Onboarding Checklist: Connections and the Need to Belong

By: Talya N. Bauer, Ph.D.
Chief Scientific Advisor, Preppio

I believe that relationships matter primarily because they connect us as human beings. Few would actively disagree with such a statement. However, successful relationships often require intention and effort. Interestingly, when it comes to onboarding, many organizations assume that a new employee’s need to belong and to connect with colleagues will simply “work itself out” with time. It might – but then again, it might not. Therefore, I’ve made it my mission to help organizations develop proactive and strategic onboarding approaches that cultivate a sense of connection and belonging for new employees.

I first became exposed to the three levers (confidence, clarity, and connection) of successful onboarding over 25 years ago as a doctoral student pursuing my Ph.D. in business at Purdue University. Our early work, which examined research scientists working toward doctoral degrees, indicated that these three levers were important keys to onboarding leading to engagement, effectiveness, and retention. Subsequent research has consistently confirmed these findings and expanded these initial levers to the 5 C’s of onboarding (compliance, confidence, clarity, connection, and culture).

Helping new employees feel more confident, have greater role clarity, and feel more connected all matter. More importantly, when individuals feel more accepted and connected to those around them, it is easier for them to ask clarifying questions and gain confidence. Thus, when I am working with organizations to help them maximize their onboarding program success, I recommend that after they have dealt with the basics of strong onboarding, they focus on specific ways to help new employees feel welcome and to jumpstart the process of their connections even before they arrive on the first day of their job.

The manager holds a special key to the connection process. In research I conducted with a colleague, we found that being unable to establish meaningful connections with coworkers led new engineers to seek less information. However, if the new engineer and his or her manager were able to connect, the newcomer could overcome this hurdle even in the face of conflict with coworkers. In other words, the relationship the new employee has with his or her manager was crucial to establishing a sense of belongingness in the organization and this relationship enabled them to freely seek information from the supervisor. Hence, these employees were positioned to succeed in the organization.

When it comes to onboarding success, relationships matter. Relying on new employees to “sink or swim” when it comes to connecting with coworkers and managers is a risky strategy. Organizations can help new employees maximize success by engaging in onboarding best practices which I have developed and presented below which are based on research, consulting, and observations regarding new employee success. And, when you invest in new employees, they invest back into their co-workers, customers, and the organization.


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The Employee Onboarding Process: 5 Keys to Success

By: Talya N. Bauer, Ph.D.
Chief Scientific Advisor, Preppio

Onboarding matters.

I strongly believe this statement based on years of observing and documenting the power of onboarding for new employees and organizations alike. Globally, onboarding has evolved into a mature HR practice. Successful strategic onboarding is especially important given the increasing pace of change and mobility. Research has shown, over and over again, that onboarding has the power to influence whether new employees decide to stick with or leave an organization with 80% of new employees deciding whether or not to stay with their new organization within the first few months, yet most organizations do not believe they do it well. In fact, when Gallup asked employees about onboarding, 88% indicated that they didn’t think their organization was good at onboarding.

And managers agree, with only 76% of HR leaders reporting that they believe they are ineffectively onboarding their new employees. The top reasons managers gave for neglecting onboarding included not having enough time (57% of the managers surveyed noted this challenge), the absence of tools to measure its effectiveness (55% of the managers surveyed noted this challenge), and the lack of digital onboarding technology to automate the process (39% of managers noted this challenge).

I have been studying onboarding for nearly three decades. A lot has changed during that time. Onboarding began as what we now think of as orientation programs that were utilized to complete paperwork and begin to orient new employees to their jobs. These orientations were rarely considered a source of competitive advantage. That changed as onboarding became the increasingly hot talent management topic that it is today. My own research, and that of many other scholars, has consistently shown that effective onboarding leads to faster adjustment, better job attitudes, more customer referrals, better performance, and stronger retention. 3 But that’s only the case if it is done right. As more and more organizations focused on onboarding and began considering the need to rethink their onboarding process, best practices began to be discovered and shared. That’s great news for those interested in helping employees and organizations create vibrant and effective workplaces together.

Over ten years ago, I took a look at the academic research that had been done on onboarding in terms of what really worked in terms of effective onboarding. Based on this, I developed the 5 “C’s” of Onboarding which are: Compliance, Clarification, Confidence, Connection, and Culture. Compliance refers to things that must be done when new employees start things like getting paperwork completed, the badging process, and provisioning tasks like equipping new employees with computers and phones as well as a workspace. Clarification refers to how well new employees understand their roles and performance expectations. Confidence refers to how much new employees feel like they can do the job well and tackle new challenges. Connection refers to how accepted and valued new employees feel. Culture refers to how well new employees understand the norms, values, stories, and symbols of their new organization.

