Scaling your business? Why your onboarding process is critical to success

- December 2, 2022 3 MIN READ


Leadership coach Brad Giles shares why getting your onboarding process right is essential to scaling up your business, and saving yourself a lot of time and hassle.

The first and most important rule of building a great business is getting the right people in the right seats, doing the right things in the right way. Everything else you want to achieve – any strategy, project, mission or initiative – will struggle to succeed if you don’t get that first rule right.

You might look at scaling your business and think that the job to be done is to hire the right people. “If we pay well and have a good hiring process, we will get the right people.”

But hiring is only half of the equation.

If we hire the right people, we’ve addressed only half of the first rule above. We’ve got the right people, but we haven’t yet got them doing the right things the right way. Onboarding takes those right people who are in the right seat from hiring and then brings them to do the right things in the right way.

New hires simply can’t understand how to succeed

A new hire that you might label an ‘A player’ might be fully qualified to undertake the role; they might have the right experience that you’re seeking. But they won’t understand your expectations as their manager. They won’t understand the culture; the ‘dos’ and ‘do nots’ that define success in your unique culture. And they might not understand the technical and process expectations of the role and what determines success. They might need to unlearn many of these things from previous roles.

Unless their direct manager can teach them to understand these critical areas – how they are unique to the role at your firm and how they can succeed in the role – the new hire might not do what’s right.

More than likely, people would do what they think is right; they would try to do the ‘right thing’. But every person’s interpretation of the right thing, in any situation, could be different. Those different perspectives can lead to misunderstandings and differences of opinion and, over time, those minor issues can compound and create a dysfunctional culture.

Whether they are capable of succeeding and whether they want to succeed is on them. But whether new hires understand how to succeed is on you.

And when people who join your firm don’t understand how to succeed, you accumulate onboarding debt.

Cafe owner training new employee

Onboarding debt

Onboarding debt is much like sleep debt. If you don’t have enough sleep for a few nights, it’s probably okay, but if you don’t get enough sleep over weeks, months and years, you accumulate a sleep debt, which can create serious health issues.

Onboarding debt works in a similar way. The first moment of the first day a person joins your team, they carry the maximum amount of onboarding debt. Your job is to oversee a system that reduces that onboarding debt as effectively as possible.

You must help them understand the culture, the technical and process expectations, and your expectations. If they don’t understand and continue to work in your organisation into the future, there will be a difference between what they should know and what they know. This difference, this liability, is carried around like an invisible sack of stones on the back of every employee.

It affects three main areas: productivity, retention and the business’ culture. But, it’s also tangible, with the employee review website Glassdoor finding that organisations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82 per cent and productivity by over 70 per cent.

The problem with onboarding

In my global survey of over 1,000 leaders 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. Yet, the real impact of onboarding accelerates from 30 to 90 days.

Only 34 per cent of employers with a seven-day onboarding process agreed after onboarding that 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.

It’s not enough to get the right people on the bus. You must also get them to do the right things, the right way.

An effective onboarding process enables you to document what success looks like in a role, and then ensure the new hire understands how to succeed in the role.

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Now read this:

Five onboarding mistakes businesses need to avoid