Avoid These Common Mistakes to Make Your Onboarding Program More Effective
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” - Maya Angelou
Onboarding is an experience that often leaves employees with unforgettable memories. People often feel vulnerable when they start a new job, and the organization plays a key role in defining the valence of the emotional experience. That first impression is crucial for any organization in welcoming, inspiring, and retaining talent. Onboarding refers to the process that helps new employees learn the knowledge, skills, and behaviors they need to succeed in their new organizations (Bauer, Erdogan & Zedeck, 2011). An effective onboarding program has a considerable impact on retention and productivity of new hires in the long run. It can improve employee motivation, engagement, and performance, and eventually can have a positive impact on a company's bottom line (Bauer et. al, 2011). Despite being a key factor in an organization’s overall growth, onboarding is not taken very seriously in most organizations.
I still remember my first onboarding experience with one of the leading truck manufacturing companies in India. On my first day at the job, right after my meeting with the HR team regarding benefits and payroll, I was given a thick file containing the details of the company’s mission, culture, and business practices. There was a brief orientation, but no formal onboarding program. My company thought they had given me all that I needed, but in fact their insufficient program left me feeling unimportant and overwhelmed in the new corporate culture. Like this company, most organizations think they have effective onboarding programs. However, many have significant flaws that could hamper the effectiveness of their programs. Some of the most common flaws and what to do instead are detailed below:
- Orientation is not Onboarding: Many companies incorrectly define their orientation program as onboarding. An orientation program is conducted during the first few days of employment, and is limited to providing a brief overview of the company’s vision, culture, business practices, etc. (Vernon, 2012). It also includes enrolling new employees for benefits and payroll. Onboarding, however, is a longer-term process of integrating new employees into the organization and providing them with the tools, resources, and knowledge they need to become successful and productive (Lavigna, 2009). It has multiple phases that begin before the employee starts the job and continue through the first 9-12 months. It includes training employees on the tasks to be performed and goals to be achieved, on-the-job learning, individual mentoring, and performance reviews. It also includes follow-up meetings with new employees at regular intervals during which they can ask questions and raise any concerns.
- Information overload: I still remember the sheer volume of information provided and vast number of forms to be filled out during the onboarding process at my first company. It was overwhelming and mentally tiring. Information overload can be detrimental to the effectiveness of an onboarding process. Many companies want all new hires to start on the job quickly, and hence make the mistake of finishing the onboarding process as soon as possible. This puts a kind of mental pressure on new hires, which can cause them to become disinterested, and even to forget most of the information. To avoid this, onboarding programs should start even before the employee joins the company and should continue for up to 12 months (Lavigna, B., 2009). Companies should prioritize what’s most important for new hires to learn immediately when they join, and then take additional time to cover details in depth through ongoing face-to-face interactions or online resources. This helps to ensure that new hires do not become overwhelmed and apprehensive during the first few days.
- Lack of interaction: Onboarding programs at many companies are unidirectional, i.e., they are fully delivered though pre-prepared documents and videos which new hires must work through on their own with little or no interaction. When I joined a company for an internship, I was given a thick book about the company’s culture and business practices which I was expected to read through. There were very few opportunities to ask questions, voice concerns, or enhance my understanding. Companies should conduct formal onboarding programs in a live environment where new hires have opportunities to share their learnings, ask questions, and provide feedback (Kopoulos, A. 2017). Such an environment fosters a feeling of mutual trust and strengthens alignment with company goals.
- Lack of metrics: Many companies deliver onboarding programs without determining clear objectives or developing metrics to measure results. Without clear metrics, it is impossible to know whether the program is effective, and much more difficult to make continuous improvements. Formal onboarding programs should be designed and delivered with clearly defined metrics to measure their effectiveness. These could include new employee retention rates, measures of job productivity, error rates, referral rates, and returns on investment. There should be clear accountability on HR managers for the success of onboarding programs as part of their performance appraisals.
Taking care of the above flaws will ensure that an onboarding program is useful and effective both for the company and for new hires. Onboarding programs should not be seen as a luxury, but rather a necessity if organizations want to effectively welcome their employees.
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Kopoulos, A. (2017). Employee onboarding best practices: A technology perspective. Alaska Business Monthly, 33(4), 70-71.
Lavigna, B. (2009). Getting onboard: Integrating and engaging new employees. Government Finance Review, 25(3), 65-70.
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Vernon, A. (2012). New-hire onboarding: Common mistakes to avoid. T + D, 66(9), 32-33.