Is your onboarding process giving new hires second thoughts?

“You have an onboarding process already—the only question is whether you’re managing it or not.” – from New Hire Onboarding: Practical Advice to Boost Performance & Retention

Even back when she was completing her MBA, Amy Hirsh Robinson of Interchange Group had a feeling about the Millennial generation: When they eventually went to work, there would be an unusual level of conflict because of the values gap between them and previous generations.

Bingo. By 2018, they’ll be 50 percent of the workforce, and you very much need them to stay with you to fill the massive gap left by departing baby boomers. The problem: When people find themselves in unfamiliar territory during their first days and weeks on the job, they’re much more likely to jump to conclusions—”premature cognitive commitments”—and see bad or simply awkward onboarding as indicative of a poorly run organization that just doesn’t care about its people.

You have much less time than you think to make a good impression. So how are you going to do it?

Consider these facts Amy presented during her recent webinar on the topic:

  • An employee tends to make the true decision to stay long-term within the first six months.
  • That same employee is 69% more likely to stay with the company after three years if brought up to speed through a structured onboarding program.
  • IBM realized their own process looked too much to the short-term, so they changed its duration from 90 days to two years.

“Everyone has an onboarding horror story,” Amy told her audience. Usually it’s about a highly motivated new hire abandoned to stacks of dry paperwork, boring manuals and tedious presentations. Her list of the critical steps when onboarding employees boiled down to seeing them as individuals, and tweaking the process for each rather than treating them like cattle. Ask yourself: Who are they meeting on day one-the go-to people they should be? Are there relationships being built right away, or are they screened off from the allies they’ll need each and every day? And does it seem like the company cares?

Amy’s onboarding pitfalls to avoid:

  1. Not having a clean and ready workstation ready on day one.
  2. Cramming 20 hours of information into four dull-as-dust hours of orientation.
  3. Ignoring the needs of mid- to senior level execs (“Onboarding gets worse the higher your position,” one manager told Amy, as if you’re just supposed to know your way around because you’re wearing a nice suit).
  4. Failing to address generational needs and differences.
  5. Starting a new hire when his or her supervisor is absent (“It’s like getting married and not having your spouse on the honeymoon,” Amy noted).
  6. Relying on org charts to explain lines of communication.
  7. Assuming a new hire can’t be productive from the start.
  8. Running a disorganized program.
  9. Adopting a sink-or-swim approach—because it worked for you.

One more possible pitfall to keep in mind: Exercise caution with automated, off-the-shelf onboarding software. “It is not a silver bullet,” Amy said. That software may catch data entry mistakes and smooth out paperwork, but it doesn’t understand even a smidgen about your culture, and it doesn’t exactly have the human touch people are looking for in the critical early days.

OK, so you’ve been totally professional with your onboarding, and now it’s time to actually get a newbie pumped up. A webinar attendee used the Q & A session to ask, “How do we strike an emotional chord during the process, one that really lasts?” Listen to Amy’s response.