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Onboarding School is in Session

by Cord Himelstein


Onboarding at a new job is the adult equivalent of the first day of school. That’s why organizations are taking a new approach toward onboarding.

We all remember that feeling you get before the first day of school—nervous, excited, and very concerned over which outfit to wear. For new students, there is also the added pressure of finding your way around, meeting your teachers, and making friends. The first day of school can be rough, but thankfully we’re all adults now and don’t have to go through that again. Or do we? The answer is yes.

Onboarding at a new job is the adult equivalent of the first day of school, and it can be just as nerve-wracking for us grown-ups. Many of us picture it as a necessary evil, a day spent inside a training room filling out forms and watching corporate videos. That’s why organizations are taking a new approach toward onboarding, and realizing its potential to create more engaged employees along the way.

All Aboard?

According to a study by Impact Instruction Group, “Onboarding has become a strategic priority for a growing number of companies for 2013 and beyond.” They credit recent technology advances, a more geographically dispersed employee population, and strong competition for talent as the catalysts for the shift in perception. Moreover, they found that:

  • Over 73% of organizations indicate that the largest catalysts driving change to their onboarding programs are to accelerate new employees’ performance, as well as improve retention and loyalty.
  • 71% of organizations are currently in the process of updating their onboarding programs, and 86% consider those updates to contain moderate to major changes

So what’s wrong with these onboarding programs? Allied HRIQ conducted a recruitment study in 2012 and found that 60% of companies don’t set any milestones or goals for new hires, 25% don’t include any kind of training, and almost 30% of companies report that it takes a year or longer for new hires to reach full productivity. Companies are realizing that by putting a little more effort into engaging employees early on, they get better returns, simple as that.

L’Oreal, for example, has implemented a 2 year-long formal onboarding program involving on-the-job learning, meetings with key insiders, and roundtable discussions. Zappo’s, the online retailer, holds an intensive five-week training course in which new hires are offered $2,000 to quit (only about one percent of trainees have ever taken the offer). However companies can engage and hold the attention of new hires, it’s being tried somewhere.

Starting on a Good Note

Updating your onboarding initiative doesn’t have to be difficult either. Microsoft, which has an entire HR team devoted to keeping their onboarding program up-to-date, came up with these wonderfully simple rules that everyone should take to heart:

  1. Managers play a critical role in onboarding new employees.
  2. Peer mentors provide “safe havens” for new employees to ask questions, gain knowledge and explore the culture.
  3. Onboarding is “everyone’s job”—not just HR’s.
  4. Team members play a critical role in providing support, knowledge, and a welcoming climate.

In a recent SHRM study authored by Talya N. Bauer, she described four elements every onboarding program must have, dubbed the “Four C’s”:

  • Compliance – Basic legal and policy-related rules and regulations
  • Clarification – Ensure employees understand their new jobs and all related expectations
  • Culture – Provide employees with a sense of organizational norms, both formal and informal
  • Connection – Establish the vital interpersonal relationships and information networks new employees must have to succeed.

If you can achieve all of these things in a fun, engaging way, you’re already way ahead. Onboarding is, at its core, a human connection. The right tools only get you so far. There has to be a commitment from everyone in the organization to make new employees feel welcome, and that first connection is the most important.

About the author

Cord Himelstein

Cord Himelstein

Vice President of Digital Marketing

A dynamic B2B marketer with 20+ years of proven experience connecting people and brands, Cord posts regularly on the HALO blog and contributes to the Forbes Communications Council. His work offers unique insights into the employee experience, brand building and has been featured in leading industry publications including Entrepreneur, SmartBrief, Ragan and Incentive Magazine.