Job offer made and accepted. Woohoo! Your awesome new director starts in two weeks. Ready, set, go! Nothing is more exhilarating than nabbing top talent. Just ask our friend and colleague, Stacey McCreery, founder and president of recruitment firm ROI Search Group. Hopefully, you saw her recent guest article on reenergizing recruitment. But now what? How do you ensure that the fire you and that director feel today doesn’t fizzle out in a few short months? A strong onboarding process, of course!

You can’t go overboard with your onboarding

There’s no such thing as doing too much with your onboarding. In fact, we find that many organizations do far too little. And, in some cases, nothing. It’s depressing, if you ask us. Why? Because statistics show that the hard costs of turnover can be staggering. According to research done by O.C. Tanner, the average cost of replacing an employee is between 16-20 percent of that employee’s salary. And the organizational costs are a whopping 100-300 percent of that person’s salary. To make matters worse, one in four employees (23 percent) leave before their first anniversary. Wait, what? This alone should be enough to get any leader off his or her duff in creating a solid onboarding program.

Begin with an onboarding plan

The first step in keeping top talent is to develop a written onboarding plan. And it’s important to recognize that this is not a one-and-done kind of thing. It’s a strategic process that generally lasts at least a year. We often see Communications and Human Resources teams working together to develop a comprehensive plan. Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • When will the onboarding program begin?
  • What do you want new hires to gain from the program?
  • What do new employees need to know about the company culture and/or work environment?
  • How will you encourage existing employees, especially managers, to support the onboarding efforts?
  • What goals has the organization set for new employees?
  • How will you know if the onboarding program is successful?

Answering these questions will help you write a plan that keeps people engaged and cuts down on attrition. The goal is to thread the onboarding program so deep into your organization’s fabric that it becomes part of the DNA. One way to ensure this happens is to set a system-wide retention goal. We’ve seen organizations put goals aimed at reducing turnover rates on their dashboards. These goals are generally within a certain threshold and may fluctuate slightly depending on the size of the department. Still, they help keep retention top-of-mind with managers. Consider doing the same in your organization.

Good onboarding aids employee engagement

Finding the best candidate for a position is a challenge. No doubt. But it can be even harder to keep productive, talented employees. That’s why a strong onboarding program is so important. It engages people and helps them connect to the company culture. In fact, according to research by Gallup, companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147 percent in earnings per share. Engagement matters! One valuable tool to help new employees learn the story of your organization is key messaging. Organizational key messages help new and existing employees better understand your organization’s story and see the impact they can have on customers, clients, partners, even patients. We also encourage leaders to commit to ongoing learning, training and coaching for their teams. This shows staff that you care about them and their career development. This is something that’s especially important to those in the younger generations. We know from experience that onboarding and ongoing training can lead to higher employee satisfaction and better retention. How much better? O.C. Tanner research shows that nearly 7 out of 10 employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experience great onboarding. Seems worth the investment, don’t you think?

Onboarding is more than orientation

When it comes to helping top talent adjust to a new job, it’s important to point out that onboarding is not orientation. Orientation is more of an event. Something that occurs on a specific day at a specific time. Many organizations have an orientation where new employees learn the basics. Things like the company mission and vision, where to park, what food options are available on campus, safety issues to be aware of and mandatory training expectations. This is quite different from onboarding. Onboarding is not an event. It’s the process of assimilating employees into the organization and ensuring they have the information, tools and support they need to be successful. A good onboarding program is of huge value to organizations. How? Research shows that organizations with a standard onboarding process experience 54 percent greater new hire productivity and 50 percent greater new hire retention. These numbers sound pretty good to us! A ton of stats support the case for thoughtful onboarding. So, let’s look at some best practices that can help you make your top talent feel welcome, starting day one.

Day one

Every phase of the onboarding process matters. Big and small. Right from the onset. Because sometimes the simplest things can make all the difference. Here are a few things you should do for all new hires on day one.

Set up their office

There’s nothing better than coming into a squeaky-clean office with your desk, phone and computer all set up and ready to go. Now, contrast that with coming into a dirty office with a trashcan full of papers and an error message on your computer screen when you try to log in for the first time. Think about how that might make you feel. Talk about a buzz kill.

Give them a welcome package

In addition to a clean office, it’s also a nice to create a welcome package that includes a special gift or two. Perhaps it’s a leather portfolio. Or a travel mug for coffee or tea. Maybe it’s a personalized pen. Or a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Maybe it’s all the above. Whatever you decide to give your new hire, make sure it includes a handwritten note welcoming him or her to the team. It’s also a good idea to include copies of administrative things like the company handbook, their job description and other procedural tip sheets.

