Five Mistakes Companies Make with Onboarding

Many companies ignore an awesome opportunity to dramatically improve employee performance and engagement, as well as contributions to the bottom line, during the first week of their employment. While many companies provide a comprehensive overview of the company’s mission and strategies and use human resources technology platforms to gather payroll and compliance information and enroll new hires in benefits, they miss this opportunity.

Empirical research shows that half of senior level outside employees fail within 18 months[i], and half of all hourly paid workers leave new jobs in the first four months[ii]. I have witnessed the same results close-up. After years of administering employee surveys for a variety of businesses, the high dissatisfaction rate of employees when they were hired or promoted to a new job always caught my attention.  Even companies with strong learning and development organizations missed this.

When I delved into the situation, I learned that the new hires were competent for their roles. What they didn’t know, however, was how to use the company’s enterprise systems, the real way work gets done in the organization, and how best to build relationships in the company’s unique culture.

I found that many managers were so happy to have a new pair of hands, they jumped into assigning goals but skipped over this key information—and missed a golden opportunity.

Five common missed opportunities companies ignore while onboarding.

  1. Not providing real time training on company specific processes, procedures and work instructions. Many companies use technology to achieve their work, including complicated enterprise systems. This technology may be clunky to use at first and often have poor work instructions. When companies provide clarity on processes and work instructions, however, using screen shots and videos, they significantly decrease new hires’ time to full productivity.

In my experience, this step alone shaves months off the time it takes for new hires to be as productive as experienced workers.  My favorite story is of a marketing department that led the company in dissatisfaction among new hires, and employees transferring into marketing. When marketing leadership agreed to dig into the issues, they found that the training new employees consistently requested would not be difficult to provide. It did not require “big data,” rather, unintimidating “little data” that was already known by experienced employees.  After implementing a new hire training protocol, new hire complaints dropped dramatically, new hire productivity and retention improved.

  1. Not providing a coach. While instructions are extraordinarily helpful, most new hires benefit greatly by a helpful, friendly coach they can go to when instructions don’t make sense. They also need someone who can answer tricky questions about how to get work done and how the culture works.  Many companies don’t want to assign a coach because the best coaches are often their highest performing employees, and they don’t want to distract them from doing productive work. Really? Why not invest in accelerating your new hires’ time to full productivity and significantly increase the number of fully productive employees?
  1. Not giving the time to develop relationships with key stakeholders. While building relationships with one’s boss and team is obviously important, new hires should also be given time to meet with internal clients, technical leaders and key decision makers in their areas. The more quickly new hires understand the bigger picture of the company’s purpose, long term strategies and how their work is used by clients, the better they can fulfil their role and make substantial contributions.
  1. Not providing opportunities to learn how to advance their careers. Many companies totally bypass this step. It is a mistake. I have had great success sponsoring lunches or mixers to allow new hires to hear from established employees about successes in their careers and the paths that led to those successes. Social tools that enable employees to share successes in on-line company chat rooms or videos can accelerate this process.
  1. Not collecting data. Like any business initiative to improve the bottom line, onboarding results need to be measured. Certainly, measure the receptiveness of employees to their training and coaching. Go beyond the basics to measure what they have learned, and if it has increased productivity and reduced costly turnover. Compare results before and after implementing new onboarding processes.

Will taking the steps above improve new hire time to productivity, reduce turnover, and build morale? Yes. Onboarding helps. The Aberdeen Group, in a 2009 study, found that companies with effective onboarding programs had higher success rates for new hire assimilation: 62% had faster time-to-productivity, and 54% reported higher employee engagement.

Tell us about your experiences with improving onboarding.  Join the discussion.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. He consults on innovation, talent management, developing agile leaders and teams, and other strategic initiatives. Questions? Please e-mail Victor at or visit For innovation visit www.InnovationOne.US.

[i] Bradford Smart, (1999), Topgrading: How leading companies win by hiring, coaching, and keeping the best people. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

[ii] Krauss, A. D., (2010), “Onboarding the hourly workforce”. Poster presented at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), Atlanta, G A

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