Strategic Onboarding: The Key to New Hire Success and Retention

March 13, 2024
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The first few months at a new company can be a whirlwind of information, faces, and responsibilities. New hires are eager to impress but often feel overwhelmed and unsure about key aspects of their new role or company. This is where strategic onboarding becomes crucial.

Why Onboarding Matters

Imagine (or perhaps remember) starting a new job, walking into an unfamiliar office, and feeling overwhelmed by a torrent of information, faces, and responsibilities. Unfortunately, this scenario is all too familiar for many new hires who haven’t had the benefit of a well-structured onboarding program.

But what is strategic onboarding, and why does it matter so much? Strategic onboarding is a comprehensive process that equips a new hire with the knowledge, resources, and connections they need for full integration into the company and success in their role. It’s the crucial first step in fostering a positive employee experience and setting the stage for engagement, productivity, and retention.

The High Cost of a Poor Onboarding Experience

A survey by CareerBuilder found that 36% of employers do not have a structured onboarding process. According to statistics from Sapling, 58% of the organizations that do have structured onboarding say it is only focused on processes and paperwork. These two statistics indicate that 63% of companies lack a strategic onboarding process, which can have significant adverse effects. A study by Digitate found that new employees were twice as likely to start looking for new opportunities if they had a negative onboarding experience.

These findings are supported by The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), which found a whopping 20% of new hires leave their jobs within the first 45 days, often due to poor onboarding experiences. This new hire attrition can bring financial ramifications for employers, with the cost of replacing an employee reaching up to 200% of their annual salary.  

A strategic onboarding program not only helps companies avoid these negative outcomes but also benefits both employer and employee.

Investing in Your People: The Onboarding Advantage

Onboarding is not just an HR formality; it’s an investment in your most valuable asset – your people. Creating a comprehensive and engaging program lays the foundation for long-term success. New hires feel welcomed, informed, and empowered to contribute their unique skills and perspectives. This, in turn, translates into a more productive, engaged, and successful workforce, ultimately contributing to the organization’s long-term growth and sustainability.

Let’s explore some of the benefits a well-designed onboarding program brings to the employee and employer:

For Employees:

  • Increased job satisfaction and engagement: Feeling welcomed, supported, and equipped empowers new hires to feel valued and engaged.
  • Reduced stress and confusion: A clear understanding of expectations, company culture, and daily tasks alleviates stress and allows new hires to focus on learning and performing their best.
  • Faster time to productivity: Onboarding equips new hires with the necessary skills and knowledge, enabling them to ramp up faster and become productive team members sooner.
  • Increased sense of belonging and connection: Building relationships with colleagues and fostering a sense of belonging fosters a positive and supportive work environment.

For Organizations:

  • Improved retention rates: Investing in onboarding creates a more engaged and satisfied workforce, leading to lower turnover rates and significant cost savings.
  • Increased productivity and performance: Well-onboarded employees are more knowledgeable, confident, and productive, contributing to the overall success of the organization.
  • Enhanced employer brand: A positive onboarding experience contributes to a positive employer brand, attracting top talent and fostering employee advocacy.
  • Stronger company culture: A well-structured program reinforces company values and fosters community and collaboration.

Building a Winning Onboarding Program

Dr. Talya N. Bauer, an onboarding researcher and Cameron Professor of Management at Portland State University created the “Four Cs” of successful onboarding. These are:

  1. Compliance
    • Making sure the onboarding process follows legal requirements, as well as company policies.
  2. Clarification
    • Ensuring new hires finish onboarding with an understanding of their role, duties, and expectations.
  3. Culture
    • Introducing and acclimating new employees to the company culture, including its values, mission, and goals.
  4. Connection
    • Cultivating relationships between new hires and networks within the company.

Using these Four Cs as a framework provides a strategic and personalized approach to onboarding. This is especially needed when it comes to remote employees.

Remote Onboarding Considerations

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of mid-2023, 19.5% of workers worked remotely. While this flexibility offers numerous benefits, onboarding new employees remotely presents unique challenges. New hires can feel isolated and disconnected, hindering their team integration and overall experience. However, organizations can overcome these obstacles with a well-thought-out strategy and create a smooth and successful remote onboarding journey.

