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Onboarding Critical To Long Term Employee Success

Onboarding is the process of bringing a new employee into the organization and introducing them to their job with information, training, mentoring and coaching so that they can become an effective team member.

According to Adrienne Whitten, Director of Product Marketing for SuccessFactors (, two major trends in onboarding are more support for hiring managers in the process and more focus on the ‘social’ aspects of onboarding.   Whitten says that their own research has shown that the hiring manager has the biggest impact on the success of the onboarding process – at least from the perspective of the new hire.  And yet, she continues, many companies and solutions don’t make it easy for hiring managers to get through the onboarding process.  The trend is providing more tools and guidance to the hiring managers so that the process becomes consistent across the organization and not great or terrible, depending a particular manager.

In terms of the social aspect of onboarding, Whitten says, “our own research demonstrates how critical it is to engage new hires early so that they can be productive sooner, and less likely to leave the company in the first year.”  She states that some companies have gone too far in focusing on this aspect of onboarding only, but she believes that the best practice (and best solutions) is to give it the attention it needs without neglecting the basics like legal and corporate compliance.

Onboarding is a critical part of a strategic talent management program that is often overlooked or poorly handled. When the onboarding process is not smooth and comprehensive, new hires can get bogged down and take longer to get to full productivity.   Recently, companies have started to take a closer look at the length of time it takes newcomers to adjust and the different ways in which employees learn. With this in mind, companies are trying to provide new hires with as much support during their early days as possible, including new ways to gather information and connect with people in the company, even before the first day.  

Whitten says that a good starting point for companies to begin improving their existing onboarding process is to find the managers who are doing it very well – the company will have to ask the new hires to find them!  Once those managers are identified, find out what they are doing differently than the other hiring managers, and try to incorporate their methods across the entire company. 

If there is no automation of the process currently in place – this is a red flag that the process is likely not very consistent, and something to consider.   Basic automation can eliminate paperwork and redundant data entry and more sophisticated systems can also engage employees early and create connections with the team and the company that will speed up time to contribution and reduce first year turnover.

Finally, Whitten says companies need to consider how the onboarding process connects to the other talent processes in the company.  For example, if the company has a formal goal setting program, then onboarding should connect right into it – new hires should have both short term and longer term goals right away.  Whatever is setup to train employees on new programs should be incorporated into the onboarding process.  Whitten says, “Pretty much every talent process touches onboarding in some way, so it’s important to make sure that the onboarding process does not become isolated from the other processes that are already in place.”

A major challenge for successful onboarding is making the process efficient while still providing new hires with all the information they need. In many companies, new employees spend days and sometimes weeks in training programs. The employee may spend only a small part of this time in training actually gaining all the skills and knowledge required to perform the job. After the onboarding process, the organization is often left not knowing if the employee is ready to do what is required to meet expectations.

Another challenge is identifying an owner or champion of the process. In many companies the owner is HR or the recruiting team, but the hiring manager is a critical player, and really needs some help and some incentive to be very involved. 

Whitten says that there are a variety of providers and consulting companies, including SuccessFactors Onboarding Solution, who offer tools that can include features like forms and task management, as well as more advanced features such as guidance for the user, socialization and talent development.  These collaboration tools make it easier for new hires to build relationships with other employees, which will help them feel more at home in their new job more quickly.  Early access to key people, relevant content and informal network conversations builds confidence and engagement that can improve first year retention. 

Whitten concludes by saying, “An easy way to judge an onboarding program’s success is to look at first year retention rates. The ultimate failure of onboarding is the loss of potentially good employees before they’ve had a chance to contribute to the company’s goals. If new employees leave because they didn’t feel welcome, or were not given the tools they needed to be successful, then the onboarding process is inadequate. “



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