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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