Onboarding doesn’t work.
Those of you who have designed or led onboarding programs in your organization may shout out in righteous indignation, “Rubbish! Ours works perfectly!”
That may be the case; if so, I applaud you. But in my experience, most onboarding programs fail to do the two things they are supposed to do: prepare new employees to become productive quickly and help them see they’ve made the right decision in joining the organization.
Those failures come at a cost. Ineffective onboarding costs your company in money, time and resources. The new hire doesn’t become productive and proficient quickly, which, in turn, can cause them to feel inadequate and begin to doubt their decision to join the company, lowering their engagement. In many cases, this situation causes the employee to leave, and you have to begin the cycle all over again.
Where do we go wrong, and, more importantly, how can we go right? Here are six reasons onboarding doesn’t work and how to make sure it does.
1. It’s Seen as a One-time Event, Not a Process
Here’s the scenario: On their first day, you put your new hires through a full day of onboarding. You cover everything from the building layout to HR policies and benefits to how to log in and track their time. Yet on their first day, they’ve not had enough on-the-job experience to make sense of all this information or to know why what they’re learning is important — or even if it is important. They’ve just had a lot of information thrown at them and are trying to make sense of it.
Onboarding should be a journey, with milestones throughout employees’ first year. This approach gives them time to assimilate information and learn what they need, when they need it. It gives your new hires the opportunity to attain and demonstrate a certain set of skills before they are expected to master more complex knowledge. Consider a program that presents information in a more manageable format, over the course of 30, 60 or 90 days, but also consider providing developmental opportunities throughout the employee’s first year.
2. There’s Too Much Emphasis on HR Topics and Not Enough on Culture and Expectations
Information such as health benefits and policies is important — but all in due time. On their first day, employees don’t need to know everything about a stock purchase plan that they can’t participate in for a year.
The goal of onboarding is to help new employees understand why what they’re learning is important. Explain what’s expected and not expected of them in the first 90 days, both in terms of job performance expectations and personal expectations. It’s also important to help them understand your company’s global strategy and direction. We all want to have a clear understanding of where we’re going and how we’re contributing to the company’s objectives and goals, but few companies include that information in their onboarding.
3. It Tries a One-size-fits-all Approach
In most companies, there is a single onboarding program that every new hire goes through. But does every person need the same information? Everyone doesn’t need a personalized program, but it’s important to think about the persona of your employees and how you balance delivering a consistent messaging with flexing to different personas. The vice president doesn’t need the same information as the person working the IT support desk. Determine what’s important as a foundation for all employees and what’s important to add to the program for employees in a particular role, business unit or geographical location.
4. There’s no Plan to Use Technology
Is your onboarding program a series of PowerPoint slides from your human resources (HR) department? Is there a script that managers follow every time they hire a new team member? Or, are you using the available technology to deliver your onboarding program?
You likely have a learning management system (LMS); use it. An LMS typically has the capability of assigning learning when a new hire is added to the system. Building your onboarding program into your LMS ensures that new hires have access to the information and tools they need from their start date.
There’s a caveat here: Make sure all new hires will be in the system and have access on their first day. Nothing says “We weren’t ready for you!” like making employees wait four days to complete their day 1 activities. If it isn’t feasible for them to be active in the LMS on their first day, then don’t assign to-dos for that day.
5. The Wrong People Are Responsible for It
A new employee shows up to work and is paired up with a “buddy” who will “onboard” them. But, the buddy is too busy, doesn’t understand why it’s so important and, more importantly, doesn’t want to do it in the first place. Sound familiar?
Having a buddy or mentor who can work with a new hire on an ongoing basis isn’t a bad idea, but you should make sure that the buddy has the skills, knowledge and enthusiasm to do it. And don’t forget to include the new employee’s manager, who should have a part to play in welcoming his or her new team member to the company and to the team.
6. It Fails to Consider Change Management
Starting a new job is a big change — an exciting one, but a change nonetheless. Many onboarding programs fail to recognize this fact. Think about the new team member who comes in on her first day, both excited and nervous to start this new chapter. Despite appearing confident during the job interview, she inevitably has doubts about her ability to perform and wants to make a good first impression and contribute in a meaningful way, right away. New team members need encouragement and reassurance, and they need to believe that others feel they have what it takes to succeed. Help by guiding them to let go of where they were previously and quickly transition to the new.
Turning your onboarding program into one that works isn’t too difficult. The key is to, as Stephen Covey would say, begin with the end in mind. Focus on what an onboarding program should do: prepare new employees to become productive quickly and help them see they’ve made the right decision in joining the organization. Keeping that focus will ensure a program that works!