One of the biggest reasons new employees quit within their first year is misalignment in expectations. Life in the company is too different from what they had expected. Not ironically, that is also one of the biggest reasons new employees are terminated from companies. The new employee just doesn't seem to be the person with the skills the company thought he or she was.

There are a lot of culprits behind this common problem. Many people, myself included, have made the argument that the interview process itself is flawed and that there are better ways to assess and select talent. Many companies also aren't assessing culture fit, leaving either the new employee or the company to reconcile a bad fit hire.

Sometimes, bad fit hires are just bad fit hires. But often, bad fit hires aren't bad fit hires. They are actually good fit hires who can't seem to find their way. As a result, not too far into their tenure they aren't performing as well as expected and start to look like a bad fit. If they continue to struggle, our own confirmation bias re-affirms it, and ultimately they either quit or we let them go.

How do you prevent this?

The Critical Role of Onboarding

Everyone talks about onboarding in some form. At its basic level, it is about new hire orientation and work provisioning. Most companies do this. Many do it well. These elements of onboarding, whereas necessary, aren't the most important parts. Most of us know that.

I have worked with many companies to build strategic onboarding programs. When you boil it down to the purpose of strategic onboarding, it is one key thing:

As quickly as possible, maximize the work output and potential of the new employee you've just hired.

To do that, you have to get them up to speed on how the company works, help them build the relationships they need to be successful, establish a personal connection with them, and get them focused on the most important things that support the business.

Two Key Things You Can Do, And An Example Of One Company's Effective Approach

Here are two easy ways you can ensure that your new employee onboarding program helps new employees feel connected to your company and gets them focused on the most important things.

Because it often helpful to see real examples of real companies, here is FreshBooks, a growing cloud-based accounting company servicing small to mid-sized businesses. They aren't a huge company with huge resources. They have combined creativity and business focus and show us how effective that combined thinking can be in regards to onboarding (and even beyond):

1. Directly link your company's new employee onboarding experience to the most important company values and core competencies.

FreshBooks CEO Mike McDerment talks about how critical customer service is as a core competency of the company.

Because of this, every new employee who joins the company spends time in a customer service role during his or her first month. That person could be the CFO or a cost accountant. It doesn't matter. Customer service is the core of the business, and everyone experiences it.

Not only does it reinforce the company's core values and competencies for new employees, but it also builds their skill sets in an area that FreshBooks has identified as mission critical. This helps the new employee be successful in both the short and long term. 

2. Implement formal ways for new employees to build relationships across the company. Don't leave it to chance and hope the relationship building happens on its own.

Everyone knows how important it is for employees to build relationships within the company. But many companies leave new employees to figure out how to build those on their own.

If the relationships are that important, build it into the onboarding program. Ultimately, those relationships impact that new employee's ability to contribute productively. FreshBooks takes a creative approach to this in two ways.

First, the company has a program called "Newbie Nights" - a formal part of the onboarding program where new employees can meet other FreshBooks employees.

But the company doesn't stop there. Beyond the typical 30:60:90-day formal onboarding period, the company focuses on sustaining those new relationships to ensure that new employees stay productive. This happens through a focus on culture and continued connections.

Enter the company's "Blind Date" program. The program was developed as a way of continuing to help employees build community with each other, in particular for employees who may not work together much. Recently, they have even taken it one step further, matching employees up with others with similar interests (such as being new parents, video gamers, or sports fans).

Taken together, FreshBooks has found a way to not only initiate relationship building but sustain those relationships well after the formal onboarding period ends, which is an easy to follow recipe for highly connected and highly productive employees.