“Our first impressions are generated by our experiences and our environment, which means that we can change our first impressions — by changing the experiences that comprise those impressions” (Malcolm Gladwell).

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) report “Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success,” employees have about 90 days to prove themselves in new jobs. Half of all hourly employees leave their jobs after four months, and half of senior professionals will fail within 18 months.

The difference between success and failure is often onboarding, the learning and support that employees receive when they join an organization. Unfortunately, onboarding is often insufficient, incomplete or missing. Why? Here are five key reasons:

1. Onboarding Is Not What You Think It Is

For a lot of companies, onboarding and orientation are the same thing: Find your desk, locate the restrooms, take your company ID photo, meet your boss, start working. But for new hires, onboarding is about becoming a part of the company. It’s about being welcomed and learning the mission, goals and purpose of the organization. It’s about where they fit in, what’s expected of them and what they can expect from the company. It’s about hitting the ground running so they can start being productive and making a difference as soon as possible. And it’s about confirming they made a great decision when they joined the company.

Does your onboarding accomplish these goals?

2. Onboarding Is Not When You Think It Is

Onboarding is not an event; it’s an ongoing process requiring learning, experience, practice, mentoring and reinforcement. And onboarding isn’t just for new employees; when current employees move into new roles, you need to onboard them for their new role. Similarly, when organizations hire experienced employees, they often think they can skimp on onboarding — but they may need it even more than less experienced employees.

Onboarding starts the moment a company offers someone a job and lasts roughly through his or her first year. While there is information that new employees need in their first week or two, it’s better to distribute onboarding over time. Onboarding can be like drinking from a firehose; often, organizations deliver content so early that new hires do not have the context required to understand and internalize it in a meaningful way.

3. Onboarding Is Not a Class

Onboarding usually involves classes, but it’s much more. For new employees, it’s about immersion in the organizational culture, meeting people and building a network, and understanding the company’s mission and how they contribute to it.

Many organizations measure the success of onboarding based on how quickly an employee becomes productive. New employees want to be productive, too — there’s nothing worse than sitting around waiting to be told what do next.

Therefore, effective onboarding programs are action-oriented. They include action assignments, so employees can start putting what they’ve learned into practice; meetings and lunches with leaders and team members, so they can build their network; and completing real work, so they don’t spend their first few weeks in an onboarding bubble.

4. Onboarding Is Not the Same for Everybody

There are two kinds of onboarding: company onboarding and functional onboarding. Company onboarding is for everybody and focuses on the company’s goals, mission and history as well as policies and systems. Functional onboarding is for each role in the organization and focuses on role-specific responsibilities, systems and practices. In many cases, functional onboarding may also differ based on the background and tenure of new employees. Company onboarding may be similar across roles, but functional onboarding will be unique for each role.

5. Onboarding Drives Your Employment Brand

Whether intentional or not, your organization has an employment brand: a clear message to employees and potential employees about what your organization values and what the employee experience is like.

Surprisingly, only 32% of organizations communicate their core values to potential hires or new employees, according to the 2014 Aberdeen report “Welcome to the 21st Century, Onboarding!”. Each employee only has one career, and they want to believe they made a good decision when they joined your company. A committed and engaged employee is more productive, stays longer and provides more value to the organization.

Every organization has an employment brand — a set of messages that tells employees and potential employees what the company is all about and what their career there is likely to look like. What is your employment brand, and how is it integrated into your onboarding?

Talent is one of the most valuable assets your company has, and competition for it is increasingly fierce. High-impact onboarding drives many of the key metrics of the business: It helps attract and retain talent, it makes people productive more quickly, and it creates an environment where everybody is aligned and focused on the goals of the organization.