When a new employee reports to their first day on the job, the feeling is quite similar to those first day of the school year jitters we all had as kids. And while it's a challenge for the employee to familiarize him or herself quickly with the office, the job responsibilities, new co-workers and more, it's just as important and stressful for their managers. Making a new hire feel comfortable and a part of the team from day one is imperative to make the employee a successful and productive member of your business.
"Most companies drop the ball early on," notes Jon Picoult, founder and principle of Watermark Consulting, a Connecticut-based consultancy that helps businesses inspire their employees by making them brand advocates. "Imagine you've been wooed throughout an entire recruiting process, and then you show up on your first day and the receptionist isn't even expecting you or your office isn't set up. What are you going to tell your spouse when you go home and they ask 'How was your first day?'"
This process, defined by human resources experts as onboarding, is a crucial element in both individual and organizational development and establishes a foundation for future success. So what exactly is employee onboarding, why should you focus on it early, and how exactly do you assess it throughout the first 90 days? In this guide, we'll explore all those questions to get your next new hire on track.
How to Make An Employee's First 90 Days Successful: What is Onboarding?
You might associate onboarding with human resources jargon for an employee's first 90 days. But onboarding, the technical terminology for an employee's familiarization with a new organization, is defined differently by nearly everyone you talk to. Its advocates describe it as a comprehensive approach to bringing on new hires that goes beyond simple orientation. Onboarding plans are intended to make new employees familiar with the overall goals of a company and support them as they embark on early projects all in an effort to achieve the perception of success and productivity quickly. The ultimate payoff is to reduce turnover and encourage workers to stay with an organization for a longer tenure.
"Transitions are periods of opportunity, a chance to start afresh and to make needed changes in an organization," writes Michael Watkins, a professor at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne, Switzerland and author of The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels. "But they are also periods of acute vulnerability, because you lack established working relationships and a detailed understanding of your new role."
Dig Deeper: How To Build An Onboarding Plan for a New Hire
How to Make An Employee's First 90 Days Successful: Why Focus on Employee Orientation Early
According to Ron Thomas, an HR strategy consultant and blogger at StrategyFocusedHR who developed a highly successful talent management strategy while at Martha Stewart Living and IBM, employee retention and success is the ultimate goal. But companies today are dealing with a challenging environment regarding employee satisfaction. In short, Thomas notes that employees no longer have loyalty to one employer and are looking for organizations that can build their skills and experience and make them more valuable resources. In turn, managers are pressured to maximize the return on talent more quickly and more efficiently than ever before, and as a result, managers must balance leadership with management, creativity with control and the needs of people with productivity.
"When we're talking about onboarding and an employee's first ninety days on the job, what we're really talking about is employee retention," Thomas says. "Without a proper plan for bringing new employees on board, managers run the risk of miscommunication of goals and expectations, sub-par performance, lower morale, bad decisions and potentially financial loss in the form of employee turnover."
The amount of time you have as an employer to motivate a new employee and make them a successful team member is quite limited. Many past studies indicate that the first ninety days are the most important in a new job, but for many, it's a process that starts long before the employee is even in the building. You can do a lot of different things to increase an employee's comfort level and productivity in the first ninety days, from lunches to meetings to introductions and more. But an individualized program shows them that you truly do care about their success within your business. There is no hard and fast way to do it, but some combination of emails, meetings, events and more can make the difference.
"When you do it right, you accelerate these new team members' time to productivity or help them to deliver better results faster," says George Bradt, the managing director of PrimeGenesis, a Connecticut-based executive onboarding and transition acceleration group he founded in 2002. "And when you do it wrong, they are less productive and they most often fail. According to a study done by the Center for Creative Leadership, forty percent of executives hired at the senior level are pushed out, fail or quit within the first eight months. So if you don't do it right, you have this extremely high failure rate. That's why you need to be focused."
Dig Deeper: New Employee Orientation Guide and Checklist
How to Make An Employee's First 90 Days Successful: Managing the First 90 Days
Before They Start: Small things should be your focus before the employee starts. Send a welcome note sharing your excitement for them to join the team, send the first week's orientation schedule and new hire paperwork, involve HR and other team members (this isn't just a responsibility of the manager), set up the employee's work station (phone, computer, etc.) and more. Getting a head start before the employee is in the building goes a long way to building trust and excitement with the new hire.
Day One: As you manage the message on day one, it's really important to make the new employee feel welcome. This is the most important day of their employment, Bradt says. Simple steps to ensure an employee's satisfaction early include greeting them, physically being there as the boss, informally introducing them to the internal team, which includes everyone they'll need to work with to be successful. Setting up onboarding conversations early on where you are assimilating the employee and making active introductions rather than just sharing names and emails is vital. The activities you have the employee participating in the first day should follow the job details from day one; so if you're in customer service, get them on the phone with a customer.
