Onboarding – by Choice or by Chance?

“Onboarding starts with satisfying the most basic of Maslow’s psychological needs: belonging.
New hires shouldn’t arrive to an empty cube
and be forced to forage through corridors searching for a computer
and the bare necessities of office life.
A new hire isn’t a surprise visitor from out of town.  Plan for their arrival.”   – Jay Samit[i]

Many of us have been called upon to transfer our knowledge.  Most often, it is when someone is retiring or changing positions, creating the need to transfer tacit or informal knowledge.

What about those times we are called upon to transfer and develop new knowledge for new hires?  Creating the environment, the learning materials, and the know-how for new knowledge to be assimilated in a relatively short period of time can be daunting.  Typically, companies do it in one of two ways—by plan (choice), or by chance.

According to Litt (2018),

…surveys show [that] almost a third of [the] people who quit their jobs do so in the first six months of employment, and 22 percent of turnover happens in the first 45 days on the job. But a good onboarding experience can dramatically reduce that—nearly 70 percent of employees will stay at their job for three years if they get off on the right foot (para. 4).[ii]

Listed below are a few ‘choice’ strategies to consider that have proven successful:

  1. The Last can be First. Depending on the position, oftentimes, the last person to hire on is the best person to train the new hire (or be part of that process).  Why?  They just learned how to navigate from point A to point B, and can not only transfer that knowledge, but fill in the gaps they experienced.
  2. Maximize Group Size. Hire in groups when possible, especially with Generations Y and Z who grew up in large cohorts and are accustomed to collegial environments. They learn quicker, and will learn from each other if they are grouped, which also provides efficiencies for the trainers.
  3. Overcome Technical Speedbumps. Get all the technical stuff up and running before they arrive.  A ‘start up’ checklist of every system access, email, and other protocols enables them to hit the ground running and feel productive quickly.  For systems that can only be accessed by them on their first day, have an IT resource on hand at the start to remedy any speedbumps.
  4. Rules of the Road. Initiate a candid “Rules of the Road’ discussion. Talk openly about the culture and environment to let new employees know where the unspoken landmines are.
  5. Create Space. Create an open (no walls) logistical space so that all new hires can work together in proximity for a time, even if it’s a few days.  This addresses the isolation new employees can feel during the in-between times when their trainer/trainers or subject matter experts are doing their ‘day job,’ and there is a gap.  While their permanent workspace awaits them, these temporary digs can be advantageous for collaborating and training.
  6. Online Learning. Many new hires have grown up acquiring new knowledge through online learning.  If it is not possible to create an online learning environment—much like a familiar online college course—then document all important procedures and information.  Having a variety of video clips talking about key points, and both electronic versions as well as some hard copy versions of key materials, enables flexibility in their mobility and learning style preferences.
  7. Functions and Fit. Setting an agenda of speakers, utilizing video clips, and other media to address the group on what other departments are responsible for, how these functions fit, where they personally fit into the organization, and how they can best work together as they go forward can strengthen both the onboarding, and onward experience.  If feasible to do this by walking around or getting around, even better.
  8. Mix it Up. A combination of classroom style learning, mixed with road trips to other locations or venues, and social events, helps to round out and strengthen the onboarding experience.
  9. Executive Exposure. Schedule executives to meet up offsite at a favorite coffee house and just hang out with them, welcome them, and get to know them.  If that is not feasible, set ‘walk around’ times with key executives for them to stop by and introduce themselves and share their vision for the future.
  10. Learning from New Hires. While the new hire experience is still fresh, survey at intervals, such as 30-60-90 days.  Survey results can sharpen your onboarding process even more when their fresh insights and comments are translated into action items for improvement.

Whether by choice or by chance—onboarding happens—and it is a critical component to employee start-up success and retention.


[i] Samit, Jay. (n.d.). Onboarding. Retrieved from https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/jay_samit_747577

[ii] Litt, M. (2018, July 11).  Why all our new hires start on Friday (not Monday)…and other onboarding hacks from the frontlines. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-all-our-new-hires-start-friday-monday-other-onboarding-litt/

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