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Move Onboarding Beyond One and Done

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

One of the most broken processes in the workplace is onboarding. That’s according to a new study from Nintex, a workflow and content automation platform. Definitive Guide to America’s Most Broken Processes reports that 58 percent of U.S. employees at organizations with more than 1,000 workers face broken onboarding processes.

“Faulty onboarding starts new employees on the wrong foot,” says Dan Stoll, technical product marketing manager at Nintex. This not only deflates morale and productivity, but it will likely “cause them to quit later on,” he says. In fact, some experts estimate that more than 40 percent of turnover happens within the first month, and another 10 percent or more leave before their first anniversary.

Challenges and Solutions

So what is the problem with most current onboarding practices? Onboard, Engage, and Develop: How Organizations Improve Effectiveness, a 2017 study from ATD Research finds that many employers take a one and done approach to onboarding. In essence, new hires receive an excessive information dump and are introduced to numerous colleagues in the first day or two on the job, and then they are simply sent off to work on their own. To improve effectiveness of onboarding programs and lessen the chance of losing new employees, ATD’s research recommends creating onboarding programs that last anywhere from the first three months up to a full year.

According to Karen Lawson, author of New Employee Orientation Training, effective onboarding programs start with a written plan that outlines specific components, actions, timelines, goals, responsibilities, and available support. She notes that it’s important to involve all stakeholders in the onboarding process. The most obvious people involved are the new employees and the talent development professional who designs and delivers the orientation program. However, Lawson reminds that many more people need to be part of the onboarding process, including organizational leaders, the human resources (HR) department, the training department, and the employees’ supervisors.

In addition, breaking down the timeline into segments can help give structure to the onboarding plan. For instance, plan for some sort of interaction or activity prior to employee’s first day, on the first day, and during the first week. Then, plot out and develop directed communication and learning experiences—such as manager check-ins, webinars, mentoring, and formal training—for the first month, within 60 days, and during a 90-day follow-up.

Case in Point: New York Community Bank

One company taking the long approach to onboarding is New York Community Bank. With a growing business comprising 226 branch offices spanning five states, NYCB needed to more efficiently prepare its new employees—ranging from bank tellers to regional managers—to perform their job responsibilities. So working with NYCB’s talent development team, Claudette Nunez, director of employee development and training, decided to introduce formal training elements into the onboarding process.


Not surprisingly, the new program required employees to attend an orientation, in which the HR department provided a general introduction to the company on their first day of employment. This is no different than most companies. Here’s where NYCB diverges from most onboarding programs: employees began new hire training on their second day, and over the next seven days, they received eight hours of training each day.

“During the seven days of live instructor-led classes, instructors strove to create a multifaceted environment to engage every type of learner,” says Nunez. The program used a variety of different instructional methods, including independent activities, group activities, video clips, discussions, quizzes, games, and role playing. The training classes covered topics such as an overview of banking, the history of NYCB, branch-opening procedures, product training, sales and service, and check fraud.

The talent development team provided the new employees’ managers with graded evaluations of their attendance, professionalism, participation, knowledge, and skills while attending class. If an employee needed further training, the evaluation would also include additional items that an experienced member of the branch staff could cover.

Nunez explains that new hires also were given access to a special online discussion board for their first 90 days of employment. “This discussion board provided a closed space in which to communicate and share information with other new employees, including those working at other branches,” she says.

The result: NYCB reports that employees who were onboarded under the new program have been able to perform their job duties at a pace that is 74 percent faster than previous new hires. “After completing the program, employees would arrive at their job location equipped with the fundamental skills they needed to perform their day-to-day responsibilities,” notes Nunez.

Getting Started

Few organizations manage the different pieces of onboarding well, and most new hires fail to receive clear messages about what their manager and organization expects from them. For onboarding to succeed, you need to remember that your program should be more than completing paperwork, shaking a few hands, and pointing people to the nearest deli. With thoughtful planning, input from key stakeholders, and regular interaction that lasts longer than the first week, you will not only welcome employees to the company, you can bring them into the culture and prepare them to excel.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at 

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