"At the end of day one, have a debriefing with the boss to make sure that the employee had a good day," Bradt adds. "That shows that you care about them and you want to hear their opinions. And then include a take-home package, which could vary by organization. If you're a soap company, give them soap samples, if you're a financial services company, a one-page guide to household finances. Really anything that they can take home and share with people at home to answer that question about how the first day was."
According to Thomas, day one is also a good time to begin setting both short- and long-term goals, whether they are professional (actual projects the new hire will be working on) or personal (regarding familiarization with the organization, contacts made, etc.).
"It's a great idea to give them a project early on so they really feel like they're contributing," Thomas says. "It doesn't have to be the most in-depth work, but it will be good to get their feet wet and they won't feel like they're simply getting oriented. From there, start thinking about the bigger project at hand, which should have been something you addressed with the candidate before you even made the hire."
Week 1 Assessment: After one week on the job, the employee should begin to feel comfortable with their responsibilities, should have met at least one (ideally more) new business contacts each day, should be familiar with their team members (in their department and out) and should be able to walk into your office with any questions. A good idea, according to Picoult, is to offer up an informal session of drinks, cake, or something similar with the other team members at the end of week one so that the new hire can assess their learnings, ask any questions to the group and hang out in a less formal setting.
According to Thomas, it might be a good idea to set up a questionnaire for the employee to complete after week one. Issues you want them to address (perhaps with a 1-5 point scale, 1 being a minimum explanation and 5 thorough) are their orientation, objectives set, motivation from the manager, assimilation, adaptation, mentor, organizational philosophy, feedback, facility tours and more. This is a very simple way to address your onboarding policies throughout the process to see when and how progress is made.
15 Day Follow Up: "During the follow-up stage, the manager should check in on the employee's progress toward the goals discussed in the departmental orientation," says Thomas. At this time the manager can help the employee identify and resolve any issues/challenges and therefore, increase the potential for good performance.
30 Day Check In: The important thing to note in the first 30 days is to familiarize the new employee with the company through recruiting and introductions. You shouldn't expect the new hire to make extreme strides from a business perspective during this time, but you should make them feel welcome as a person so that they can then dig in.
"It's important for any employee, but especially for new ones, to give them a combination of smaller and larger projects," Bradt says. "You don't want somebody to come in and think only about one big project, so start them off with something a little less intensive to get them started."
45 Day Benchmark: Many outlets state that it takes 45 days to get the new employee fully acclimated and acquainted with their new business, and HR industry studies show that a significant amount of staff turnover – as high as 20 percent – typically occurs in the first 45 days of employment. So this is a great time to sit down with the new hire not only to assess their familiarity with the organization and their role but also to see how happy they are. You can assess their performance to this point on some of the shorter projects you assigned while also figuring out where their mind is regarding the bigger picture projects you hired them for. This meeting could go a long way in retaining the employee.
90 Day Review: Typically the amount of time it takes for an employee to fully be accepted into an organization (in terms of health coverage, benefits, sick days, etc.), the ninety-day mark is when you should start seeing serious results from your new hire. Anything faster can mean that the employee hasn't been analytical enough in their assessment of the business, and by this time they should have a thorough understanding of what will need to be done.
Dig Deeper: The 60-Day New Employee Survey
How to Make An Employee's First 90 Days Successful: The Real Focus of the First 90 Days
Depending on your business and the job you've recently hired for, these policies can obviously vary. But in short, there are four items you as a company and as a manager you need to focus on in the first three months for your new employee.
1. Engaging the new employee by communicating and asking how things are going and by taking them to lunch or coffee, even if it's just in the office.
2. Maintaining an open-door policy as a manager and ensure that this is communicated to every employee, not just the new hire. This exudes that if they have questions, you'll be there for them.
3. Include both short- and long-term projects for the new hire from an early stage. New employees feel an inherent desire to contribute to the business right away. You don't want them working on the big projects, though, until they're really up to speed on the way your company works.
4. In addition to a regular meeting that managers should set up, ensure that the new employee's direct manager conducts a review at the end of the first 90 days that actually involves the employee (make it two-way feedback).
5. Sponsoring and organizing company get-togethers, formally or informally—anything from coffee and donuts in the conference room to a happy hour or a retreat can bring the staff together and encourage a team atmosphere.
Dig Deeper: What to do to make a new employee feel welcome