Onboarding. The word is reminiscent of the golden days of train travel and is mindful of a PC naughty word. But it’s also the current shorthand for new employee orientation.

In Job-Search: Will YOUR prospective employer ‘onboard’ new hires for success? (From Maxwell, Locke, and Ritter – see below and read for objectives of effective programs and best practices.)

The Society for Human Resource Management defines onboarding as “the process by which new hires get adjusted to the social and performance aspects of their jobs quickly and smoothly, and learn the attitudes, knowledge, skills and behaviors required to function effectively within an organization.”

Onboarding practices range from highly structured and thorough to haphazard and perfunctory. Research shows that a comprehensive, structured approach is more effective. The faster new employees feel comfortable with their new roles and relationships, the sooner they begin contributing and the more productive they become.

Studies also show that employees’ engagement, loyalty and commitment are influenced by how they are treated during their first 30 days, which is to say, during their onboarding process.

It makes no sense to do a careful job of recruitment and selection, and then drop the ball on the next step, onboarding those new hires.

Objectives of an effective program

To be successful, an onboarding program has to accomplish many things, from the intangible and philosophical to the mundane. Here are some of those objectives.

    • Teach employees the mission, vision and values of the company. To contribute appropriately, employees must know the company’s mission, vision and values, and how their job aligns with those.
    • Socialize new employees to the workplace. Help them feel comfortable as quickly as possible. Make them feel good about their job and the people they work with. You want them to go home each night feeling like they made a good choice of where to work.
    • Teach employees the company culture. Each workplace has its own norms for etiquette, those often-unspoken rules about acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Is it okay to eat during meetings, to order a glass of wine at business dinners, to tell jokes at the water cooler? Your tactful clarification will mean employees don’t have to learn the hard way.
    • Inform employees about performance standards and the expectations of their role. People need to know exactly what is expected of them, what they need to do to succeed, and how performance will be measured and managed.
    • Teach employees about work processes. Show them how the work is done. Where do they go to get necessary materials? Who do they go to with various questions or problems? Who needs to give their approval before they can proceed with a project? (Weak onboarding programs often start with this step, omitting everything before it.)

    This is the mundane-but-necessary part of the onboarding process. It includes filling out tax forms, selecting healthcare coverage, making other benefit choices, signing contractual documents such as noncompete agreements, and affirming that they have read and accept the terms in the employee handbook.

Best practices to improve onboarding

Following are some points that distinguish the most effective onboarding programs from the rest:

  • Create formal, written onboarding plans that are tailored to each position, not one-size-fits-all.
  • Get input from key stakeholders as to what needs to be covered in onboarding for a given position.
  • Take care of new-hire mechanics before the first day – that is, have the employee’s work station set up and running, the computer configured, security badge on hand, and so forth.
  • The most important day on the job is the first day. Make it special.
  • Make onboarding an active process for employees, not an information dump. Give them a tour of the facility.
  • Involve them in discussions and work processes when appropriate. Introduce them to key people.
  • When you need to give employees reading material, do it in small chunks, broken up with other activities.
  • Schedule one-on-one meetings for the employee with key people, both to share information and to begin to forge important relationships.
  • Continue your onboarding program over several months. People can absorb only so much information at one time. The program will, of course, be more intensive at first and intermittent later.
  • Consider assigning a mentor.
  • Follow up with new employees at regular intervals to assess their progress and provide any help they need.

If all of this sounds like it requires a lot of time and work, consider the time and effort that goes into managing or replacing an unsuccessful or marginally successful employee.

(Maxwell Locke & Ritter is an accounting, tax and consulting firm that helps dynamic companies and people achieve their dreams. With roots extending back to the 1960’s, Maxwell Locke & Ritter has become part of the fabric of Central Texas. Locally owned and managed, we are the largest accounting firm in the Greater Austin Area with offices in downtown Austin and Round Rock.)

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One Comment

  1. Posted December 1, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    So true and one of the difficult areas in the business. So much of my time is spent in working with new hires who have not been thru this OnBoarding process or given a perfunctory session and then come the difficulties. Great Article, thanks, Peter

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