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ATD Blog

Senior Leader Involvement: Missing Ingredient of Onboarding

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Onboarding is one the most salient features of integrated talent management. Not surprisingly, a recent ATD Research study, Onboard, Engage, and Develop: How Organizations Improve Effectiveness, reports that approximately nine in 10 talent leaders indicate that onboarding programs were currently very or somewhat important in their organization. And that number increased to 96 percent when asked about the importance of these programs in the next five years. The reason is simple: organizations need to retain great talent, and retention efforts need to start immediately.

But as most talent development professionals know, that’s often easier said than done. To help organizations struggling with this challenge, ATD surveyed 724 talent development and learning professionals on their organization’s onboarding programs. Participants held a range of different positions within their organizations; approximately a third were individual contributors, while the same number were managers, supervisors, or team leaders.

Here’s the bad news: ATD found that just over a third of participants rated their organization’s onboarding programs as effective to a high or very high extent. One reason for this low number may be a lack of involvement from senior business leaders. Although more than half (56 percent) of those surveyed believed that their organization’s senior business leaders saw value in onboarding programs, only 20 percent are directly involved with efforts.

“The key to effective onboarding is the level of leader engagement across the function and the entire organization,” says Lisa Slater, manager of sales learning and development for The Hershey Company.

One organization making a point to involve senior leaders is the Bainum Family Foundation, which gives leaders an onboarding toolkit that guides them in how they can most effectively onboard their new hires. The company also gives all supervisors a new employee development profile, which “includes insights into their strengths and potential gaps, and provide suggestions on how to use this information to ensure a smooth and successful onboarding process,” explains Rebecca Cisek, senior director of talent and organizational development for Bainum.


So who is responsible for onboarding? The study found that job- or function-specific onboarding was owned or co-owned by talent development in 56 percent of organizations, whereas it was only a participant in 23 percent of organizations. General organizational onboarding includes imparting company values, culture, history, and organization-wide policies to employees. The talent development function had at least partial accountability for general onboarding at three-quarters of organizations—41 percent were co-owners and 35 percent were owners.

In any case, learning professionals should focus on strengthening existing programs.


Specifically, the report recommends organizations start onboarding new employees even before they walk in the door, and ensure that your programs don’t simply last for a new hire’s first day or two.

For instance, Karen Boone of PACCAR (a truck manufacturing company) recommends that HR, the hiring manager, and the interview team [should contact the new hire] after the acceptance but prior to the start date. “Communicate clear goals to the new hire prior to the start of their job. Give them a realistic job preview. Make sure all the basics are set up on the first day. Have introductions and start networking early. Give them a clear plan for the first 30 days,” says Boone.

Indeed, according to the practitioners surveyed, to improve effectiveness of onboarding, organizations should create programs that last anywhere from three months up to a full year.

“Onboarding should be viewed as a total experience as it’s not just the information but ensuring the new employees feel connected, valued, and supported as they transition to the function or organization.” says Slater.

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 sources and authors content for TD Magazine and CTDO, as well as manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs. Contact her at [email protected]

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