Don’t stop at “You’re hired” —why you should care about onboarding
Employees who go through structured onboarding are 58% more likely to stay long term
Managers often worry about putting in too much time to onboard employees. They’re tempted to throw new team members into the deep end: “After putting all this effort into hiring, I still need to make time for onboarding?”
But the data shows: employees who go through structured onboarding are 58% more likely to stay for three years. Even if you find someone with the right skills and knowledge for a role, they still need to adjust to how things are done in your organization, and they will need guidance.
Consider these two scenarios:
We suggest that every organization and team of managers discuss two crucial questions in-depth around onboarding:
- What space do you need to create for a new employee to perform?
- As an organization, how can you make the best of a new employee’s probation period?
Below we’ll provide a few pointers on how to think about these questions. Our full onboarding toolkit, with templates and activities, is on Village Capital’s talent resource center.
Space to perform
The first crucial question to think through is: What space you need to create for a new employee to perform?
Good questions to help you plan your approach are:
- How will the team and the manager build trusted working relationships with the new hire (where it’s easy to clarify misunderstandings without hesitation and fear)?
- Rule of thumb says that 70% of adult learning is done by doing, 20% by conversation and only 10% in formal learning! What information will you need to make available to them? What pace and which portions will be most digestible? What conversations will they need to have? With who? And how can they, while actually doing the job, adjust to your organization’s approach without high risks?
- In terms of fitting into your culture, how will you help them unlearn certain behaviours and unwritten rules which helped them survive with other bosses and in say, less innovative, more hierarchical, more risk-averse, more structured environments?
The probation period
The second crucial question is: As an organization, how can you make the best of the probation period?
The probation period is not simply about the employee proving themselves. When the probation period ends, you want to be able to say a wholehearted “Yes, this is a great fit!” or a determined “Unfortunately it’s a ‘no’, and we are sure because we tried everything”.
This is a crucial responsibility managers hold. Take intentional action to avoid painful onboarding traps like unclear expectations (“Well, I thought I was supposed to…”), delay in support and resources (“Actually, I asked several times for xyz and I didn’t get it, so I honestly think that the low project results can’t be blamed on me”), or talking only when things are not working.
Here are some ways you can maximize the probation period.
Set clear expectations:
- Agree on and write down what you expect in terms of work outcomes and results. SMART goals are still in fashion!
- Most bosses find it easy to set numerical goals, but make sure to also discuss (and write down) the desired quality of work outcomes (much harder!).
- As part of this performance agreement include also development goals: What skills and knowledge should the new hire acquire? What networks will they need to create (for themselves to succeed in this role)? What mindset shift might be required to fully adjust to your organizational culture. (you’ll have worked on some of this in the earlier part of this blog post)
Offer resources and support
- Make it clear to the team that collaboration with this new person is not a choice. Especially if a new role was created, the whole team needs to adjust their way of working to involve the new role holder and make space in their 40 hours.
- Clarify to the new hire what resources they will have (budget, your time, internal documents/guides, permission/authority, templates, access to networks etc), so that the person can plan based on this knowledge. For example: Who are they allowed to email without your knowledge/approval? Who not? Also, you’d rather pre-approve a fixed budget however small, than having them wait for your approval of single cost items.
Provide regular reviews and timely feedback
- Point out what is working well to reinforce the desired behaviours, effort, thought process and approaches to work. Provide encouragement and assurance.
- Clarify what is not working well. People need to be told about how you feel about their performance, otherwise they can simply not know and change.
- Learn as the manager how to phrase your feedback in a way that reduces the chance of the employee getting defensive.
- Science tells us that people remember a negative conversation 5 times more than a positive one. In turn this means that if you want the person to feel good about themselves and the relationship with you (which you want!), you would need to make sure you point out what is working a lot more than things that are not working.
Manuela Müller is co-founder and partner at Edge.