Onboarding

Is Your Onboarding Process Broken? Here's How to Fix It.

3 steps to ensuring new team members are onboarded and utilized effectively
Is Your Onboarding Process Broken? Here's How to Fix It.
Image credit: AJ_Watt | Getty Images
Guest Writer
CEO of InList.com, Founder of Syragon
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Most companies know that onboarding is an important part of the hiring process, but many still underestimate just how vital it is that the process be done right. According to a recent survey by Microsoft, what determined employees' odds of staying at the company for the long term boiled down to one simple thing: whether their managers had had a one-on-one meeting with them during their first week.

That single meeting, it turned out, shaped how employees saw their future at Microsoft and whether they felt they would be in it for the long haul.

The first few weeks for an employee are filled with uncertainty and an eagerness to deliver something of value to the company. But new hires can’t accomplish much without a clear set of tasks, roles or duties -- no matter how talented they might be. It would be like asking a contractor to build your dream house without giving him any blueprints.

Adjusting to the culture of a company is also an important challenge for all new hires. Every startup (heck, every company) has its quirks: inside jokes, kitchen etiquette, company history and interpersonal dynamics, to name just a few. Even with a clearly defined role and a set of tasks, the workplace is a minefield of potential faux pas and isolation. The potential for failure during the onboarding process is monumental in its scope.

Related: Why Office Culture Plays a Crucial Role

On the other hand, onboarding also comes with the possibility of unleashing a new hire’s full potential faster and bolstering retention rates. Done right, this process can positively impact the entire company. To accomplish this requires finesse and dedication and some specific moves:

Pass on the jack-of-all-trades.

The delicacy of the onboarding process is even more important for startups in particular, because a small company needs all employees dedicated and at their most productive almost from day one. While any company can take steps to improve the onboarding process, one of the most effective is to change the type of person who gets hired in the first place.

One major error many startups make is to try to hire a generalist instead of a specialist. The conventional thinking is that because employees of startups tend to wear many hats, being competent at a variety of things is better than being expert at one.

Actually finding someone who performs his or her job well, however, can be like finding a needle in a haystack. It’s great if one is found -- but this definitely shouldn’t be counted on. Laying out to a new hire a set of responsibilities that’s too broad usually results in confusion and inefficiency.

Related: How to Choose Between a Specialist and a Jack-of-All Trades

Instead, focus on finding the specialists. From there, it will be much easier to create an onboarding process that not only ensures initial success, but also increases the likelihood of long-term retention.

Making onboarding useful.

According to a Bamboo HR survey, 91 percent of HR managers polled said they were well aware that their onboarding process could use improvement, and nearly half believed that both money and time were being wasted because of it. Here are some ways to make onboarding more effective, efficient and good for your business.

1. Don’t saddle new hires with busywork. Every new hire needs to ease into the work, but many businesses make the mistake of thinking that means easy work that doesn’t really affect the company as a whole. New hires want to feel they’re contributing, even from day one. 

We give our new hires a micro-project or task that they should be able to complete within the first week but that will have visible positive impact on the company overall. This gives them that sense of accomplishment much faster, which in turn makes them more enthusiastic and excited to work for the company.

Amazon has a similar, if more intensive, approach with its employees. New full-time hires are required to take a leadership training course for a month before starting the job, whatever that job may be. The idea, according to Amazon’s communications manager, is to train employees to “be owners from day one.” Though not every company needs to be as ambitious as Amazon, the basic principle is the same: Give employees a real stake in the company right away, and they're more likely to be committed and passionate going forward.

2. Keep new employees from large meetings. Unless they absolutely need to be at them, don't bog new hires down with mandatory attendance at big meetings. For someone who has just started, these events are mostly just an invitation to be confused and intimidated.

I once had a new hire who had been given a clearly defined micro-project to complete in his first couple of weeks, but after one week, he had done something completely different. This was because he’d heard a different directive at a company meeting and thought it was more important for the company, even though his manager hadn’t authorized it. That desire to produce can backfire at times.

Instead of unnecessary meetings, have new hires socialize with staff in other settings, such as taking them out to lunch with a small group. Another option is to create a weekly forum where every staff member has a chance to speak or share something inspirational he learned or saw, such as a TED talk. The object is to get new hires acquainted with their teammates without throwing them in the deep end.

3. Assign a mentor. New hires have questions and need guidance. Think about establishing a mentorship program. Make sure each mentor is someone with interpersonal skills, not just experience in his or her line of work. These people should be able to handle questions respectfully and not make a new person feel stupid for asking for help. There’s a reason social-media software developer Buffer calls its mentors “buddies” instead.

Related: How to Breathe Life Into Your Formal Onboarding Process

Besides helping with questions related to their work, a major duty of a mentor is to help a new hire become acclimated to the culture. Keep in mind: A mentor is not a substitute for checking in with a new hire within the first week. The mentor is meant to be complementary to the new hire's guidance by his or her direct superior; and direct contact from the manager in week one is a vital step in the onboarding process.

Onboarding shouldn't be looked at as an obligatory month when new hires learn the basics and don't get much of value done. It should be looked at as a valuable opportunity that makes clear where they fit in a company. By focusing on hiring specialists instead of generalists and tweaking the traditional process just a bit, onboarding can be a transformative process for both new hires and the company as a whole.

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