Take them on a tour

Once your new hire arrives, be sure to give him or her a tour of the office. Show him or her the basics like where the bathroom is, where extra paper is for the printer and where to find office supplies like pens and paper clips. In addition, make sure to introduce your new employee to colleagues as you walk around. After the tour, we also recommend you clarify the week’s schedule and review any necessary policies and procedures with him or her.

Treat them to lunch

Finally, we recommend setting aside time to take your new employee to lunch on his or her first day. If you have a small team, invite everyone to join. If you have a larger team, or the person is in a high-profile position, consider inviting a top executive such as the CEO or a VP to join. This can go a long way in making a new hire feel welcomed. The goal is to make the employee’s first day memorable. In addition to the above activities, be sure you’ve checked these items off your list prior to day one.

  • Order or submit for building keys/badge.
  • Order business cards.
  • Request necessary authorizations.
  • Add to distribution lists.
  • Add to relevant, standing meeting invitations
  • Have a clear set of priorities for the new hire to tackle.
  • Identify a potential mentor/buddy.

Months 1-3

OK, so your new employee showed up for day two. You must be doing something right! Now, the next phase of onboarding begins. Studies shows that one in five employees quit in the first 45 days. Sometimes, it’s just not a good fit, personality-wise. Other times, the work is more complex than expected. A new hire may even find that the work is simply not inspiring enough. Whatever the reason, turnover this early in the game can take a bite out of your bottom line. But there are some steps you can take to avoid this.

Schedule weekly check-ins

First, we encourage you to schedule weekly check-ins with new employees. This allows for open dialogue between the two of you and can uncover issues before they become a serious problem. This authentic dialogue and feedback is important in establishing trust between a manager and an employee. While it may seem like you’re investing a lot of time, making yourself available in these early months will pay off in the long-run. Also, be sure your new hire is set up with an internal mentor by the end of the first month.

Use technology to your advantage

Whenever possible, use technology to help facilitate the onboarding process. It can be super overwhelming to a candidate to receive three binders full of information on his or her first day. Instead, we encourage you to work with your HR and IT colleagues to set up an online onboarding portal where new employees and existing staff can access information as needed. If you go this route, the portal should be easy to navigate and accessible from outside the organization. We often see organizations make this an extension of their intranet.

Set up shadowing opportunities

To help new staff acclimate to the company and become more familiar with their colleagues, invite them to join you at meetings. This allows them to take in information at regular intervals and make important connections over time. Allowing new hires to observe interactions between different teams can help them better understand the culture and identify behavioral norms. We also want to point out that inviting new hires to networking opportunities outside the organization is an excellent way to help them assimilate into the community. For example, someone who’s used to working in the bustle of a major city may find that working in a smaller city is quite different. This takes some adjustment, too.

Months 3-6

After the first 90 days, you’ll likely begin making some adjustments to how often you meet with your new employee. We recommend that you still set aside regular one-on-one time; however, you may want to reduce your meeting frequency. Maybe you shift your 1:1s to every other week or once a month, depending on his or her progress. During this time, you should continue giving your new hire increasingly challenging assignments. Now’s the time, too, to start talking with him or her about performance and professional development goals. This is also when you might want to schedule another lunch where the two of you can have a more informal conversation about how things are going. Be sure to ask your new hires if they see any gaps in their training or skill-building that would allow them to be more successful. Depending on how your organization is structured, you’ll want to do either a 90-day or 180-day review during this period. As part of this appraisal, encourage your new hire to write down goals for the next six months. We often recommend that managers use a “hit and misses” approach in these early days. For example, what three things do you think you did well (hits)? And what three things could you have done better (misses)? This is a non-threatening way for the two of you to talk about performance metrics as you continue to build trust with each other. And finally, you should consider surveying new hires at regular intervals to find out, in real-time, what they think of the process and how to improve it. Once an employee has been with a company for a while, they can forget what went well in those first few months. So, plan to get their feedback earlier in the process.

Months 6-12

In the back half of your new hire’s first year, you’ll want to start shifting from simple training and information-gathering to more career development. And you’ll want to help your employee start to find other activities outside of his or her normal work area. For example, if your organization participates in Lean initiatives, advocate for your new hire to join one of the teams. This not only builds skillsets, but also allows for more dialogue and collaboration across functions. Be sure to celebrate your employee’s successes during this time and continue giving regular, timely and informal feedback. Ask your employee what they think is working best and where he or she sees opportunities for improvement. Most importantly, make sure that his or her skills are being used fully. This is also a perfect time to ask for feedback on the onboarding process itself.


Organizations work hard to recruit and hire top talent. But the process doesn’t end there. Leaders must view onboarding and ongoing training as an extension of the recruitment process. One that’s vital to improving employee engagement and satisfaction, productivity and, ultimately, retention. If you’d like help in developing a thoughtful onboarding plan, send us a note. We’re here for you! And be sure to check out this article on how to develop leadership skills in all levels of staff.