Consistent with the 5 C’s of onboarding, there are many best practices when it comes to onboarding new employees effectively. The five key points which I have seen as onboarding best practices from India to Indiana and from scrappy startups to Fortune 500 organizations and everything in-between include:

1) An onboarding plan should be developed to maximize onboarding success.

Some organizations are hiring new employees every single day. Others hire less frequently. Either way, the key to success is to think through an onboarding plan for every new employee BEFORE they are even hired. Doing this in advance helps to ensure a seamless and welcoming process for new employees. The best organizations are aware that poor onboarding can be costly turnover which can be as much as twice the employee’s annual salary. And, a study of newly hired employees found that new employees were 58% more likely to remain with the organization 3 years later if they had a structured onboarding experience. 5 The worst thing that can happen to a new employee is to feel like an after-thought. You’ve invested a lot in the recruitment and selection of your new hires. Having an onboarding plan ready to go for them shows them that you are going to continue to invest in their well-being and success within the organization.

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2) The right people are involved in the onboarding plan including the new employee, managers, and other key organizational members such as buddies.

Successful onboarding does not consistently happen by accident. Microsoft studied their onboarding process and found that new employees who had one-on-one meetings with their managers during their first week had a 12% larger internal network within 90 days than new employees who hadn’t met with their manager. They also found that these new employees had higher-quality meetings, and they spent nearly three times more of their time engaging with their team in collaborative ways.

6 Microsoft also found that having an onboarding buddy assigned was related to better role clarity, higher productivity, and 36% higher new employee job satisfaction within 3 months on the job. 7 And, new employees play an important role in their own onboarding as well. Research has consistently found that when new employees are proactive, they are more successful.

3) The onboarding plan is consistently implemented. All new employees receive an onboarding plan.

When it comes to onboarding, consistency is a key metric for success. We know that planning is important. We know that having the right people involved is important. But, it is not just important for some employees. It is important for ALL employees to be successful. By consistently implementing the onboarding plan and sharing it with new employees, they are empowered to move quickly toward engagement and productivity. Automation can help with this so that every new employee receives the same information at the same time in their onboarding journey.

4) The onboarding plan includes clear objectives, specific timelines, and outlines the roles and responsibilities of the new employee and the organization.

The power of these simple best practices is illustrated by an experiment conducted at Google. Google shared research-based onboarding best practices with managers who had new employees starting via a simple, 37-word automated email sent right before new employees started their employment. They found that this increased productivity by 25%. The emails emphasized the need to have a roles and responsibilities discussion with the new employee, the importance of matching the new employee with a peer buddy, the need to help the new employee build a social network, the importance of setting up regular onboarding check-ins once a month for the first six months of the new employee's tenure, and the need to encourage an open dialogue. 8

5) The onboarding plan is evaluated and tracked over time (for at least six months).

The adage “what gets measured, gets done” applies to onboarding as well. By tracking and evaluating your onboarding process over time, you will be able to adjust to changes, make improvements, and better meet the needs of new employees. Moving beyond the first day or week and the orientation program, organizations have the ability to increase retention, productivity, employee job attitudes, and engagement. By automating this process, everyone gains time and efficiency and no one forgets to evaluate and track the onboarding process.

While these five key points may seem simple, getting the entire organization to engage in these steps for every new employee can be a challenge. It is a challenge well worth the effort. Technology, good internal communication tools and automation can help with many of these best practices.


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The 5 C's of Onboarding

By: Talya N. Bauer, Ph.D.
Chief Scientific Advisor, Preppio

Understand what it takes to create an onboarding process that maximizes the new employee experience for success.

I began studying onboarding over 25 years ago. In fact, my dissertation included a study of new college graduates entering a variety of jobs. My prediction was that what happened during the recruitment process, what the manager and onboarding did while the new employee was being onboarded, as well as what the new employee did themselves were all going to be related to important outcomes such as new employee performance, job satisfaction, and retention. Luckily, after spending a year of my life following new employees into their new jobs and studying their onboarding successes and failures, many of these predictions turned out to be true. In fact, over the past decades, I have been amazed at how powerful the onboarding process is in terms of these important outcomes.

When onboarding goes well, individuals and organizations thrive. When onboarding goes poorly, the negative outcomes can be equally powerful with high levels of dissatisfaction, low engagement, poor performance, and high turnover.  The statistics are sobering with half of all hourly workers leaving their new jobs within the first 120 days and half of all senior outside hires failing within 18 months in a new position.

All it takes is understanding which tools, or levers, are available to the organization to help new employees thrive. As I conducted research and reviewed what worked and what didn’t, I realized that the key levers could be identified and broken down into core components.