Effective remote onboarding fosters:

  • Reduced isolation: New hires feel connected and supported despite the physical distance.
  • Enhanced engagement: A well-structured program keeps new hires engaged and motivated.
  • Improved productivity: Equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge, remote employees can ramp up faster and become productive team members sooner.

Stages of an Effective Onboarding Process

Here’s a breakdown of key stages for a strong onboarding program, both on-site and remote.

Pre-boarding (1-2 Weeks Before Start Date):

  • Don’t wait for the first day: Start the connection before the new hire walks through the door. Send a welcome email and go over the next steps.
    • (Remote) Set the tone early: Send a personalized welcome email expressing excitement and outlining the onboarding process.
  • Provide essential information: Share company policies, benefits details, and login credentials beforehand. This reduces administrative tasks on the first day and allows new hires to arrive prepared.
    • (Remote) Provide essential information: Share company documentation, remote work policies, and access to necessary tools and resources beforehand.
  • Fuel the excitement: Send a welcome package with company swag, a personalized note from their manager, or information about the local area (especially for relocations).
    • (Remote) Gear them up: Send welcome packages with company swag and essentials for their remote workspace.
  • Give an opportunity to complete paperwork stress-free: Give the new hire the opportunity to start or complete onboarding paperwork before the first day. This gives them the option to look at or work on onboarding paperwork at their own pace, reducing first-day stress.

First Day and Week:

  • Make them feel welcome: Plan a warm welcome with introductions to colleagues, key personnel, and their workspace.
    • (Remote) Warm welcome, virtually: Organize a video call for introductions with colleagues, key personnel, and their manager.
    • (Remote) Virtual office tour: Create a video tour of the virtual workspace, including important platforms, communication channels, and team collaboration tools.
  • Set the stage: Provide a clear overview of the company, its mission, vision, and core values. This helps new hires understand the bigger picture and how their role contributes to the organization’s success.
    • (Remote) Set expectations: Clearly define work schedules, communication protocols, performance goals, and preferred methods for reaching their manager and colleagues.
  • Dive into role-specifics: Offer training tailored to their roles and responsibilities. This could include product demonstrations, access to relevant resources, and introductions to key stakeholders.
    • (Remote) Role-specific training: Utilize video conferencing and screen sharing for interactive training sessions and demonstrations.
  • Open the communication channels: Establish clear communication protocols, including preferred methods for reaching their manager, HR department, and colleagues. Encourage questions and create a safe space for open communication.
    • (Remote) Foster connections: Schedule one-on-one video calls with colleagues outside of work-related topics to build rapport.

Ongoing Support:

  • Regular check-ins: Schedule regular one-on-one meetings with their manager to address concerns, provide feedback, and answer questions.
    • (Remote) Zoom-ins: Schedule regular video meetings with their manager to address concerns, provide feedback, and answer questions.
    • (Remote) Over-communicate: Maintain consistent communication through various channels like phone calls, emails, instant messaging, and video calls.
  • Continued learning: Offer ongoing learning and development opportunities through workshops, conferences, or online resources related to their role and industry trends.
    • (Remote) Mentorship programs: Pair new hires with experienced colleagues for personalized guidance and support.
  • Foster connections: Don’t underestimate the power of social connections. Organize team lunches, coffee chats, or virtual social events to help new hires build relationships with colleagues and feel integrated into the team.
    • (Remote) Virtual team-building activities: Organize online games, virtual coffee breaks, or social events to build connections and foster a sense of belonging.

Other Onboarding Tips

  • Personalize the experience: Tailor the onboarding program to individual needs and learning styles.
  • Promote a culture of support: Acknowledge and celebrate achievements, big or small, to boost morale and motivate new hires.
  • Embrace feedback: Encourage new hires to share their feedback on the onboarding experience and continuously improve the process.
    • Research from Talent Board found that – despite new hires being 91% more likely to improve the employee-manager relationship right away – only 20% of companies asked employees for feedback on the onboarding process.

Onboarding is not a one-time event; it’s an ongoing process that sets the foundation for a successful and rewarding employee experience. By implementing these strategies and tailoring them to your unique company culture, you can create a winning onboarding program that unlocks the full potential of your new hires and empowers them to succeed.

By implementing these strategies and fostering a culture of connection and support, organizations can turn remote onboarding from a challenge into an opportunity to create a thriving remote workforce.

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