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Why onboarding is more than hiring ‘good fits’ and ‘bad fits’

The importance of onboarding for retention, culture, and productivity


“If you bring a new person into a team – you have a new team.” - Brad Giles

We often describe new hires as being a “good fit” or a “bad fit”. But 'Onboarded' author Brad Giles told our masterclass that welcoming a new person onto a team shouldn’t be viewed with such a binary mindset.

Instead, leaders should adopt a spectrum mindset – where they see new hires sitting within a range from ‘definitely won’t work’ to ‘definitely will work’ until the onboarding process validates they are either a successful fit or should exit.

So, what is onboarding, and why is it so important? Here’s a summary of Brad’s masterclass.

What is onboarding?

Induction is often mistaken for onboarding. But induction just admits the new employee to the organisation or role.

Orientation is helping the person know their way around (it’s not onboarding). Training is teaching an employee a new skill or behaviour or helping them improve an existing one. It’s not onboarding either.

Brad’s definition of onboarding is taking someone from outside your organisation and making them a productive, independent, and confident member of your team who understands the culture, the technical and process expectations, and your expectations as their manager.

How long does onboarding typically last?

83% of 1000 CEOs and leaders of SMEs and large organisations surveyed by Brad’s team said their onboarding lasted 14 days or less.

Yet 84% of our masterclass participants agreed that it would take at least 90 days for a new hire to understand the culture, technical and process expectations, and the expectations of the manager.

Brad recommends a 90 day onboarding for new hires, starting from the day they begin at the company.

“The longer the onboarding, the greater the understanding.”

What is onboarding debt?

If new hires don’t fully understand the culture, technical and process expectations, and the expectations of the manager, the company starts to accrue an onboarding debt.

This debt (aka a level of misunderstanding) multiplies as the company grows and becomes more complex, and as each new hire is brought on.

The absence of understanding compounds as the team grows. 

How can onboarding debt impact your organisation?

Asked this question, masterclass participants suggested many ways this lack of understanding could impact their organisations.

Their responses included:

Cultural misalignment, personal and organisational frustration, the new hire not working out, poor morale, impacts on motivation and the culture, impacts on quality of service, dissatisfaction, good people not being given an opportunity to succeed, loss of productivity, knock on impact.

How is onboarding connected with culture?

If we don’t set the values, expectations, and behaviours in our organisations, then people will do what they think is right. Because they’ve come from elsewhere, there will be differing definitions of what is right.

Just as you can build a great team, great cultures can be built. But people must understand what your great culture looks and feels like, the values, behaviours, and expectations. 

“The higher the onboarding debt, the more likely an organisation will have cultural issues.”

What is the cost of inadequate onboarding?

Inadequate or poor onboarding will have a:

·       Retention cost. Studies show 88% employees left companies for reasons other than money (such as a toxic work culture) and 77% of CEOs surveyed agreed that the onboarding process affected their attrition rate.

·       Productivity cost. If understanding is diminished, productivity is affected.

·       Forgetting cost. As the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve shows, people will forget what they’ve learned within days unless it is reinforced regularly (until the information is embedded).

What prevents organisations from effective onboarding?

Masterclass participants gave reasons for their company’s past onboarding deficiencies.

Answers included:

Resources and people to develop the process, hiring manager hasn’t prioritised it ahead of the day-to-day, too many changes and time poor to catch up and reinvent, lack of commitment, capacity, not having defined what the expectations/requirements are, a need to fill seats asap, incorrect structure within the business.

Brad says the usual reasons are: 

1.     No clear ownership – (Brad was clear: “THE MANAGER OWNS ONBOARDING”)

2.     No clear outcome

3.     Part-time usage by very busy managers

How to create a successful onboarding programme

To be effective, managers must define:

  • What Success Looks Like in a role scorecard,
  • and How the New Hire Will Understand in an onboarding sprint plan.

The role scorecard will cover the WHY, OWNERSHIP, WHAT and HOW THEY WILL SUCCEED in detail. An example can be found at Evolution Partners Resources.

The onboarding sprint plan sets out a timeline of activities and tasks over the preboarding to Month 3 timeframe.

The new hire moves through 3 phases: Understanding, Learning and Applying, and Embedding.

Tasks fall under the headlines Cultural Expectations, Manager’s Expectations, Technical and Process Expectations. An example can be found at Evolution Partners Resources

Questions for your team

  • Who owns your onboarding process?
  • How long is your current onboarding process?
  • What is preventing your onboarding process from being effective?
  • How is onboarding debt affecting your organisation?
  • Are your cultural expectations, manager's expectations, and technical process expectations clearly defined for each new hire?
  • Do new hires have a full understanding of these expectations at the end of their onboarding process currently, and if not, what needs to change for them to gain this understanding?

For more learning on building a better culture, book our live virtual Global Headline event in May when organisational health expert Patrick Lencioni will be guest of Growth Faculty for Patrick Lencioni: 6 Types of Genius in a Happy and Engaged Team.

If you'd like to increase your professional and personal development why not consider becoming a Growth Faculty Pass holder? Unlimited access to 40 live virtual masterclasses and Global Headliner virtual events - PLUS year-round leadership content at On Demand with videos, podcasts and book summaries. Join a community of knowledge seekers who are inspired by the best. See who's up next.


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