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Retaining great employees has never been as important or as challenging as it is in 2022. A recent Harvard Business Review article revealed that 30% of new employees have left a job within their first 90 days.

That’s not all. Other pieces of disappointing data from this study include:

  • 43% of the employees leaving their jobs say their role didn’t meet the expectations that had been set for them
  • 34% report that a specific incident drove them away
  • 32% blame company culture for their desire to leave the company

There’s no way to guarantee that a person joining a company will be a good fit for the long term, but there are things an organization can do to set them up for success while also helping the organization achieve its business goals.

Organizations with strong onboarding processes improve new-hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%, according to the Brandon Hall Group. Also, 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experience great onboarding. The lesson is that onboarding is a critical offense for retaining talent and accelerating an employee’s journey to contribute to strategic goals.

What does a good onboarding program look like?

A thoughtful onboarding strategy will include initiatives and tactics that help new hires learn about the culture of the organization, understand how roles and departments align and relate to the big picture, and feel comfortable in their own new roles.

This might sound logical and straightforward, but turning these intentions into reality isn’t always easy. Onboarding programs are notoriously ineffective. The hybrid work environments many companies have adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic present other challenges, too. People don’t always have in-person opportunities to establish meaningful relationships – they can’t simply stop by the desk of a seasoned employee to ask questions about how a manager likes things done or get the scoop on the organization’s holiday party.

But just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible to achieve.

Seven Steps to Effectively Onboarding New Hires

The following are some tips on how to engage, mobilize, and retain your sparkly new, often expensively recruited talent.

The best onboarding programs share these seven traits:

1. Design the onboarding experience from the new hire backward.

Organizations often focus too much on sharing content and don’t spend enough time ensuring that employees are actually absorbing that content. Remember that we have: 1) five generations in the workforce, 2) hybrid work environments, and 3) people glued to their cell phones 24/7. These are all reasons to think a little harder about how we meet our employees “where they are.”

What to do: Take the time to interview recent onboarding “graduates.” Hearing their perspectives firsthand will be much more valuable than collecting feedback from written surveys. The interviewees should include a mix of very recent graduates and graduates who are one to two years into their roles. Ask the latter group: Knowing what they know now, what other information or resources would have been helpful to include in onboarding? Ask all graduates not just about the content but about the vehicles for that content – ask what they liked and what they didn’t. Ask how they consume content outside of work, and try to identify patterns that could offer you direction for your onboarding approach.

2. Pace and sequence onboarding over time.

We have an awful habit of making new hires “drink through the fire hose,” yet we know bringing people up to speed quicker does not mean we should give them more information to consume in a shorter period of time. Don’t get sucked in to rushing your new hires through heavy content – onboarding is not a race. Also, if we know the first 6‒12 months is a critical retention timeline, why on earth would we focus on onboarding during only the first 30‒60 days?

What to do: Dispersing information as quickly as possible isn’t the goal. Instead, reach new hires by giving them easily digestible amounts of information using multiple mediums and platforms (whether that is by video chat or in person). And always, always give them the time to reflect and discuss the topic at hand. Create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their real thoughts, questions, and concerns.

3. Give them the “puzzle box top.”

Context is king. Many new hires join a function and have no clue what’s going on outside of it. Yet it’s becoming increasingly important for employees to collaborate and communicate across silos to help the organization more quickly innovate and adapt.

What to do: Before asking them to own their piece of the puzzle, immerse employees in the big picture – the “puzzle box-top view.” When people understand how they individually impact the whole, they will be more invested and will care more about doing the best job they can. They will know that their unique contributions – their piece of the “puzzle” – make a difference.

4. Show them how they connect to your strategy. 

If you’re hiring someone, it means that you expect they’ll become a critical part of your strategic plan. Otherwise, what’s the point? Whether they’re a senior executive or a member of the house cleaning crew, each employee plays a part in bringing your strategy to life. Yet, in many cases, employees don’t realize this. For them, the connection is fuzzy at best and nonexistent at worst. How can you expect your people to execute on strategy if they don’t even know what that strategy is, or how they connect to it? New hires in all roles at all levels are more likely to understand your strategy than your executives give them credit for.

What to do: Great onboarding programs focus on how to engage new hires in the strategy. But remember: one-way tells do not work, and PowerPoint presentations bore people to tears! Work on your skills in storytelling and simplifying the complex to engage new hires in your organization’s goals.

5. Immerse them in your culture.

Yes, it’s a cliché, but culture eats strategy for lunch. Many talented new hires struggle to assimilate into new cultures and never feel like they’re part of the team. Perhaps worse, new hires arriving in management and leadership roles often bring the cultures of their old companies with them.

What to do: Take time to immerse your new hires in your purpose and desired culture. Be honest about where you are on that journey. There’s nothing worse than being promised one thing during onboarding and then experiencing something completely different in practice.

6. Tool up your managers.

People don’t leave companies, they leave managers. This is consistently the #1 reason people quit jobs and move on to “greener pastures,” so it’s perplexing that front-line managers remain the most undervalued group in today’s workforce. Most managers will tell you they don’t have time to nurture new employees under their watch. One statistic from CareerBuilder said 37% percent of employees said their manager did not play a critical role in their onboarding experience support. In that case, maybe we have managers focusing on the wrong things?

What to do: The #1 job of your front-line managers is to develop and build high-performing teams. Make it easier for them to prioritize this. If your organization hasn’t already reconfigured its priorities to put managers front and center, then along with an improved onboarding program, you’ll also need to work on this. Managers are a leadership team’s direct, daily access to the masses. Managers need to feel valued, understand the big picture, and be a part of change initiatives from concept to execution.

7. Show them their development road map.

More and more, employees are leaving organizations because they don’t see the development opportunities available to them. The majority of college graduates are looking for career advancement over anything else. But instead of finding a clear development path, the journey they’re met with feels more like a dirt track marked by a bunch of conflicting, poorly designed signs. I keep hearing complaints about Gen Z employees (and I hate how we refer to other the names of other generations like they’re swear word sometimes) wanting promotions before they have proven themselves.

What to do: Be more upfront about what a new hire’s journey will look like, how long it’ll take, and how they’ll get there. Yes, this takes longer than simply emailing them a “new hire e-book,” but the time spent sharing information, answering questions, and connecting new hires with seasoned staff will be well worth it. In the process, new hires will gain a real understanding of the road ahead. They’ll also create meaningful relationships that encourage and motivate them to stick around and become an integrated part of the team.

The Power in Investing in Your Newest Employees

To bring your organization’s strategy to life, you need to engage the hearts and minds of all your employees quickly and consistently. You need them to understand your business and their individual place in it, to feel like they’re a part of the culture, and to be motivated to put forth the discretionary effort to propel your organization to success. This is what onboarding is all about! Leverage these seven steps to move your onboarding program from being “tick the box” to becoming a real strategic enabler. Start helping new hires integrate into your organization and begin creating a meaningful business impact today.

June 8, 2022

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