Onboarding, a term used to describe the period between job offer acceptance and assimilation (anywhere from 30 days to a year depending on the organization), is a critical time for new employees. Not only do they have to tackle a steep learning curve while developing vital relationships, but they also have to perform at a level that validates the decision to hire them. It can be nerve-racking, to say the least. 

To help new team members adapt, many organizations invest in structured onboarding programs to assist employees with learning new systems, developing interpersonal networks, comprehending their roles, and acculturate. 

My obsession with onboarding started a few years back when I was in third-party recruiting. Long story short, after I placed a candidate with a client, that candidate had to outlast a guarantee period (roughly 90 days), or I would owe back the fee I received for placing him or her. And the odds weren't great. 

O.C. Tanner, a consulting company that specializes in culture and employee recognition programs, found that 20 percent of employee turnover happens in the first 45 days. An Allied Workforce Mobility Survey found that 23 percent of new employees turnover before their first anniversary. And, a BambooHR survey found that 31 percent had quit a job before their six month anniversary. 

My work was cut out for me. 

In what started out as a way for me to protect my own pocket, eventually turned into a passion. Not only did implementing onboarding best practices help my candidates outlast their probationary periods, but they flourished. Many are still with the same employer until this day and have made significant impacts. 

When done correctly, onboarding can reduce new hire stress, increase engagement, and boost productivity. 

In his book, Work Rules Insights From Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead, Laszlo Bock (Google's former SVP of People) highlighted an internal pilot project that set out to determine the best way to increase Noogler (new Googlers) productivity. The experiment included an email the team sent managers the Sunday before their new employee's first day. It included the following checklist: 

1. Have a role-and-responsibilities discussion. 

2. Match your Noogler with a peer buddy. 

3. Help your Noogler build a social network. 

4. Set up onboarding check-ins once a month for your Noogler's first six months. 

5. Encourage open dialogue. 

While this checklist was almost patronizing in its simplicity, its results were anything but. Google found that the Nooglers whose managers followed this checklist became effective in their roles 25 percent faster than other employees. How was it possible that a simple email could have this big of an impact? 

Here are three things I took away from this experiment. 

1. Don't over-engineer the onboarding experience. 

I made this mistake. When I first set out to develop an onboarding program at Welltower (where I work), I spent a year researching strategy, reading books, and interviewing new employees trying to make sure I thought of everything.

I developed checklists for one to six months with multiple check-ins throughout the employee's first year. Looking back, I would have assigned our managers nearly 50 different tasks. That's too much. At some point, the law of diminishing returns sets in. 

Luckily, I have great leaders who helped me condense it down to a 30-day program that emphasized tasks critical to enhancing our new employee's productivity. What we've found is that by focusing on reducing the time-to-productivity, every other stat benefited. This includes engagement, satisfaction, and employee contributions. 

This leads me to my next point. 

2. Emphasize the basics and leave room for creativity. 

Sometimes we can get so caught up in the flashy "nice-to-haves" that we forget the "must-haves." Onboarding new employees isn't rocket science. By over-complicating the process, you run the risk of understating the basics while wiping out room for managers to be creative. 

Google's research proves the ironic truth that the simplest things are the ones often forgotten. Hone in on the core components of your assimilation process and give managers the freedom to innovate. At the end of the day, a primary goal of any onboarding program should be to help managers foster better relationships with their employees. We've all heard the saying "People leave managers, not companies."

3. Don't be afraid to drop some hints. 

All it takes is a simple reminder. Google found that by "nudging" its managers and employees, they saw a noticeable increase in participation and completion rates. 

These subtle "suggestions" did a couple of different things. They reinforced positive behaviors without imposing upon free-will and left room for managers and employees to make it their own. 

Based on psychology that is above my level of comprehension, these "nudges" not only served as essential reminders; they also encourage Googlers to be more proactive. 

If you've been beating your head against the desk trying to decode the secret to productivity as I did, take a page from Bock's book and try going back to the basics. Who knows--a simple email could be the one thing standing between idleness and inspiration for your organization. 

3 Key Questions You Must Ask Every New Hire

Published on: Mar 29, 2018