Onboarding is critical for new hire success, yet companies onboard poorly, focusing on the wrong aspects. Great onboarding isn’t just a way of welcoming new hires, it’s how companies help great talent become productive faster.

According to a research study from the Association for Talent Development (ATD), nine in 10 talent leaders (90%) indicate that onboarding programs were important in their organization. When asked about the next five years, the percentage went up to 96%.

According to an article at ATD, “The reason is simple: organizations need to retain great talent, and retention efforts need to start immediately.”

There’s bad news, however.

When ATD surveyed 724 talent development and learning professionals, only a third of participants rated their organization’s onboarding programs as effective. One explanation might be the lack of involvement from senior leadership.

That’s because only 20% of respondents reported that senior leadership was directly involved in onboarding efforts.

Involve senior leadership in onboarding programs

In the same ATD article, Lisa Slater, manager of sales learning and development for The Hershey Company, notes, “The key to effective onboarding is the level of leader engagement across the function and the entire organization.”

ATD cites the Bainum Family Foundation, which involves senior leaders by providing them with an onboarding toolkit. The toolkit is geared towards hiring managers, arming them with tools and resources for onboarding.

Bainum Family Foundation also provides employee development profiles to managers, which lists the strengths and weaknesses of new hires. The profiles also provide suggestions (personalized to each employee) on how to create a smooth onboarding process.

Another way to involve senior leaders is to give employees access to them during the onboarding process. In a post on the LinkedIn Talent Blog, the company details the executive Q&A that’s part of every onboarding program.

According to Jason Weeman of LinkedIn, “All our execs have an open door policy, and we want the new hires to feel that closeness to various company leaders on the first day.” In an example detailed in the post, LinkedIn’s VP of Corporate Development, Emilie Choi, spoke to new employees about LinkedIn’s M&A approach and shared her proudest moments at the company.

Flip your thinking: onboarding is an on-ramp, not a task

Some HR leaders think of onboarding like any other task to be completed off the checklist.

Think differently!

Onboarding is a strategic investment in the success of your most valuable asset: employees. It forms their first impression and is a strong predictor of their engagement, productivity, success and retention.

In a blog post at SHRM, Sean Little, VP of Marketing at FirstJob.com, urges HR leaders not to confuse onboarding with orientation. Instead, writes, Little, “It is an ongoing process that starts with the decision to hire an employee and continues until the new hire is a productive member of the team.”

An effective onboarding program, according to Little, enables a new hire to become productive in the briefest period possible, while improving the company’s chances of retaining the employee.

In a LinkedIn Pulse article, Matt Hoffman, currently Partner & Head of Talent at M13 and formerly VP People at DigitalOcean, described how DigitalOcean uses documented objectives during the onboarding process.

According to Hoffman, “Our talent development team works with new hires and their managers to ensure they have clear, measurement objectives for success so that the employees are aligned with the areas of focus. The same team schedules 30, 60, and 90-day reviews to discuss progress against those objectives.”

Hoffman notes that stakeholders ought to sign off on the objectives beforehand and provide the necessary support and feedback to new hires. During the first 90 days, effective feedback can set the tone for the employee’s entire tenure with the organization.

In addition, the mutually agreed-upon objectives give both organization and new hire a quantitative way to assess the success of the employee’s start.

Factor in generational differences

For new employees coming into your organization, mind the differences between generations. Gen X, millennials and Gen Z have different values, communications styles and expectations.

According to an article at SHRM about onboarding, nearly one-third of new hires quit their jobs within the first six months. This could apply particularly to millennials, who may be new to the workforce and unsure what to expect. A sub-par onboarding process may encourage them to leave. 

At an early stage in their careers, millennials tend to focus on purpose, values, learning, and growth. An effective onboarding program for said millennials should cater to these needs. 

According to Amy Hirsh Robinson, principal of the consulting firm The Interchange Group, “They [millennials] want to see a structured way forward. They want to know what’s expected of them and what they need to do to progress.” 

Use technology to streamline processes (where appropriate)

While technology should not replace the face-to-face, one-on-one interactions between new hires and members of your organization, it can be used to automate or streamline more administrative tasks, such as forms, approvals and some elements of training.

According to the same SHRM article, “Rather than giving new hires mountains of information to memorize, show them how to use the benefits portal to find the information they need, and then let them absorb that information on their own time.”

My Ally provides a solution to help streamline elements of the onboarding process. Recently, we announced the first AI-powered new hire onboarding solution for enterprise clients. Our solution helps new hires become productive sooner and provides customizable experiences based on employees’ seniority, function, and industry.

Don’t forget to have a little fun

If employees can become productive sooner, all while having fun, it’s a win-win all around.

A post on the CGS blog detailed the onboarding program at Hulu, featuring Stephanie Bertmer, Hulu’s onboarding program manager and talent development leader. 

To become familiar with their building, Hulu created teams of new employees and put them on a scavenger hunt. They paired people from different divisions and challenged them to find things in the building. The activity was a lot of fun — meanwhile, employees completed the scavenger knowing all the necessary details of their building.

As an HR leader, ask which onboarding activities you could structure in a similarly fun way.