If you are starting a new job, you may only feel partially optimistic. Why? Not because you are unsure of your own skills or the opportunity itself, but because there is uncertainty around how ready your new employer will be for your arrival. You are not alone.

Only 40 percent of respondents in a workplace study agreed that their employer's onboarding program effectively retains new hires.

It is easy to understand why people feel this way. In too many organizations, new hire onboarding is a passive endeavor -- self-guided with seemingly unrelated tasks that reveal little about the way the team works. That is, assuming there is a formal program at all.

The impact of onboarding is significant for the long-term growth of both the employee and the growth of the organization. Studies show that more than half of workers are more likely to still be at a company three years after being hired if they go through a structured new employee onboarding program.

Retaining talent saves money and productivity -- costly turnover is reduced and new hires are able to get up to speed quicker. And so, onboarding should become a key factor in the company's long-term growth.

Obviously, there is an associated cost to onboarding -- $3,000 to be exact. That is how much companies spend on average to onboard each new employee. Is it worth it? The answer is an emphatic Y-E-S. It is an early investment that leads to long-term value.

The best way to get that long-term value is to start an onboarding program early on and build it into the DNA of the company. This is something I have learned as co-founder and CEO of Aha! -- one of the fastest-growing software companies in the U.S. In five years, we have surpassed 5,000 customers, 250,000 users, and a $40 million annual revenue run rate. We have also worked hard to launch a second product -- Aha! for Marketing.

But this level of success does not come without hiring and training the right people. We always knew we wanted Aha! to be a place where teammates would be supported to grow and succeed.

Research shows that you need at least a month-long program to make new employees comfortable with the expectations for the job and to set them up for success. But it is not just the amount of time that matters. It is the quality of the program and how well it reflects all aspects of the organization -- not just work, but culture and values too.

This is why we created a comprehensive onboarding program in our company's earliest days. Though it has adapted and grown over the years, we still follow the same basic formula today. New Aha! teammates take four to eight weeks (depending on the role) to dive deep into product, customers, and values.

Forward-leaning companies such as Netflix, Facebook, and Patagonia all have their own structured new hire programs -- ranging in length from two weeks to one year. At Google, for example, new folks (the company calls them "Nooglers") are given an onboarding checklist so they can follow along and make sure they are hitting key milestones.

I thought it would be helpful to share some of the lessons we have learned at Aha! as we built out our own new hire onboarding. Here is how you can incorporate the best practices we have learned into your own program:

Set specific goals

There should be no surprises during onboarding -- new teammates should know exactly what to expect well before the first day. Share how long the onboarding will be as part of the job offer, along with what they can expect to accomplish during that time. To jumpstart the process, we usually send new hires a welcome package with some books that our team has enjoyed.

Share core values

Company culture should be shared from the start so new employees can begin using those guidelines in their own work and decision-making. I hold a kick-off meeting for new Aha! teammates in their very first week to give an overview of the company and our values. The session emphasizes our commitment to goal-first work, transparency, and kindness. I want everyone to understand how we work together as a team.

Assign relevant material

Starting a new role should be a time of deep learning. Set teammates up for success by preparing a curriculum that lays out topics and lessons to cover each week. The materials could be a mix of internal (e.g. best practices materials and customer support documentation), public documents (e.g. company blogs), and any books that are aligned with your company's beliefs.

Make introductions

Being new can be tough. Take steps to help people feel involved and get to know everyone from the start. We place an emphasis on building connections and creating a culture of belonging at Aha! We schedule welcome meetings for new hires, helping them understand the team and how they will be working with each other. We also dedicate time for what we call "Ask an Aha! Almost Anything" at the start of our weekly all-company meeting. The new person has a chance to introduce themselves and the team asks rapid-fire questions -- some silly, some thoughtful.

Give meaningful tasks

The worst mistake companies make is not giving new employees actual work, believing that people need time to settle in. In fact, a new study suggests that you should do the opposite. Giving simple, direct, and meaningful tasks is an effective way to prevent fatigue. Keep new teammates engaged in real work -- not just training. For example, new engineers at Aha! start early and work on a feature during their first week.

Meet the customer

Everyone in your company should know your customers. Share early on what you know about customers' needs, challenges, and motivations. The goal is to instill everyone with the mission to deliver an exceptional customer experience. This is a big part of the Aha! onboarding process. Every new teammate trains with our Customer Success team and even gives a live demo of our application before graduating from onboarding.

Celebrate achievements

The graduation from onboarding should be celebrated. Recognize the newcomer's hard work in front of their team or even the whole company. The onboarding coaches at Aha! announce the big news during a weekly company-wide meeting. The recent grads say a few words about their experiences and the customers they gave demos to.

If you are a leader, you might not feel like you have the time (or even the money) to create your own comprehensive onboarding program. But consider the costs of not investing in one -- costly turnover and a team that is less productive and committed.

Visionary leaders recognize this and are willing to invest -- time, resources, and yes, money. This is not a risky choice. But, rather, it is a powerful investment in each new person on the team and in the company's future.

What successful onboarding programs have you experienced?

Published on: Jan 31, 2019
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