In 2010, I wrote a professional practices white paper for the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) where I laid out a number of onboarding levers based on years and years of research, consulting, and observation of onboarding. These have since evolved into the 5 “C’s” of Onboarding: Compliance, Clarification, Confidence, Connection, and Culture. While each of the 5 C’s is an important component of onboarding, the higher up the scale from compliance to connection and culture that your organization is able to go, the more effective your onboarding program becomes.

The 5 “C’s” of Effective Onboarding include a focus on compliance, clarification, confidence, connection, and culture. Organizations that focus on the 5 “C’s” demonstrate more successful onboarding and business outcomes than those that do not.

The 5 “C’s” of Effective Onboarding include a focus on compliance, clarification, confidence, connection, and culture. Organizations that focus on the 5 “C’s” demonstrate more successful onboarding and business outcomes than those that do not.

Comply with Legal Rules and Obligations. Compliance refers to things that must be done when new employees start things like getting paperwork completed, the badging process, and provisioning tasks like equipping new employees with computers and phones as well as a workspace.  Organizations, even those who claim they do not have a formal onboarding program, have to get compliance right to stay in business. Because of this, many employees spend their first day on the job filling out forms. This is a missed opportunity for organizations. Organizations spend millions of hours and billions of dollars working through the recruitment funnel of attracting candidates, identifying qualified candidates, assessing candidates, and then finally hiring them and hoping they join the organization. But, they spend much less time thinking about ways to help make the employee experience better.

The Recruitment Funnel in Relation to the Stages of Recruitment

The recruitment funnel decreases the number of candidates considered from the time of recruitment through hire, leaving the very best candidates to hire.

A first step in helping create a unique and powerful employee experience is to spend the valuable first day on the job working them up the onboarding funnel to generate the biggest onboarding ROI on their first hours  You can’t do that if all they experience is a stack of papers or online forms and waiting in long lines to get their badges. This is a huge wasted opportunity to move down the onboarding funnel toward the high-value activities with big ROIs.

Clarify Roles and Expectations for New Employees. Clarification refers to how well new employees understand their roles and performance expectations. Of course, organizations hire new employees to do specific jobs so clarifying what they need to be doing, how to do it, and how the organization functions in terms of rules and policies is important. And, we know that structure and clarity are important for individual and team success. But, spending time learning the basics certainly isn’t the most exciting way to spend your time when you’re new. So, build in ways to help new employees understand what is expected of them but the goal in doing this should be squarely focused on helping them feel equipped and confident in their choice to join your organization and their own ability to do a good job.

Build Up New Employee Confidence. Confidence refers to how much new employees feel like they can do the job well and tackle new challenges. It is a state of mind. While an organization cannot directly help new employees feel better about themselves, they can design onboarding experiences that help build up employees rather than tearing them down. When employees feel more confident, they are more likely to feel good about those around them as well as the choice to join your organization. Research conducted by Dan Cable and his colleagues found that onboarding, when done right to focus on the value of the new employee and encouraging them to share themselves at work, can immediately increase performance and retention.

Help New Employees Build Meaningful Connections at Work. Connection refers to how accepted and valued new employees feel. When new employees feel connected to their colleagues, they feel safe. Research has consistently shown that leads to all sorts of good individual and organizational outcomes. When new employees feel connected and safe, they ask questions. They try new things. And, they engage more fully with their coworkers, role, and the organization. And, they appreciate it. It is a factor which help new employees feel that they made the right choice to join the organization. Gallup has consistently found that having a close friend at work is related to a 50% boost in job satisfaction and that those employees with a best friend at work were seven times more likely to fully engage with their work. This starts with onboarding. If new employees feel alone and isolated on their first day, it can be challenging to recover as researchers found at Microsoft.

They Share Your Culture, But Remember That Cultures are Always Evolving. Culture refers to how well new employees understand the norms, values, stories, and symbols of their new organization. Onboarding is one of the key ways that organizational culture is formed, maintained, and changed. When I was working at Google and we focused on onboarding as a key KPI in People Operations, it was because the number of new employees at Google was anticipated to double within 18 months. That turned out to be true and the work done to identify what the Google culture was and how it would be impacted by such a huge influx of new employees was top of mind. One important thing for us to keep in mind was that while the stories of how the company was founded, its norms, missions, and its goals were evolving all the time. Onboarding is a great way to teach about what matters within your organization. It is also a great way to learn about how your organization could evolve for the better over time because new employees are the organization’s future.

Understanding what the 5 C’s of Onboarding on is the first important step toward ensuring that you have a robust onboarding program and that your onboarding program is best in class. No matter where your organization is in terms of its onboarding program, there is always room to make it stronger. With the technology available now that wasn’t available when I first started studying onboarding, it has never been easier or more rewarding to maximize onboarding success.


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