Onboarding - Making New Employees More Effective Faster

Oct 17, 2014
9 Min Read

If you want new hires to be brought up to speed sooner, then your organization needs to make an investment in better onboarding or risk having ineffective new employees that become disengaged over time.

It’s often been said that it can take a new employee from six months to a year to really become effective in an organization, but in today’s fast-paced environment that’s like saying it’s OK to still use dial-up.

Organizations that hope to remain competitive must ensure that they’re not only hiring qualified workers, but that these new employees will be able to trim their learning curve so their input will be felt as soon as possible.

But onboarding new workers can often be a difficult task, and many organizations fail. For example, half of all hourly workers leave new jobs within the first 120 days, while half of all senior outside hires fail within 18 months in a new position, research shows.

In a report for the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation on effective onboarding, Dr. Talya N. Bauer of Portland State University in Oregon notes that “the faster new hires feel welcome and prepared to do their jobs, the faster they will be able to successfully contribute to the firm’s mission.”

One of the companies cited in Bauer’s report and is often included in “best practices” for onboarding is L’Oreal USA. The company doesn’t end onboarding after a few weeks or months, as do many employers.

Instead, it starts with a welcome of new workers on their first day and then supports each hire with a two-year, six-part integration program. Called“L’Oreal Fit,” the program includes training and roundtable discussions; meetings with key insiders; on-the-job learning supported by line management; and individual mentoring. In addition, new hires at L'Oreal get field and product experiences by being allowed to visit different sites or shadow programs.

“Research shows that organizations that engage in formal onboarding by implementing step-by-step programs for new employees to teach them what their roles are, what the norms of the company are and how they are to behave are more effective than those that do not,” Bauer says.

In other words, employers that use a “sink or swim” approach for new employees may not only delay the effectiveness of their new workers, but drive them out the door.

Mary Ann Masarech, lead consultant of the employee engagement practice at BlessingWhite, says that many development efforts by employers fall short because employers don’t provide “business context” and only focus on training new workers to do certain tasks or processes.

“Without proper business context, manager support, and individual accountability, training can’t deliver the sustainable workforce performance that organizations need,” Masarech says.

She also suggests that employees need to understand how their job fits in with the bigger organizational picture, what skills are most critical to success and receive continual coaching so they can make “course corrections” as soon as possible.

Modern Survey, which offers software to help employers more effectively onboard new workers, writes in a new white paper that Lara Blackert, HR business partner at Compass Minerals, will “often approach new hires by saying, ‘Not only what can you do for us, but what can we, as an organization, do for you?’”

That kind of relationship, experts say, often begins before the new employee steps through the organization’s front door on the first day. For example, those in the “best practices” category send new hires their paperwork and employee benefits information early, allowing them to spend more time on their first day asking questions of HR. Also, getting these tasks out of the way early also gives an employer more time to emphasize the company’s culture on Day 1, they say.

One note of warning: Don’t totally automate the onboarding process. Research finds that those using only computer-based orientation had less understanding of the job than those who received face-to-face orientation.

Experts suggest other ways to make a new hire more effective, such as:

  • Making it personal. Ensure the new hire has a dedicated work space waiting, with a handwritten welcome note from the organization. Send an email to current workers to ensure they know the new hire’s name and when he or she is starting, and plan a lunch out with the team for the first day.
  • Keeping the new hire visible. New hires may be shy or reserved, but it’s important to introduce the person to other departments as soon as possible. Dedicate a mentor to take the new employee around to other departments to learn their functions and to answer any questions.
  •  Remembering to touch base. Perhaps a new employee is doing so well that he or she is soon left alone, and the organization believes all is well. But all new hires – no matter how capable or talented – should have periodic check-ins with various team members or managers to ensure they’re on the right track and don’t feel abandoned.  “With regular ‘touching base’ meetings, potential problems can be solved before they expand into large problems,” Masarech says. At Microsoft, there are peer mentors who serve as “safe havens” for new employees to ask questions and learn about the culture.
  • Giving feedback – often. Making new workers more effective faster means helping them understand not only how they are viewed by the manager, but also by those who interact with them. Using 360-degree feedback, Masarech says, can help “resolve any disagreements early on.” At Capital One, an internal coach interviews direct reports, peers and customers to determine the key challenges a new hire will face in the job. This “Customized New Leader Transition Guide” helps the new hire become familiar faster with performance expectations, goals and even office politics.

It’s estimated that hiring a new white collar worker can cost about $7,000 or even rise to twice or three times that amount for a management  position. With that kind of investment, it may be worth revamping your onboarding to make sure your new employee pays off as soon as possible.

What onboarding practices do you find the most effective?

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