Trick or Treat: Retain New Hires with a Killer Onboarding Experience

Ashli Komaryk October 21, 2020

Imagine you’ve met some new people and they're the type of people you’d be glad to call your friends. You happily accept when they invite you to their home for a Halloween-themed dinner party. You know they’re foodies, so you may have even built up some hopeful expectations about the deliciousness of the meal you’re about to enjoy. You give the doorbell a ring and hope they’ll like the wine you brought and agree that you nailed your costume!

As your hosts open the door to welcome you, you hear Thriller playing inside and spilling out onto the porch setting a fun and spooky tone. You can see that candles have already been lit and a big beautiful table has been attentively set (socially distanced of course), ready to welcome the small group. Your anxiety washes away - what a great feeling to be so thoughtfully and warmly welcomed. Yes, these new friends are warm hosts indeed. 

Now what if that Halloween dinner invitation was a job offer?

Expectations run high on both sides through the recruitment and hiring process. The candidate (the guest) submits an application, has the initial phone screening, then an interview. The candidate is filled with hope, waiting for the company to "open the door" with an offer.  Meanwhile, the company (the hosts) scrutinize applicants, trying to spot a reason to put a CV in the “No” pile.  Hiring is a huge investment and getting it wrong costs a lot of time and money, so there’s a lot riding on the selection of a candidate. 

Throughout that selection process, your candidate has formed opinions about how the company operates. At the beginning, are your candidates treated with respect and courtesy, even when there may be 35 or more candidates in the running and they’re pressed for time? Or is the experience more like an assembly line, a mechanical process of elimination?  After your selected candidate accepted the offer, did you provide logistics information for the first day? What about the dress code or a fun Zoom background?

It's unfortunately common for new team members to discover their manager is away and no one has been expecting them on Day 1. Even if your new rock stars have good improvisation and problem-solving skills, the first day of onboarding isn’t the right time to put them to the test. Starting a new job and work environment with all those unanswered questions and uncertainty can be very disorienting, unsettling, and downright stressful.  That’s a lot of trickery and not nearly enough treats.

The Killer Onboarding Experience

So, why should employers spend all this time and effort to make new hires feel welcomed with a killer onboarding experience? After all, work is not a dinner party and we’re BUSY.

If you need some persuasion, here are a few morsels of head-spinning data about onboarding and employee retention: 

  • One in three new hires quit within the first three months of onboarding. That's a colossal waste of financial and human resources for any company. 
  • Companies with a strong onboarding process saw productivity increase by over 70%.  If your onboarding program is helping new hires be more productive and efficient, the management team will elevate HR to rock star status quicker than you can say “Boo!” 
  • 88% of employees don't think their companies do onboarding well. Granted, it takes commitment and time to create and optimize your company’s onboarding system, but the potential return on investment (ROI) is well worth your time and effort. 

Upon starting a new job, expectations are sky high and new hires are full of hope, optimism, anticipation and willingness to work hard.  Having a killer onboarding program can be the runway to success. It transforms all that enthusiasm and energy into the fuel that will send your new hire rocketing down the runway for a successful take-off.  But having no such runway means you're throwing away that precious fuel. Or worse, having it spill into the ecosystem of your organization and become a toxic pollutant. 

To help you nail the onboarding experience for your new hires, we’re going to share some tricks to ditch and treats to indulge in.

Ditch These Tricks

Before we get to the Treats that will make your onboarding program fabulous, here are a few nasty Tricks to avoid. These are the things that send new hires running to the door within the first week:

  • Boo!  Who are you?  It's a horrible feeling to start a new job and no one is expecting you. You're sending the message that the new hire's contributions clearly don’t matter enough to the company for anyone to have been prepared to welcome you.
  • There’s no workspace ready.  It’s important that HR or a supervisor take time to prepare a "space" for the new hire, even if it doesn't include a desk for a virtual work environment.
  • Wrong costume (dress code).  Showing up in the wrong dress code (on and off camera) is embarrassing and easy to avoid with a welcome email before Day 1.  As a tip, create an onboarding resources folder with PDF attachments to provide things like Zoom etiquette for virtual onboarding.
  • Computer? What computer? Your new team member needs the tools to be successful and for many roles, a computer (configured and connected) is usually required.  Did you provide the logins and tech set-up to get started, especially if they’re starting the new job virtually? 
  • “Jump in! Figure it out! There was no training for me either when I started. You’ll be fine.” This trick is really leaving a lot to chance, and even more likely to occur with virtual onboarding. Sure, your new star probably is adaptable and a quick learner, but a lack of training is a terrible disadvantage.  It's also important that your new employees get connected with the right colleagues to benefit from advice and experience.  You don't want your new hire to pick up bad habits.   

