Benefits of Onboarding Employees the Right Way

Posted 2013-10-15
onboarding employees

By George Bradt

The cost of a failed hire is high in terms of both dollars and employee morale—especially if the person hired is an executive. Beyond the significant financial and morale savings, there are a number of other benefits to onboarding new employees well, including helping them fit in better, deliver better results faster and be ready to adjust to changes down the road.

Many individuals incorrectly think that onboarding is a function of setting up one’s workspace on the first day. This article illustrates that it is much more and is strategically important to the success of any new employee—and, in turn, the organization.

HR executives and managers who have responsibilities over an employee’s first 100 days and beyond are critical to the onboarding process. Following are three basic onboarding steps they should take to ensure that their new employees produce better results faster.

1.    Accommodation

Assuming the manager has lined up key stakeholders to support the new employee’s role and has led the acquisition of the employee in the right way, the next step is accommodation. HR executives can think of accommodation as making sure the new employee can do real work on Day One.

A classic example of what not to do involves a new executive at a tech company who went to the learning center on his first day and was denied entrance. The conversation went like this:

Security: “You need an ID card.”

Employee: “But it’s my first day.”

Security: “I don’t care what day it is. I don’t care if you’re the CEO of the company. No one gets in without an ID.”

Employee: “I am the CEO.”

This is a true story. IBM’s then-new CEO, Lou Gerstner, wanted to highlight the importance of learning and development by visiting the learning center on his first day. No one had thought to give him an ID, and no one had warned the guard. So he did not get in.

Onboarding begins way before the first day. Announcing a new hire correctly is among the most important things managers can do to help make the new employee feel welcome and valued by and valuable to the organization. Managers must clarify this message to the company and set up the new employee’s pre-boarding conversations well in advance of the first day.

HR managers can provide some questions to new employees, which the new hires can ask people at pre-meetings:

· Give me your read on the general situation and what you think I’ll be facing in my new job.

· What strengths and capabilities are required for the organization to achieve its goals?

· Which strengths and capabilities exist in the organization now? Can you give me examples?

· What do you see as priorities? Lower priorities? Current untouchables?

· What resources are available to deal with these priorities?

· Tell me about control points: metrics and process, meetings and reports.

· Tell me about some of the decisions we make. Who makes them? How? Based on what?

· What is the best way to communicate with you: mode/manner/frequency?

A good example of this is how MasterCard welcomed Ajay Banga into the fold. It announced his joining the company as chief operating officer and, at the same time, announced when he would be promoted to CEO, which gave him an extended period of time for pre-boarding conversations. Banga leveraged that through two “fuzzy front ends,” the time between acceptance of a job and the day he started.

First, he took advantage of the time period to have pre-meetings with some of his most important stakeholders to jump-start relationships. Early on, relationships trump learning because no one can do anything on his or her own, so each new employee must first build relationships.

After Banga joined the company, he spent time wandering from office to office. He would walk into someone’s office and say, “Hi. I’m Ajay. What do you do?” After he had done that in the main corporate office, he did the same thing at a number of MasterCard’s offices around the world.

It made a huge impact because it helped him establish productive relationships.

2.    Assimilation

It is imperative that managers facilitate assimilation initiatives or new employees by setting up conversations with members of their formal and informal networks.

This is what AMN Healthcare Services CEO Susan Salka did when she managed the onboarding of several new employees during the company’s acquisition of Medfinders. First, she had early conversations with the new employees. Then, she assigned a manager to handle the employees’ integration into the company. Finally, she stayed close to the process.

When helping a new employee assimilate, think in terms of stakeholders, behind-the-scenes networks, projects, meeting and events, and tools.

· Introduce the employee to stakeholders for meaningful and productive onboarding conversations, especially if the employee is a manager or executive. These conversations should go up, across and down; be internal and external; cover information providers, resource controllers, suppliers and customers; and involve cross-hierarchy, cross-function and cross-region groups.

· Introduce the employee to behind-the-scenes networks like such as sports teams, communities of common interest, etc.

· Assign the employee to special projects that can further his or her assimilation—especially early on.

· Invite the employee to meetings and events that can further help him or her adapt.

· Introduce the employee to connecting tools: Facebook, mentor, buddy, cohort, touchstone, blogs, wikis, etc.

3.    Acceleration

During the employee’s first 100 days on the job, the hiring manager must support and mentor the individual so that he or she has the resources and support to build a team that delivers early wins.

That's what Sam Martin did at A&P as he was forming a new team to lead its turnaround. Martin had identified several imperatives and implemented them all on a timely basis. One of the significant imperatives was getting the right team in place.

Sam Martin moved quickly to put people in the right roles and bring in new talent to fill gaps. Helping leaders form their teams—fast—is one of the fundamental, foundational responsibilities of HR executives. They must help new leaders get their teams in place.

Because they are new to the company, these employees don’t even know what resources they need, so their managers must help them identify and procure those resources. They will fail without help from their managers.

Using effective and consistent approaches to onboarding new employees is perhaps the most important contribution any hiring manager can make to the long-term success of the company. Successful onboarding increases productivity, accelerates the delivery of results and improves talent retention. Poor onboarding leads to turnover, which is expensive in terms of dollars, as well as intangibles, such as employee trust.

The three steps of accommodation, assimilation and acceleration can be used to provide new employees with a clear idea of what the organization expects from them. Furthermore, following these three steps ensures a strategic and consistent approach.

George Bradt is the founder and managing director of PrimeGenesis, an executive onboarding firm that specializes in working with newly hired executives. He is also co-author of five books, including First-Time Leader: Foundational Tools for Inspiring and Enabling Your New Team (Available February 2014).