Welcome On Board: A Strategic Approach to Onboarding New Staff

Organisations need to take a serious look at how they onboard new staff.  Although a topic of interest inside human resource circles, the typical onboarding programme is little more than a dressed up orientation that involves pulling new hires through a range of sessions covering corporate policy, history, compliance, as well as basic job directions, and staff introductions.  These programmes typically offer new hires little inspiration, or early career support, strategic insight, or guidance towards building meaningful relationships.   But consider these facts:

  • Half of all senior external hires fail within 18 months in a new position;
  • Almost 1/3 of all new hires employed for less than 6 months are already job searching;
  • According to the US Department of Labour, the average person holds 10.2 jobs in their lifetime.

This level of churn comes at a cost. Estimates of direct and indirect costs for a failed executive-level hire can be as high as $2.7 million (Watkins, 2003).  And for each employee who moves on, there is many others in the extended network – peers, bosses, and direct reports whose performance is also influenced.

Employees who have gone through an onboarding process that is more than just paper-processing report feeling better connected to the organisation and with a stronger feeling of belonging.  These programmes typically incorporate a range of content including early career support and feedback, are customised according to role and level, facilitate newcomer networking, and are tied to specific goals, which are routinely measured and revised.

When well developed, an onboarding programme can assist new hires appreciate their contribution to the wider organisation and help them feel connected to something bigger than themselves.  Second, a well developed programme can help convey the culture of the organisation so that decisions are made more in line with accepted practices and are organisationally relevant.  Third, they help new employees get up to speed more quickly.  

In his book “The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at all Levels”, Michael Watkins (2003) estimates that it takes on average 6.2 months for a new employee to contribute as much value to a new organisation as they have consumed from it.  It is then sometimes between 90 days and 1 year that a new hire is expected to reach maximum productivity.

Organisations would therefore be wise to cast a critical eye over their own onboarding programmes.  If new hires aren’t expected to contribute meaningfully to an organisation until at least 6 months, and one third of all hires employed are already job searching by this stage, we would be ill-advised to leave the employee experience to chance.  If we fail in those first weeks and months to excite our new hires the results are clear.  Lost productivity.  Lost commitment. Lost creativity.  Lost ideas.  And lost retention.


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