Posted on May 22, 2017

Your new hire may be thrilled to have secured a job with your company. But most likely, he or she will still be nervous at the outset. More than that, the first few weeks on the job is a time of vulnerability, presenting hazards both for the new employee and for your organization.

Research in a report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) underscores just how big the danger is. That is, half of hourly workers leave new jobs within about four months, and half of senior outside hires fail within 18 months. But employers that implement step-by-step programs orienting employees toward their new roles and organizational norms are more effective than those that don’t.

The 4 “Cs”

What are the ingredients of an effective onboarding program? Here are four dimensions:

  1. Compliance. Acquaint new employees with basic employer policies, including legal requirements.
  2. Clarification. Make sure new employees know what’s expected of them.
  3. Culture. Give employees a sense of formal and informal organizational norms.
  4. Connection. Facilitate the development of relationships that employees need to feel comfortable and know where to get answers.

When you’ve got these dimensions covered, the results will generally be lower turnover and higher job satisfaction (which tend to go hand-in-hand), better performance, reduced employee stress and effective career management.

Be Prepared

The most effective onboarding programs are obviously customized to the specific employer’s organization. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) gives its managers detailed onboarding checklists. The checklists identify anticipated outcomes for each of several phases of the process.

One key to success at MIT is getting started before a new employee arrives. The goal — and outcome, if successful — is that the new employee finds a “welcoming work environment with informed colleagues and a fully equipped work space,” according to the school’s website.

MIT emphasizes that new employees should feel as settled in as possible the day they start. That requires making sure the new employee’s workstation is well-equipped and functional (with computers and phones hooked up). In addition, incumbent employees should be prepared to greet new hires and begin establishing working relationships with them. MIT also endorses linking up new hires with a “buddy” to smooth their transition.

On the first day, in addition to having all of the above set to go, MIT managers are expected to:

  • Outline the employee’s schedule for the first week,
  • Describe the purpose and goals, and place these in the organizational structure of the new hire’s department, along with his or her role within the department, and
  • Review the job description, duties and expectations, as well as basic work policies, and employee benefits.

In theory, there should be no surprises at this point (assuming the job was described accurately during the hiring process). Other routine HR paperwork tasks, such as completing I-9 forms, will also need to occur, though they aren’t technically part of an onboarding program.

Over the course of the first week, if not on the first day, the new employee should have an initial assignment in hand. He or she also should be informed about the performance review and goal-setting process, as well as the probationary employment period.

Debriefing Sessions and More

During this early period, an effective onboarding program will include debriefing sessions after the new hire has attended meetings. The purpose is to ensure appropriate takeaways have been absorbed. This also is a good time to check that the new employee has signed up for or completed any training that may be helpful or is required.

After the employee has had a month on the job, you should seek feedback on how the work is going, and how well-acclimated the new employee feels to the organization. Inevitably there will be some questions, but even if very few arise, you’re communicating your willingness to answer questions in the future.

It’s also important to discreetly assess whether a new employee is fitting in socially and building relationships with coworkers. The MIT checklist suggests managers continue introducing the new hire to key people and ensure he or she is invited to relevant events.

By the time the six-month milestone arrives, if the onboarding process has done its job, says MIT, the new employee should have “gained momentum in producing deliverables, begun to take the lead on some initiatives,” and have a degree of confidence and a feeling of engagement in his or her new role.

A performance review should be conducted at that point, which can mark the end of the formal onboarding process. However, if the review identifies performance shortfalls, it’s important to identify whether the problem is in the onboarding process or elsewhere. Either way, the indicated issues should be addressed promptly.

Obviously, problems with a job can arise at any point. But as the saying goes, “well begun is half done.” A strong start gives an employee a running chance for success in a new position and a chance to make a real contribution to your company.