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Why You Can’t Afford Bad Onboarding

Dan, a recent college graduate, was excited to start his new job as a marketing analyst for an online retailer. He had just moved from Chicago to Salt Lake City, and looked forward to enjoying the mountain lifestyle while getting his career off to a solid start. Dan’s interview process went well, and he walked into the office on his first day ready to hit the ground running.

Dan met Cheryl, the employee orientation liaison, in a conference room. She handed Dan a few forms to fill out and then disappeared to prepare his workstation. Dan finished the paperwork and, after waiting another thirty minutes, went looking for Cheryl. Dan found her working with an intern to install critical software on his computer, but unfortunately neither of them had admin access and the IT manager was on vacation. Cheryl apologized and told Dan there was no way to continue, so he might as well go home and wait for the company to solve the problem. Three days later, Dan finally got up to speed, but it was too late—his first impression of the company was so bad that he had started making plans to switch jobs. One month later, he was happily employed at a company that had their act together.

The process Dan went through, and the company fumbled so badly, is part of onboarding. That’s the ritual of bringing a new member into a group, and it’s been a part of life ever since the dawn of civilization. It’s a critical part of growing a company and, as Dan’s experience shows, doing it poorly can have grave consequences. According to a study by Equifax, more than 40% of all employees who left their jobs in 2014 did so within the first six months, and bad onboarding is a big factor in this. Bad onboarding also makes employees who stay less productive, which costs the company money over the long term.

What factors contribute to bad onboarding? Here are some biggies:

  • Not having equipment ready. In Dan’s situation, Cheryl should have prepared the workstation beforehand and double checked that she’d have IT support before Dan walked in the door. If you’re a fan of onboarding horror stories, you’ll read a disturbing number of cases where new hires don’t even have a desk to sit at.
  • Unclear objectives. It’s a terrible feeling to know that you are expected to do something, but you don’t know exactly what it is or when you’re supposed to have it done. Just like effective training, an effective onboarding program indicates what to do, how to do it, and what the next steps are. A program with unclear objectives can make you feel lost.
  • Too much information. It’s hard to get started when you don’t have enough information. But a massive download of information on the first day can have a paralyzing effect. Remember your first week of high school? That likely involved meeting five or six new teachers, learning school and classroom protocols, struggling with unfamiliar academic subjects, and navigating a brand new social landscape. In a business environment, too much information can overwhelm workers and keep them from focusing on what’s important.
  • No context. New initiates to any group often ask, “Hey, what’s going on?” That’s not just small talk—it’s a serious question. Where is the company positioned in its industry, what’s the company’s mission and how does my job contribute to it? If these questions aren’t answered during the onboarding process, new employees can feel a lack of purpose and low motivation toward their job.
  • Raised-by-wolves approach. In large organizations, busy managers might see a new hire’s coworkers as the ideal onboarding liaisons. A few minutes filling out forms with the HR manager, a few introductions and instructions to “Ask Steve!” may be seen as adequate. Without organized and consistent training, new employees are left with incomplete and inefficient ways of doing work.

Fortunately, there are solutions to these issues. Get company leadership on board with the importance of onboarding, and you won’t have to fight so hard to get those involved in the new hire process on board too. Then, while a welcoming culture and attention to detail are critical, a well-designed course can give new hires a solid foundation without usurping much of a manager’s time. For example, Allen’s new hire training for Domino’s introduces the company brand and culture, and immerses employees in the pizza-making process before touching their first ball of dough, giving them the tools to excel at hands-on training and start contributing to the bottom line right away.