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New Hire Success: Fixing Broken Onboarding

A few years ago, on the first day of a new job, my boss sent me downstairs to the IT guy, who was going to teach me a complicated software system. As he went over the basics of navigating the system, I watched intently, taking mental and written notes. Half an hour into the demonstration, my eyes got heavy, and the heaviness spread to my whole head. I was nodding off right in front of my new co-worker – big, pronounced nods.

Naturally, I was embarrassed. He didn’t say anything about it, didn’t change course, and continued to drone on about keyboard shortcuts, menus and … something about file extensions? My brain had checked out. I kept waiting to get my hands on the mouse and keyboard and try things out, but that didn’t happen. He continued the college lecture for another hour or two. He was a nice guy, but this onboarding was brutal.

The Problem with Old-School Onboarding

Your employees may feel similarly bored and unengaged during your onboarding process, and that’s a bigger deal than you may think. Remember that saying about first impressions? You get to make only one; and first impressions are lasting impressions. A poor first impression can leave your new hires looking for greener pastures.

Voluntary turnover is a big reason to fix your old, broken onboarding. In 2014, 22% of employees quit their jobs, marking the fourth consecutive year that the percentage had grown. Another figure that should give you pause: on average, 56% of job quitting happens within the first year. Here’s one more, on how expensive turnover is: The cost to replace and hire new staff can be anywhere from 90% to 200% of an annual salary.

So what’s going on here? Well, very often, onboarding revolves around procedural, compliance-based activities, as it did in my story. The result is an impersonal, unengaging, instruction- and document-heavy experience that lacks follow-up and reinforcement. All in all, new hires miss out on feeling a real connection with the company and their job, and without onboarding follow-up, certain knowledge and skills will fall by the wayside, requiring the employee to use up time relearning their duties.

The best companies use the onboarding process to:

  • Excite and inspire
  • Tell a story, establish context
  • Create a connection
  • Inform without overloading
  • Reinforce

Tips for More Engaging Onboarding

To accomplish those goals consider using the following strategies to make your onboarding more effective and engaging.

Incorporate video. Video has the power to create a connection and motivate, mainly because video tells a story, and stories are compelling. Often the story is about the company, its culture and where the new hire fits in.

Think about it: It’s hard to convey company culture in an instructor-led training with 250 new hires, or in a sitdown in a small room. Company culture is ethereal, hard to pin down in words. But a video can convey the culture via images, music, and a story, tapping the emotions of and resonating with the employees.

Culture and branding videos get new hires excited and motivated to work at your company. That positive first impression stays with them, improving retention. To that end, consider including in your video the experiences of current employees. They likely have some impactful stories to share. You can also consider crafting a narrative about a fictional consumer who is affected by the actions of the employee.

Another practical use of video is in skill demonstration. How-to videos are easy to understand, and they’re easily accessible, as opposed to, say, an expert at the company who may not always be available to answer questions. A quick 30-second video avoids overloading employees with too much new information.

Provide opportunities for hands-on work. Speaking of information overload, it’s important to break up your instruction with practice sessions, so the new hire gets some actual hands-on experience while the demonstration is still fresh in his mind. Recall in my onboarding story how I was champing at the bit to practice what the IT guy was showing me. Instead, I was getting dumped with how-to’s without a chance to get behind the wheel.

Human memory is limited, so examples and modeling are almost useless if there’s no immediate opportunity to practice. I felt like I was being shown how to tie 20 knots and expected to demonstrate them all at the end of training.

Follow up. We tend to think onboarding happens over the first week or two, and then it’s done. That’s closer to orientation than onboarding. Onboarding is an ongoing process that takes place over months, even up to a year. Frequent follow-up is critical if you want your new hire to retain knowledge and skills.

To that end, assign a mentor who can perform check-ins and review the new hire’s work. A mentor should be the go-to person for any questions the new hire has. Often, without a mentor, a new hire may feel hesitant to ask questions, as he feels he will simply be bugging the person he’s asking.

An effective, engaging onboarding process will get your employees comfortable, excited, and connected, setting them up for long-term success at your company. Start making your fixes today.