The art of onboarding

In their column, Korn Ferry’s Megan Jackson and Tessa Misiaszek explain why a thorough onboarding process is a  strategic imperative for business success.

The start of a new hire’s journey is like a musician’s grand stage debut—a first performance that demands the right acoustics, meticulous tuning, and a harmonious orchestra. In this scenario, the onboarding process acts as the conductor, guiding the rhythm and facilitating the melody.

Onboarding, however, extends beyond merely hitting the correct notes. It can be a transformative experience as employees begin to play in tune with their company's ethos. Yet, while indispensable, it's frequently under-rehearsed and underestimated.

The danger lurks when businesses fail to comprehend the extensive repercussions of ineffective onboarding. Research shows that, when companies use solid onboarding practices, they see an impressive 82% boost in new-hire retention and a 70% increase in productivity. Despite this, 58% of firms predominantly concentrate their onboarding efforts on procedures and paperwork, thereby ignoring its hidden power to foster talent engagement and retention. What’s more, employees who underwent a comprehensive onboarding process were 18 times more committed to their organizations, according to a recent study. This finding underscores the need for companies to establish a bond with their workers early on to cultivate a sense of belonging and engagement.

Effective onboarding can also boost revenue and customer satisfaction. When companies take the time to connect new hires to the culture of the organization, brand values are operationalized through the employee workforce. Therefore, with every touchpoint a customer has with the company, its brand values are realized and further cemented in their minds. Over time, this builds brand loyalty, and the company, as well as its customers, are singing a happy tune.

In an era characterized by high turnover rates and talent shortages, adhering to outdated and limited onboarding methods is a pitfall. So, what makes an onboarding process truly effective?

A well-executed onboarding program transcends bureaucratic procedures. It helps new hires understand their roles and responsibilities, allowing them to contribute to the company's success from day one. This increased productivity not only positively impacts revenue, but also enhances customer satisfaction as employees are better equipped to meet their needs. Ultimately, successful onboarding creates a congruent relationship between the company, its employees, and its customers, leading to long-term success.

Onboarding should also be underpinned by a strong analytics framework and key performance indicators (KPIs) to evaluate its effectiveness in cultivating future leaders, boosting vital organizational skills, and fostering growth and sustainability. These metrics should leverage industry and market best practices for an advanced KPI structure.

Companies must also assess whether the program is developing the necessary enterprise skills and competencies. If not, the organization risks having senior talent ascend into executive management roles without the behaviors, skills, and mindsets needed for the future. The effectiveness of an onboarding program, therefore, can be determined by its ability to identify and retain the right leaders, properly equipping them with the necessary skills for their roles.

However, many organizations are struggling with the shift to remote hiring due to imposed constraints brought on by the pandemic and development of the hybrid workplace. This new landscape calls for a flexible, tech-savvy approach to onboarding, leveraging digital tools to effectively communicate company culture, values, and expectations. Furthermore, goal setting during onboarding is essential. A vast majority of companies will neglect setting goals for new hires, but outlining a clear trajectory for progression can significantly enhance the motivation and commitment of new employees.

Despite the numerous benefits of having a robust onboarding program, many companies do not dedicate sufficient funds to this process. Considering that disengaged employees can burden U.S. employers with costs of up to $500 billion annually, the returns from onboarding clearly justify the initial investment. But with 20% of new hires leaving a job within the first 45 days, the need for a  comprehensive, captivating, and well-structured onboarding process is magnified. It is important that onboarding not only takes place within the first three days on the job, but also entails a thoughtful approach that includes assessment, goal setting, learning, and development.

A well-executed onboarding program is key to creating a productive and harmonious work environment. Given the current business challenges of high employee turnover and talent shortages, it's crucial that organizations get this process right. Successful onboarding requires careful preparation, the right blend of elements, and a focus on long-term success. It's time for companies to orchestrate the onboarding process with the attention it deserves, integrating it into the art of business strategy.

To find out more, learn about Korn Ferry’s Leadership & Professional Development capabilities.