Leadership: All On Board

As graduations wind down and a whole flock of new recruits hit the pavement, one of the most important things you should be thinking about is how you’re bringing those new recruits into your organization. I am talking about how you orient, train, and motivate your newly hired staff. The newest term for this critical phenomenon is Onboarding, or the process we use to get employees in new roles up to speed to deliver rapid results and achieve long-term success.

As graduations wind down and a whole flock of new recruits hit the pavement, one of the most important things you should be thinking about is how you’re bringing those new recruits into your organization. I am talking about how you orient, train, and motivate your newly hired staff. The newest term for this critical phenomenon is Onboarding, or the process we use to get employees in new roles up to speed to deliver rapid results and achieve long-term success. This focus is more critical than ever with a new generation of employees who are less interested in staying with one company for 10 plus years. What is foundational for this group of people is to feel valued, productive, and to be given lots of growth opportunities and to feel like an integral part of the organization they have joined. Long gone is the orientation of reams of paper work and an HR professional droning on and on about the rules and regs of their organization. In fact, according to one study, if your orientation is anything like this, 4% of your new recruits do not come back after day one!


So what should you include in your Onboarding process? Well, there are lots of options, some of which I will lay out for you as you read further, but the first step is to include the things that fit your organization best. The one I want to emphasize the most is your attention to the relationship you have with your employees. In this fast paced world, with more technology then ever, it appears that this is the thing that is most missing with our people – the reaching out and spending the kind of time that makes your employees feel valued and that you find their opinions meaningful. A 2005 Gallup poll found these statistics:

  • If your leader primarily ignores you there is a 40% chance you are disengaged.
  • If your leader primarily focuses on your weaknesses there is a 22% chance you are disengaged.
  • If your leader primarily focuses on your strengths there is a 1% chance you are disengaged.

Great content in your orientation and training programs can never replace personal interaction. This means more than stopping in the hallway and saying, “How is it going?” Building relationships requires mentoring programs, face to face meetings and networking beyond the business; these actions all engage employees in new ways. Be keenly aware that this process is not from the HR role alone; it takes every leader, manager and supervisor to be involved for it to be a success.


So what can you do to create a successful onboarding process?


Well actually before you onboard them you must look at your preboard process. Selecting your crew is huge and the best way to do that is through behavioral interviewing (past behavior predicts future performance.) As David Cohen writes, “Behavioral Interviewing is a competency-based approach that improves your chances of picking the right candidate two to five times over traditional processes, has tremendous impact on retention levels, and results in clarity within the organization around goals, values, and the nature of top performance.” If you are not familiar with behavioral interviewing, go find out, trust me all the candidates who are interviewing with you know what it is.


Onboarding: Four Steps to a Powerful Boarding Process.

Step I: Orientation
Orientation. Exciting! Orientation. Passionate! Orientation. Interactive! If these are words that you cannot pair with your company’s current orientation, it may be time for you to revamp your program. In the “onboarding” process, a meaningful and interactive orientation is the plank that allows your new hires to set sail with an enthusiastic awareness of their role on the team, a sense of belonging and knowing the direction that they’re taking. Interaction is the key, lots of stimulation, full tours, meet people, take them out to lunch, share your values, show them what rocks about your culture.

Does this orientation still include the coverage of the handbook regulations and the requisite benefits discussion? Yes, it does; but these are paired with interactive activities, and a significant introduction to the core purpose, mission and values of the organization. It takes time but the payoff is huge. Some companies pick up their new hires in a limo on there first day, some ask for beverage preferences and on second day have that beverage waiting for them. So, how are your new hires feeling when they leave your company’s orientation? If the answer is bored, overwhelmed or underwhelmed, think about getting “onboard.” It will be rejuvenating for you and enlivening for your new team members!


Step II: Developing a Training Plan

Unfortunately, many managers do not take the time to prepare a training plan for their new hires or schedule the time to actually do some hands-on training with new employees. Having a written training plan and scheduling the time to conduct training are both important elements in the success of your new hire – shortcuts in these areas will create performance problems and dissatisfaction.

Countless studies have shown that two of the top reasons that an employee leaves an organization are:
1. Poor relationship with their direct manager or supervisor (i.e., my manager does not communicate with me, check in on me or provide me with enough support and direction).
2. Lack of confidence in or uncertainty of my job responsibilities (i.e., I don’t know what is expected of me and no one has trained me how to do my job).


