Onboarding for employee retention Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007

Finding the right people for your company is very important. The entire process of recruiting, interviewing,hiring and training is time-consuming and expensive. Losing newcomers before they ever become productive can be devastating. The best way to assure that once you find the right people they will perform well and stick around for the long haul is to get them thoroughly indoctrinated into your company’s philosophy and culture. If they feel an early sense of commitment and ownership, they are much more likely to stay with the company.

“Effective onboarding is one of the keys to employee retention,” says Dr. Michael Wesson, Department of Management, Mays Business School, Texas A&M. “The more quickly employees adapt to your culture and become fully productive, the better chance you have that they will become long-term employees.”

Smart Business talked with Wesson for more insight on effective onboarding.

What is onboarding?

Onboarding should be seen as the process by which employees are brought up to speed in terms of work performance and become organizational ‘insiders.’ It is not something that simply happens during the first week of employment; for most jobs the process can take from six months to up to a year. In order for an individual to become immersed in your culture and assimilated into the business, there are six key areas that newcomers need to thoroughly understand and adapt to. These areas are organizational goals and values, history, politics, language (slang and jargon), people, and performance proficiency.

Why is onboarding important?

Research clearly shows that effective onboarding leads to higher levels of organizational commitment, job satisfaction and lower levels of turnover among organizational newcomers. Employees tend to be overwhelmed when they start a job with a new company. There is a lot to learn in a very short period of time, especially when you expect them to start performing well right away. Simply having them fill out a W-2 and showing them where the restrooms are won’t cut it. It is potentially the single best period of time to share with employees what the values and goals of the organization are and what is expected of them. Too many companies squander this unique opportunity.

What are some of the keys to proper onboarding?

Planning is one of the main keys to success. What are the most important things you want your employees to adapt to and learn? When is the optimum time for them to learn this information, who is the best person to provide it, and what is the best method to convey the information to them? Many companies are moving towards providing computer-based orientations. My research shows that while this can be effective in delivering some types of information, it is sorely lacking in its ability to deliver much of the socially rich content that is arguably the most important. Bringing in people as part of a group helps them to adjust — they have an immediate network of employees in a similar situation and they are more willing to ask questions.

Involving the CEO or other high-level managers is also important — it sends new employees a signal that they are important to the organization and that the values being shared with them are not simply words on a written page.

What are some of the most common mistakes in onboarding?

The most common mistake is assuming that employees will just ‘pick it up’ in a short period of time. Managers mistakenly think that a good orientation program is too expensive. However, the cost of losing employees because their expectations aren’t met or are taking longer to master their jobs, and the amount of time supervisors spend poorly covering the same information is much more expensive to organizations in the long run. One other major mistake is assuming that your experienced new hires don’t need onboarding help. I have research that shows that new employees with significant amounts of experience are perhaps the most difficult group to truly socialize to values of their new company — partly because they think they know everything already.

Understanding that the socialization process starts well before new employees show up on their first day is also important. Research shows that impressions newcomers get during the recruitment and selection process, and even the signals companies send during salary negotiations, affect incoming expectations and attitudes. These attitudes are hard to change once a new employee starts work. Let employees in on the company culture up front. Send them information after they are hired, but before they actually start. Give them as much information as possible.

DR. MICHAEL WESSON is in the Department of Management at Mays Business School, Texas A&M. Reach him at (979) 845-5577 or Wesson@tamu.edu.