ATD Blog

Leaders Must Take Onboarding Personally

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

You get the employee engagement you deserve. If leaders don’t engage with their workers, the workers won’t engage with the organization.

If all you need is compliance, indirect communication is fine. If you want them to contribute, you’ll need direct communication. If you want them to commit to the cause, you must make emotional connections with them.

This is particularly true at important moments of truth—starting with how you onboard new employees. So, take onboarding training and development personally, and make it personal.

Think in terms of aligning the organization around the role before you start recruiting and acquiring talent. Accommodate new employees’ needs so they can do work, and assimilate them in so they can work with others and then accelerating their progress.

A new employee’s boss must own that employee’s results—from the moment she determines she needs a new employee. In line with that, the boss has accountability for the success of the new employee’s onboarding. As training and development professionals, you can help along the way. 


Step one is making sure the boss has the knowledge, skills, and motivation to pull together a recruiting brief and total onboarding plan. The boss also must get critical stakeholders aligned around those before any recruiting starts.



Everything communicates. How you acquire employees makes a lasting, indelible impression on them. Make sure the boss and everyone involved in talent acquisition are recruiting and selecting new employees in a way that sets them and the organization up for future success. All sorts of training and development opportunities present themselves here around interviewing, communicating, and the like.


Two big pieces in the accommodation phase of onboarding are co-creating the new employee’s personal onboarding plan and managing the announcement cascade. On the one hand, these can be relatively straightforward. On the other hand, these are non-trivial opportunities to strengthen or hurt relationships. Training and developing the boss and other key stakeholders around how to do these right can make a meaningful difference.


It continues to amaze me how many organizations think this is just about day one or the initial orientation or even giving a new employee a list of 10 people they should meet. Proper assimilation requires much more than this. “Introduce” is an active verb. The boss needs to play an active role in helping to jump-start critical relationships. Train them to do so.



Finally, don’t let the boss set the new employee free too soon. People need support in accelerating their progress well beyond the length of time most people think they need. Build this into your training.

Bottom line

Managers of new employees must take their onboarding personally if they hope to optimize engagement. Likewise, training and development professionals must take onboarding training—across the phases—personally if you hope to get your new employees’ bosses to believe in the importance of these activities.

For more on onboarding, request an executive summary.

About the Author

George Bradt has a unique perspective on transformational leadership based on his experience as a business leader, consultant, and journalist. He progressed through sales, marketing, and general management roles around the world at companies including Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and J.D. Power’s Power Information Network spin-off as chief executive. Now he is a principal of CEO Connection and managing director of the executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis.

George is a graduate of Harvard and Wharton (MBA), co-author of four books on onboarding, including The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan, and co-author of a weekly column on, The New Leader’s Playbook.

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