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ATD Blog

Out-of-the-Ordinary Onboarding

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

When I think about onboarding new employees, I start with the premise of an obvious oversight in organizations, specifically those that suffer from high turnover. Their resources and tools are heavily focused on attracting and selecting best-in-class employees, and allocate very little time on first impressions. This makes absolutely no sense. It’s like having an incredible marketing strategy and tools to sell shoes and paying no attention to the quality of the shoes—the one thing that may sustain your business, ensure customer loyalty, and influence your brand. That makes no business sense.

Engaging your new workforce is critical to the health of your business. For one, you want more engaged employees, and what better strategy than to start with your newly found talent? Gallup’s 2018 State of the Global Workforce report, which accrued employee feedback from 155 countries, concluded that just 15 percent of our global workforce is actively engaged. The numbers are higher for the United States and Canada, with an average of 35 percent engaged workforce. This means that, on average, two thirds of your current workforce are simply counting the hours to the paycheck, and probably approach their job and new tasks with little, if any, enthusiasm. What does this mean in monetary value? The report estimated $7 trillion in lost productivity globally. These employees probably give you their time, but not their best effort or ideas.

So how does this impact onboarding? According to a recent report by Jobvite, almost 30 percent of new employees leave their job within 90 days. The number 1 reason for leaving is identified as unmet expectations. Young workers want to clearly see the opportunity for growth. The Jobvite study reports that more female workers will exit when they feel their need for work–life balance is not being met or respected. Meanwhile, more male workers reported wanting more money and will readily join another company for a better compensation.

Most organizations look at the cost of onboarding and training as just that—cost. Progressive organizations, however, view this process as a profit strategy. Onboarding, when done right, can influence the culture of the organization and bring into awareness the new energy, ideas, and possibilities a new hire brings.

People rarely forget their onboarding experiences, positive or otherwise. It's a time of significant transition for them at many levels, including the intellectual, social, and environmental aspects. Those moments, I assure you, will be remembered, because people's memories are defined by unique moments—out-of-the-ordinary experiences—whether bad or good.

So what do you do today to bring value and impact to the onboarding process?


Define what you want employees to experience and why you want to spend the time and effort to make it happen. Focus on the purpose of your onboarding and clarify what you expect to happen as a result of your plan. Then, clearly articulate the “what” and “why” with your talent management and development team. We tend to focus on the “how” without spending enough time on the end result. It is much more effective to align your people, programs, and tools when you are clear about the desired end result.

Create meaningful connections. People at all ages and stages of life have an intrinsic need to connect to others. This is so important when your new employees are immersed in a new environment with new people and new ways of doing things. The most critical connection is with the employee’s manager. The number 1 reason that employees leave their organization is their manager. Managers must take the time to meet with the employee, share their vision for the role, and create weekly milestones for the new employee.

Having clear expectations alleviates the stress of the unknown and creates a map of success throughout the onboarding process. Another critical connection is with peers. Identify a mentor or buddy who will support the new employee throughout their first-90-day journey. The buddy has a clear set of guidelines, such as introduce the employee to others, show them different areas, share their personal perspective about the culture and some of the unspoken rules, and so on. The buddy is their go-to person for questions and support. Create a strong bond with the employee, and you will influence their decision to stay. In fact, employees with an effective onboarding experience are 30 times more likely to stay in the company (Forbes, 2018).


Create weekly milestones. Planning onboarding requires time and effort. Ensure that your new employee has a clear idea of their weekly milestones, including those the manager sets as discussed above. Preferably, each week, the manager plans weekly checkpoints with the employee to go over the milestone, set expectations, and address roadblocks. Schedule time for training as well as for socializing.

Training is one key element of onboarding; it is not the only element. Take time to include team meetings, shadowing, and open dialogue with the new employee. Get to know the employee—their values, their challenges, and their vision for growth. Making a sincere effort to know the person will promote loyalty and ultimately engagement. Incorporate career development discussions early in the process and make it an essential part of your discussions with the employee. Ask how you can support them and what they are concerned about.

Sell the company’s mission, vision, and culture. Having a sense of purpose is a proven engagement strategy. Make it a priority. If you want an engaged team, start with purpose. Align your purpose to their values and watch the magic happen. It is such an easy (no cost) tool, and yet many managers miss the boat on its retention power. Onboarding requires intentional attention to what employees value—to feel connected and aligned to an important purpose.

According to a peer-reviewed article in American Management, support from the leader and team promote a positive experience for employees . . . which leads to more commitment and productivity from the employee. On the other hand, in the absence of support and guidance, employees report negative feelings toward their work environment and less commitment to working hard. A standardized approach to onboarding, coupled with commitment to create a positive experience for new employees, will help managers retain their newest talent and promote engagement and productivity over time.

About the Author

Loubna Noureddin is an organizational development leader and executive coach.

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Loved this article Loubna. I've experienced a lot of training but very little relational connection effort. I loved the emphasis you put on that. There really is no better way to motivate and keep employees.
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Great article, Loubna! I think the weekly follow-ups are crucial to keeping the employee engaged and hey, letting them know we are still excited they are on the team. This was a thoughtful article. Thank you!
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