After orientation, it is important that a new employee be given enough direction and training to become competent in their core job responsibilities. As Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model teaches us, when a manager has a new hire, he/she should be utilizing his/her directing skills and display the following behaviors:

  • Plan work in advance for the employee to accomplish
  • Set and communicate priorities
  • Set timelines for work to be done
  • Show or tell the employee how to do specific tasks
  • Closely observe, instruct and evaluate the employee’s work
  • Organize and provide resources needed for success

It definitely takes time to effectively direct and train a new hire; however, it is time well spent and averts the dangerous “sink or swim” approach to onboarding that sends a bad message to new hires that more often than not leads to disengagement and confusion. So, make it a point to spend some time directing and training your next new hire. You will ensure that your employee understands what is expected of him/her. Allowing that individual to gain the confidence needed to be successful, you will be setting a solid foundation for a relationship between you and your employee – and this sends employees the kind of message that leads to engagement, high levels of confidence and career success.


Step III: Mapping Out the Goals:

Successful onboarding requires an element all too often overlooked, the development of meaningful goals that can be evaluated at the end of the 90 days… and a plan for day 91 and beyond.

Setting clear goals with expectations around performance not only allows the new hire to participate in meaningful work and gain a more immediate sense of accomplishment, but it also allows the employer to take the new hire out for a “test drive” and evaluate his or her contribution against a desired set of performance indicators.


And studies reveal that employees involved in goal-oriented work integrate into their new work environments faster and with greater job satisfaction, while their employer’s receive better results and a quicker return on their new hire investment.

To encourage accountability, goals should set clear expectations about the job requirements and what success looks like in the new position. Goals need to align the work, clearly showing the employee how their goals contribute to the direct success of their supervisor or manager and linking them to group, department, division and organizational goals. Goals must also establish results that can be evaluated either quantitatively or qualitatively against measurable standards. That means clearly differentiating standard performance from below standard performance and above standard or exceptional performance.

And while it may take many tasks to accomplish a goal, performance should be driven on just a handful of meaningful goals. No more than 4 to 6 goals are recommended in any performance cycle. Lastly, goals must be given weight or priority so an employee is clear about which goals to focus on first and most often. Knowing that one goal is 50% of what an employee was being evaluated on should never be a surprise at the review.


Sometimes new hires come with the competencies and skills we desire in the role, but often they are being asked to develop them on the job. Effective manager’s know to also discuss and assign 2 to 3 developmental goals for new hires that they know they’ll need to continue to develop in order to support their performance goals. Encouraging and supporting professional development, and aligning individual developmental goals with performance goals is what helps bring meaning to the work… and success in the first 90 days.

Step IV: Keeping on Course with the 90-day Review:

Since many companies find the most vulnerable period for new employees to voluntarily terminate their employment is between two and six months, the Introductory Review Process can be an important retention tool to keep your new hires on board.


The following are some tips to make the most of the process:

1. Set a time in advance of the review meeting and explain its purpose and importance. This allows employees to be prepared and get into a listening frame of mind.
2. Ask for and listen to the employee’s evaluation of progress. This helps to reinforce a sense of participation and partnership. Oftentimes, employees are more critical of themselves than managers and this presents the opportunity for you to give positive reinforcement that builds confidence. If not, you have the opportunity to let the employee know what you expect.
3. Give specific examples on areas where progress has been made. This is particularly important for a new employee who is performing a new job. This shows your employee that you are watching and appreciative. The employee will be in a more receptive mood to tackle problem areas.
4. Focus on solving key problems and reviewing priorities. It has been demonstrated that real motivation comes from feedback that is specific, frequent, relevant and from a person in whom the employee believes. In addition, feedback is best accepted when it is aimed at the problem, not the person. Try to isolate one or two major problems whose solutions will produce results. By limiting the number of problems, both you and the employee can review alternative actions that will produce a solution and then agree on the best action to take.
5. End the review with an agreement about the present status of the work and set goals for the future. Often supervisors believe they have left such a discussion with a shared understanding, only to find later that the employee did not comprehend what was expected. It does not hurt at this point to create an action plan or a to-do list, with target dates for completion. Give one to the employee and keep one yourself.
6. Finally, follow-up on any agreements made during the review.

One Last Thought:


I want to add a word about your longer-term staff as well. “Reboarding” is also necessary. It reaffirms their value and reconfirms your culture. It keeps retention high and gains you fresh ideas and firmer commitment. So do not forget the ones who are with you. They deserve that attention too.

So I encourage you to look at your onboarding process with a critical eye to your organization. What should you be doing different, better? Remember, this is not about first impressions but something that will last. I remember reading a book once that said that the President of the United States has 100 days to prove himself; you, on the other hand, have only 90. Get busy!

Grace Andrews • Executive Coach/Corporate Healer • President, Training By Design • Boston, MA • •


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