Onboarding: The Forgotten Step

In this day and age when finding the right talent is so difficult, particularly in technical fields, the onboarding process is a component of hiring that many organizations  completely overlook. We spend a significant amount of time, energy and resources in identifying, recruiting and hiring just the perfect individuals. As most experienced managers have heard over and over; the most important and potentially costly decisions that we make are directly related to hiring. If you hire the right resources it can pay significant dividends for years to come, but if you swing and miss…that mistake can have just as significant of a negative effect on your organization and possibly your career.

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume that you have found the exact right person to add to your team. He or she has the perfect skill set to complement your team and is a strong cultural fit. You’ve interviewed no less than 10 people over the course of 2 months, complete with phone screens, in-person interviews and personality testing. You make a competitive offer and the person excitedly accepts. They now transition into your background screening process which may include criminal, drug and credit screens among potentially others. After all of this is completed, you schedule a start date and finally your hiring process is complete!

Deep sigh, it’s been a very long arduous process, but your sense of accomplishment is quite high.  Unfortunately, this is the point where many organizations drop the ball as hiring begins to transition to onboarding.

Just like in any new relationship, you only get one attempt to make a great first impression. I contend that while the candidate is certainly gathering an impression of your organization during the interview process, the true first impression happens when they walk in the front door. What does that first day, or even first week, look like for the new hire?

We’ve all experienced first days of work in our careers, and how many of us can think of a company that truly met our expectations? Most have had experiences similar to these examples:

  • General orientation to the company was not prepared or offered
  • Workstation, cube or office was either undefined, unprepared or uninhabitable
  • Hardware such as computers, phones or printers were not ready
  • No communication of ground rules, basic expectations or initial assignments from your supervisor
  • No training plan or training resources identified to help with your transition
  • No specific welcome had been prepared such as introductions or team lunch

These are just a few examples of bad onboarding, and I am quite sure there are others that I have missed. The emotional change that situations like this can have on a new hire is significant. Their thought process can very quickly change from being excited and eager to join a great new organization, to having an oh-sh#t moment of wondering about what a huge career mistake they’ve made.

In a period of less than 1 week, you’ve destroyed the good will that you obtained during the hiring process, and may have turned a potential long time employee into a short timer. Obviously, you hope your culture, your work environment and the career opportunities that your organization offers will ultimately win back the sentiments of your new hire over time, but in the competitive environment of today, can we really afford to wait?

Onboarding is the critical final piece of the hiring process. Most companies do not have standard onboarding processes, and rely on individual managers to design and perform the process. The problem with that is those same managers have their normal day to day duties to attend to, and it is very difficult to carve out time to focus on planning for onboarding. To be fair, some mangers likely do this quite well, but I would contend that it is an afterthought with most.

Could it be time for organizations to take ownership of the onboarding process and standardize it in the manner that they would prefer to represent themselves? Considering the costs and challenges associated with hiring good people, I believe this type of effort would pay off ten times over. Remember, the first impression has lasting impact, and you only get one shot at it. Why not make it a good one!