Five onboarding mistakes businesses need to avoid

- November 16, 2022 4 MIN READ

Interviewing and recruiting are only the first steps of the journey when hiring new staff, but it’s the third step – onboarding – that is perhaps the most important, writes Brad Giles, leadership coach, business advisor and author of the new book Onboarded: How to bring new hires to the point where they are effective, faster.

Deal done. Perhaps that’s what you think when you sign a new hire to join your business. Thank goodness the hiring process is over; let’s get back to work.

But once the hiring process is finished, the onboarding process has only just begun. Unfortunately, most people have a story about a bad onboarding experience, and most companies do a terrible job of onboarding.

Here are five onboarding mistakes to avoid.

Mistake 1. Your onboarding is less than 90 days

In my global survey about the impact of onboarding, I found that 83 per cent of organisations have an onboarding process of 14 days or less, with almost 50 per cent less than seven days.

Only 34 per cent of employers with a seven-day onboarding process agreed that after onboarding, new hires understand their managers’ expectations, the cultural expectations, and the technical and process expectations of the role.

However, 53 per cent of employers with a 90-day onboarding process agreed with the same question. The vast majority of onboarding processes have a duration that is simply too short to produce a tangible impact on either productivity or retention.

Overwhelmed man at desk

Mistake 2. You use the terms ‘good fit’ or ‘bad fit’

Let’s consider what happens when a leader reflects on a recent new hire that has gone badly, resulting in that person exiting the company. The leader might explain the exit by saying, “The person was a bad fit.”

“How do you know?” one might ask. “They didn’t fit,” the leader replies. “But why?” the other person presses. “We know they didn’t fit because they don’t work here anymore!” the leader answers.

The actual reason for the person’s departure is never uncovered in this conversation.

Now let’s consider another situation where a person who was hired recently still works at the firm. “They were a good fit,” the leader might explain. “How do you know?” their co-worker asks. The leader might then say, “Because they still work here!”

In both cases, the leader is likely considering the individual a good or bad fit before they start working for the organisation. They do not understand the most important aspect of hiring: when you hire someone, you’re provided with a person who is a potential fit with your organisation.

Then the onboarding process takes them from a potential fit to a successful fit or an unsuccessful fit.

To think that a person is a pre-determined ‘good’ or ‘bad’ fit is to discount the importance of the onboarding process and its purpose: to make your new hire a productive, independent and confident member of your team, or to confidently validate their exit.

Mistake 3. New hires aren’t meeting with their managers weekly

According to German psychologist Herman Ebbinghaus, our retention drops to around 55 per cent one day after learning new information. Then, one week later, retention plummets to about 10 per cent, and we’ve forgotten 90 per cent of what we learned.

This incredible discovery is known as Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve and is the primary reason most onboarding processes are ineffective. If you’re going to teach hires once, be prepared that they will forget 90 per cent of what you say.

The most effective onboarding processes have weekly meetings between the manager and the new hire, and take new hires through the following three stages:

  1. Understanding in month one
  2. Learn and apply in month two
  3. Embed in month three

Supportive manager meeting with colleague or employee

Mistake 4. You haven’t documented success in the role

The first step is to understand and document what success looks like for the new hire. This isn’t a job description; it’s a role scorecard, and like a scoreboard, it has specific measures that define success.

A new hire might be capable of succeeding in their role, and they might want to succeed in the role. But whether they understand how to succeed in the role is the manager’s responsibility through onboarding, and that understanding begins by building a role scorecard.

A manager uses the role scorecard in four separate areas:

  1. In hiring, it paints a clear picture of the type of person you are looking for to fill the role that you can compare against during the hiring process. You can rate each candidate against the criteria within the role scorecard.
  2. During onboarding, you can clearly explain the expectations and set clear goals.
  3. After onboarding and when the person has exited their probation, you can effectively measure their performance against a scorecard.
  4. During performance management, you have a clear and specific document created before the person starts the role that you can use for robust discussions.

Mistake 5. You’re outsourcing to HR (or worse – software)

Imagine waking up excited for your first day at a new job. You head into the office, bright-eyed and keen to learn all about the new role. But then, when you arrive, HR sits you down to have you watch videos or scroll through PowerPoint presentations all day. This makes you wonder why the first day felt different to the interview and makes you question your decision to accept the new role.

New hires want to spend time with their manager. They want to get to know their manager and understand how to succeed in their role. HR may help with onboarding, but the new hire’s manager owns onboarding.

Remember, new hires were probably speaking with other potential employers only a few weeks ago.

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