Why we need to take onboarding more seriously: the impact on engagement, retention and productivity.


You have half a second to make an impression when you meet someone new.

We know that first impressions matter, but many organisations are missing opportunities for higher engagement, longer retention, and faster productivity by not focusing enough on formal onboarding for new hires and internal promotions.

35% of companies have no formal onboarding program (urbanbound) and only 37% of them continue it beyond the first month (Aberdeen Strategy & Research). Structured onboarding becomes even less common the further up the organisation.

The first 90 days are critical for anyone in a new role and if it doesn’t go well the consequences can be high for the individual and the company: it can cause low morale, a domino effect of resignations, loss of credibility and it could cost the organisation 3x the role’s annual salary.

Onboarding is a huge topic, and every organisation is at a different stage in the journey of developing the best onboarding process and support. So, where to start?

There are three key stages to starting to improve an organisation’s onboarding experience: ownership, understanding and making it multidimensional.

1. Own it:

Organisations often have phases of focusing on onboarding but, over time, processes and best practice can get lost, forgotten and deprioritised. To prevent this, there needs to be clear ownership and objectives.

Ideally, onboarding becomes part of a job role, e.g. within HR, and people managers are targeted on onboarding metrics. Some organisations opt for a cross-functional onboarding team. However, with this approach there need to be measures in place for members moving on, so it doesn’t fizzle out.

For anyone to take accountability for onboarding, there needs to be organisation-wide objectives for onboarding which reflects the culture of the organisation and enables it to be measured. Clearly defined roles and responsibilities of each person involved in onboarding ensures that there is no confusion about who handles what, and it promotes a collaborative and organised approach.


2. Understand:

Before you can improve onboarding, you need to understand where you are now. I don’t just mean whether you have in place the relevant introductions and training, but also what your employees’ experiences are of starting with your organisation or beginning a new role. 

You need to know what is going well and what isn’t. The best people to ask are those who’ve recently moved to a new role or joined the organisation. However, sometimes there can be reluctance to share challenges for fear of reprisal from new managers/co-workers. I recommend an anonymous survey or structured confidential interviews with an objective person.

Once a thorough assessment has been made an action plan can be developed. Pick out the elements that will make the biggest difference. I often see organisations trying to do too much at once and find those involved become overwhelmed and paralysed. It’s more effective to do a few things well that will be noticed.


3. Make it multidimensional:

People and culture is less than 30% of the focus in onboarding programs (HCI, 2018) and likely less for more senior leaders where functional training is less appropriate.

Onboarding is more than two weeks of online training modules, coffee chats and functional inductions. There should be a plan for a minimum of six weeks which, above the functional basics, contains multidimensional elements including:

  • Cultural orientations providing insights into the company’s history, values, core beliefs and expectations.
  • Meeting senior leadership (a structured group meeting or one-to-one for more senior roles).
  • Social events and networking opportunities to help create a sense of belonging.
  • A buddy and a mentor (these are different and should be chosen based on objectives for the person/role).
  • Developing a personal development plan early on and, for leadership roles, tailored support including coaching.
  • Formalised feedback loops so they know they’re on track and they can pivot quickly if not.
  • Flexibility to accommodate different learning styles and preferences, e.g. options for self-paced learning, one-on-one sessions, or group activities.

No matter where your organisation is on it’s onboarding improvement journey, focusing on ownership, understanding and elevating onboarding beyond the functional basics can make a difference to employee engagement, retention and speed to full productivity.

Need support with your onboarding? Contact me or book a complimentary exploratory call here.