11 Ways to Improve Your Onboarding Program


Your employee onboarding program is the first – and, in many ways, the only – opportunity you have to get your new employees on the right track.  Far too many companies railroad individuals through an abbreviated “orientation” program that’s simply outdated, off-putting and counterproductive.

You can’t simply drop new employees in with just a few hours’ worth of “training” and expect them to be successful  (or even competent).  Nor can you expect them to perform their best without proper acclamation to their new roles.  This goes for new hires right off the street and for long-time employees that are transitioning into new positions within the company.

Data shows that 25% of all Americans experience some sort of employment transition each year.  Whether that’s changing jobs, departments or branches, the net result is the same.  One quarter of the workforce is in need of onboarding at any given time.

Don’t think they do?  Is orientation really enough?  Consider that half of all hourly workers will leave new jobs in the first four months and half of senior-level employees hired from outside the company will quit (or be fired) within 18 months.  Compare these stats to those from companies with outstanding onboarding programs like Corning Glass, where employees were 69% more likely to stay on for at least three years.

Clearly something isn’t working. Employees need to be integrated fully – not just slotted into their new roles. And you definitely don’t want to have to hire someone new due to a poor onboarding process. So what can you do to boost your onboarding program in order to minimize costly turnover?

Separate Onboarding and Orientation

The two processes may seem similar – at least superficially – but they aren’t at all.  Orientation should be the primary introduction of a new hire to the physical being of your company, including its employees, the buildings, its workstations and so on.  It should also contain some baseline training in order to get the employee to a minimum level of functionality right off the bat.  However, it is not a substitute for a well-planned onboarding process.

Apply Your Employees’ Authentic Strengths

UNC Kenan-Flagler Assistant Professor Bradley Staats understands that no two employees are alike.  That’s why his first step of successful onboarding is to identify each individual’s authentic strengths.  These encompass peoples’ skill sets, but also their demeanor, attitude and willingness/ability to work with others.

By identifying key aspects of how individual employees operate, you can personalize the onboarding process and build a long-term plan concerning how and where to fit that employee into the overall company.

Facilitate Introductions

Staats also recognizes that no man is an island and no woman works in a vacuum.  That’s why business introductions are so important.  These don’t have to be formal occasions such as business lunches –especially if you’re working with hourly retail associates – but bringing your new hire into contact with influential employees within the company or trusted individuals from the outside will begin the process of integration.  It will also facilitate the training process by creating an interaction through which the employee will learn on the job, even in the absence of any formal training.

Keep it Simple

One of the biggest obstacles that employees face during the onboarding experience is simply information overload.  There’s so much to learn and experience that it can be very overwhelming to assimilate all of the new information.  In order to make the process as easy as possible, onboarding should be scheduled well and tailored to suit the learning speed of the individual.

Give it Time

Although onboarding is often confused for orientation, it’s much more involved than that.  You’re, in essence, acclimating new hires to positions you expect them to hold for some time.  Therefore, you should be ready and willing to spend enough time on the process to do the job right.  Most experts agree that somewhere between three months and one year of onboarding is right, according to the industry, the job description and the experience level of the employee.

Make it Interactive

Unidirectional onboarding sessions, such as videos or slideshow presentations, are not only outdated – they just don’t work!  While a small portion of individuals learn well using this mechanism, far more learn “hands-on” in an interactive fashion.  As a result, the employee should be expected to interact with various trainers and onboarding messages, as well as ask questions for clarification or expansion of ideas.  Onboarding simply isn’t a one-way street.

Use Metrics to Assess Progress

You’ll never know how effective your onboarding process is without some sort of testing.  Having a standardized metrics system in place will allow you to assess an individual’s progress, as well as examine the process itself in case it needs to be modified.

Hold New Hires Accountable

While new hires are new to the company, they are still employees and should be held accountable for their actions – including engaging in the onboarding process.  You can allow some leeway in order to grade on the curve, so to speak, but your new hires should not be allowed to get away with things that other employees would be reprimanded or even demoted for.

Keep it Personal

Every new hire or transfer comes from a different background, possesses different authentic strengths and suffers unique weaknesses.  As tempting as it is to have a standardized onboarding system, you have to allow for flexibility – and not just in terms of time frames.  By tailoring the entire process, including the types of interactions your employees have, you can expedite the process and create a win-win situation in which your new hires learn faster and are able to stand on their own two feet sooner.

Keep it Individual

Similarly, it’s tempting to lump a bunch of new hires together in order to get the most bang for your onboarding buck.  However, this isn’t a good idea.  To do so, you’d have to postpone the process for some and rush it for others.

Additionally, catering to individuals becomes almost impossible (as does measuring progress) when you’re dealing with an entire group of people.  This type of onboarding could also lead to interpersonal confrontations and long-lasting attitude adjustments that could be harmful in the long run.

Make it Social

While onboarding is necessarily an individual process, it shouldn’t be exclusive.  Your employees won’t work in a vacuum when they’ve been trained, so make the experience a social one.  Not only will this help the actual on-the-job training, it will allow employees to build social bonds, connect to the company and begin to adjust their own long-term goals with their new positions in mind.

If the statistics in the opening paragraphs weren’t enough to convince you of the actual dollar amount attached to each of your employees, consider that every aspect of the profit-building machine your business represents hangs on those individuals.  Success, failure and efficiency are all contingent on employee skill, employee integration and employee dedication.

By taking the time to fully train and incorporate a new hire or transfer, rather than just “getting them up to speed,” you’re investing in the future of your company.  Not only are fully “onboarded” employees generally happier in their jobs, they’re more likely to stay on for the long haul – making them far more effective for your company’s growth than those who miss out on critical onboarding processes.

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