well in companies, with one study showing 22% of midsize to large companies don’t even have an official onboarding program.
Think of it this way, at some point a candidate took your offer, which means they decided this was a good opportunity for them and signed some paperwork. But within 90 days, 3 of 10 new employees might be gone? Clearly something is happening within that space of time that is driving up your turnover stats. If this sounds familiar, odds are good your employee onboarding process needs a refresher.
First steps to fixing your onboarding program
To beginning looking at your current process, start with these three basic assumptions about what makes companies strong:
- The only truly sustainable competitive advantage is your culture.
- Poor fit with the culture is the No. 1 cause of new hire failure, by far and away.
- Effective onboarding is the way you reduce the risk of bad hires and assimilate people into your culture.
From the above, No. 1 is the hardest for people to understand -- especially old-school managers, who often assume their greatest competitive advantage is:
- Their products
- Their services
- Their business plan
- Their margins
- Their KPIs/data
We can over-inflate the importance of financial metrics -- which change hourly sometimes -- and we under-inflate the importance of human beings who work hard for you. You need to shift that thinking if you want to be successful with new hires and bringing them in.
When someone starts a new job, they are often nervous, scared, etc. It's almost like switching schools as a kid. You need to understand how you fit into everything. You need to understand what the company does and what it prioritizes. You need to begin to understand the company at an organic level. Onboarding is the perfect opportunity to introduce your new employee to all the information they're looking for, while helping them feel more settled and part of the team. And when time and care is put into this first impression, it can make all the difference not only to how the employee views the company at the moment, but also to how they will continue to think about the company as their probation ticks by.
8 tips to make onboarding more effective
Ok so once you know why you need onboarding, what can you do to be more effective at it? Here are a few ideas to consider:
- Discuss actual job goals in the first 2-3 days. What would success look like in this job? What would failure look like? How will success be measured? Be as transparent as possible about what responsibilities and goals will look like and how they will be measured.
- Ask one simple question: "What do you look like when you're at your best?" Open with that. Let the new hire run down what makes him/her feel good, how they like to work, how they like to meet, how often they like feedback, what types of projects they enjoy, where and what they want to learn, etc. Make notes on these ideas. Bring them up. Utilize them. To be fair, this question should also be part of any interview but even if you've asked it, it's worth repeating as it's the key to setting up your new hire up for success.
- How does the company make money? Seems simple right? Except we often tend to talk around money, even if it's about our company. Companies essentially only exist to make money, give or take, or to raise money or awareness for something. This session doesn't need to be led by the CFO -- he/she might be busy -- or anything, but in the first 20 hours of employment, any new hire should have a good to very good understanding of how the company makes money and what the main contributors of revenue are.
- What are the cultural values? This can become Buzzword City, but still ... it needs to be run through. What do people value? What's the mission statement? As this is a fun topic, it's one you can bring up on a first day as well.
- Who does what in your department and other departments? Job role is often ambiguous the larger a company gets, but it's really valuable to understand who does what at a company. It makes your work life easier, and it makes it so that people step on each other's tasks less. Ambiguity or feeling like they've been misled about a role can be one of the major things that's sends a new hire running for the door.
- How does your job relate back to the bigger purpose of the department and company? In other words, how do your tasks matter to the overall goals of the place? New employees will feel out of place when they start by default. Showing them how their work fits into the fabric of the company can help give them a sense of place.
- What should you achieve in the first week or month? Companies should use a "Passport" system for employee onboarding. Basically, there's tasks you need to hit -- meet someone from another department, go to a senior leadership meeting, attend a happy hour, etc. This also “gamifies” the process so that competitive new employees won’t want to leave; rather, they need to accomplish their “passport stamps.”
- Most people think of onboarding as a 2-3 day experience; it needs to be a whole lot more. You don't transition into a new relationship based on just the first two days. It evolves. So does your relationship with jobs and companies. So shouldn't onboarding be dynamic, as opposed to being static? As the knowledge needs of a new employee develop, so too should their onboarding in order to scaffold them to a deeper understanding of the company and their role.
Remember these 4 things
So to summarize how to approach onboarding more effectively, step back and:
- Define who the employee is
- Define why the employee is valuable to the organization (why you allocated headcount for the role)
- Define how the employee and manager will interact (feedback, processes, etc.)
- Define when it's going to keep going until (it's not just a first-week event)
If you start with those tenets, you should start on the right foot. It requires a lot of buy-in upfront, but if you can jump off from a point of "Our culture does matter, and can sustain us" and then move to "Let's treat this new hire like a valuable part of this team even though he/she hasn't hit any targets yet," it's doable -- and that new hire turnover rate will plummet, so that you can really start baking those new hires into important projects.
Onboarding doesn't have to be scary
In fact, it should be fun. Employee onboarding is your chance to start fresh with a new hire. You get to introduce them to team members and co-workers, highlight your company culture, and cover all the most important elements of the new role. It's your opportunity to excite them about working at your company and get them invested early on in becoming part of the community. And even better, successful onboarding is associated with a decrease in turnover and an increase in employee engagement. From day one to month three, you have a limited window of opportunity to make an impact by sending your newbie through a formal onboarding process. With so much at stake, don't leave your new hire's first few days to chance. Show them they made the right decision by accepting your offer and that they've landed at a company they'll hopefully want to stay at for years to come.