Indulge in These Treats

I think you get the message – tricks have negative consequences and it's best to avoid them when it comes to onboarding.  Clarity, transparency and managing expectations throughout the recruitment and onboarding phases is crucial to support greater retention and engagement.  Now let’s get to the treats to consume (in copious quantities):

  • Welcome Week.  Spread your onboarding activities over a week for both in-person and virtual programs. Shorter sessions will give your new employees time to absorb new information, review materials, formulate questions, and give more attention to the content you’re delivering. 
  • Hey, Buddy!  87% of companies that include a buddy program in their onboarding process claim that it speeds up new hire proficiency.  Pair a new arrival with a senior member of the team to meet regularly.  
  • Variety is the Spice of Life.  Vary the onboarding experience with live sessions, pre-recorded content, and 1:1 time with HR, manager, or buddy.  Try including a scavenger hunt to find pieces of information on the company intranet, use interactive elements like polls and breakout groups to keep engagement high, or invite your team mates to get creative and have some fun changing up their Zoom backgrounds.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.  You can’t over communicate in the initial onboarding phase.  Share company history, mission, vision information and initial HR forms right at the start. Make sure to communicate when you'll be in touch next. Don't forget to also communicate internally to formally announce the new team member - try a video!
  • One size does NOT fit all.  Learn more about your new hire’s behavior and communication styles using assessment tools and direct interaction.  How do they work remotely?  How do they communicate?  How much socialization do they need?  Knowing your team on this level will help you as a leader understand how much and what type of support your new teammate needs to feel motivated.
  • What’s culture got to do with it?  Share the legendary stories in the company’s history that have shaped that culture and values. Explain the big-picture strategy and help employees understand their roles and how they contribute.  
  • Hello, IT? Be sure your new hire has their electronics configured and ready to go on Day 1. Book time for them early during Welcome Week with a tech from your IT department to review the internal file system and go over any configuration questions.
  • It takes a Village and Continuous Improvement. Ask for feedback from employees on how the onboarding program could be improved and then take action. If employees get the impression their feedback is ignored, they’ll be less willing to take the time to share it in the future. Strive for continuous improvement (aka “Kaizen”) - your team will appreciate that their integration and wellbeing is a priority.
  • Don’t Forget the Fun-Factor. Be sure to include opportunities for socialization during work hours. In addition to the many benefits of authentic human connection, trust-based relationships also have significant benefits in the effectiveness and performance of a team at work. You can arrange 30-minute calls, virtual coffees, lunch-and-learns, games, virtual or live happy hours. 
  • Community. Creating an online forum for employees to share and communicate can help a newcomer build relationships and get to know the team better. This could be on your company intranet platform or a private social media group.
  • Frequent Check-Ins. Establish a plan to check in regularly over the first year. 2020 has served up a barrage of challenges and it’s important to ensure your new hire has the resources to cope, is integrating with the team, feeling confident, and is enabled to contribute the amazing talents that impressed the hiring team.
  • Bonus Treat: What about “Cross-Boarding?” Research shows that 81% of organizations believe onboarding internal hires is as important as onboarding external hires, but only 27% claim to do an effective job at cross-boarding. If you’ve promoted someone internally, don't forget to provide information and social activities so your employee can be successful in the new role.

Now that you have a bucket full of treats to choose from, you can retain your new hires.  Research shows that a killer onboarding program results in more engaged employees, a stronger company culture, less turnover, and higher-performing teams. 

The Italians have an expression “patti chiari, amicizia lunga," which means if expectations and agreements are clear at the outset, then you will have a solid foundation for a lasting friendship or relationship. So remember to welcome your new hires with care, attention and sincerity– just like you’d welcome dear friends to your table.  Keep the communication flowing and consider onboarding as a year-long process instead of a one-day boot-camp.  

About Ashli Komaryk 

Ashli is a certified trainer, coach and speaker. She offers a unique blend with her international career, MBA studies, Italian Wine studies, leadership background, and her training, facilitation, and coaching expertise. She’s also a sessional faculty member, teaching organizational behavior and leadership in the MBA program at University Canada West in Vancouver.  

Ashli works with wineries - both tasting room teams and leadership teams – as well as other professional organizations to strengthen relationships through skilled communication and active listening, customer service sales training and leadership coaching to create effective, engaged teams and to increase profitability.  Connect with Ashli on LinkedIn and learn more at Komaryk Communications and Beyond the Wine.


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