Onboarding new employees is something that every company does – but both strategy and quality vary widely. Some companies have intensive training bootcamps where new hires spend months learning the ropes; other companies have a “trial-by-fire” mentality; and others still even offer bonuses for new employees to quit after the first month.
While there is no perfect system of onboarding, there are several well-established best practices identified through much industry research that we can learn from. Read on for 5 best practices for onboarding programs.
1. Establish structure.
We’ll start with the obvious. At a bare minimum, a company should have a structured onboarding program. New employees who went through a formal onboarding program are 58% more likely to be with the organization after three years. There is also a wide gap in performance related to onboarding processes: 77% of new hires at companies with formal onboarding processes met their first performance goal, while only 49% of new hires at companies without such processes were able to reach their first goal. For most companies, improving the onboarding process is an incremental process of measuring and adjusting – but for those that have no formal onboarding process, the first step must be to standardize and structure.
2. Start before day one.
A study by Aberdeen found that 83% of the highest performing organizations started the onboarding process prior to the employee’s first day. Making sure that the incoming employees are comfortable and prepared for their first day can make a big difference in their perception and satisfaction on the job – both in the first few days and in the long term. Giving a new employee a list of everything they will need on the first day – including where to park, where to go once they arrive, what to bring, who they’ll be working with during the onboarding process, and what to expect – establishes a comfortable, supportive environment that facilitates learning and engagement.
3. Assign a mentor.
Top organizations were 2.5 times more likely to assign a mentor or coach during the onboarding process, as compared with companies that rated poorly. Mentoring programs, or buddy programs, provide the incoming hire with the professional and personal support required to have a successful first days, weeks, months and years at a new company. Mentors are often experienced employees in a similar business area as the new hire who are seen as model employees. This gives the new hire an exemplary employee to model their own work habits and attitude after, while providing them with a great resource for important questions about their role and the company.
4. Track progress.
Companies rated “best-in-class” at onboarding were 2.5 times more likely to track their new hires’ progress in the onboarding process. No company is going to have a perfect onboarding program as soon as it’s instituted. The companies that do onboarding best have been at it for years, tracking new hire progress, collecting data and feedback, and figuring out what works and what doesn’t work for each incoming class. Clearly defined checkpoints, including in-person check-ins with managers or mentors encouraging honest feedback, are vital to understanding how effective your onboarding program is – and to ensuring it continues to improve in the future.
5. Engage your employees.
Too often, onboarding programs consist of a series of classes that amount to one-way lectures with few opportunities for engagement. The very best onboarding programs encourage new hires to be proactive in their relationship with their new company. Providing opportunities for employees to interact with their new colleagues – and not just the new hire class – can pay big dividends in the long run. One study showed that increasing an employee’s level of engagement can improve performance by 20% and reduce probability of departure by 87%. Engagement is integral to an employee’s sense of pride, inclusion, and motivation – and as a result, his or her retention and productivity as well.