After months of sifting through resumes and seemingly countless interviews, the day you’ve been waiting for is finally here – your new hire has finally started You’re full of optimism – the new hire has good experience and qualifications, and they should be able to jump in and start contributing from day one.


Wrong. The majority of employers overlook the critical difference between having the skills to do a job and actually knowing how to do it.

Knowing how to do a job comprises more than having the training, skills, and experience needed to do it. To perform at a high level, employees at all levels benefit from an onboarding programme that fills in the gaps all new employees have, which include:

  • Knowing who does what. Providing new employees with introductions to the peers and colleagues with whom they will be working is a necessary first step, and not the only one. In addition the “who” new employees need to know the corresponding “what” in terms of roles and responsibilities, so they know who to ask for help or information.
  • Knowing why. We’ve discussed the power of purpose to inspire and align people in previous articles. Connecting new hires to the organisation’s purpose early on will provide them with the “why” that contributes to satisfaction, engagement, and lasting motivation.
  • Knowing how things are done. Learning the culture, understanding the values and becoming familiar with nuances such as how decisions are made and which behaviors and outcomes are celebrated represent internal knowledge that new hires need to be comfortable and successful in their new roles.

Providing new employees with this essential “who, why, how” background will ensure they feel supported, have a firm foundation upon which to build, and establish a sense of belonging and purpose.

How onboarding affects retention & engagement

A new hire’s first days and weeks with a company do more than leave an indelible early impression – they set the tone for the employee’s experience with the company.

“Organizations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%,” according to research by the Brandon Hall Group. Companies with weak onboarding programs lose the confidence of their candidates and are more likely to lose these individuals in the first year.”

However, the reality is that the majority of companies either onboard new hires poorly, or don’t even bother to onboard them at all. Only twelve percent of people surveyed by Gallup said they received “great’ onboarding, suggesting the opportunity to improve the experience for new hires is significant.

Managers play a vital role in onboarding 

It’s tempting for a manager with a lot on their plate to think that on-the-job training is all that’s needed to get a new hire up to speed, especially when the person has relevant experience.

However, research from Gallup paints a clear picture: the effectiveness of an onboarding program is largely contingent on the manager’s active involvement in the process – employees are more than three times as likely to strongly agree that they had an exceptional onboarding experience when their managers had an active role in their onboarding. This is no surprise given the outsize influence managers have on an employee’s experience.

In short, managers need to be prepared to be present and participate actively in a new hire’s onboarding, and they need to make delivering a positive and productive onboarding experience a priority.

Some of the key drivers of employee engagement that tie directly to an employee’s direct manager and should be part and parcel of the onboarding process include:

  • Ensuring new hires have a clear understanding of their role and responsibilities
  • Providing the tools, technology, and resources needed to do the job
  • Helping new hires feel connected to the business’ purpose and culture
  • Demonstrating that they (the manager) are supportive of the new hire and have their best interests at heart.

Onboarding should be consistent with the hiring experience 

The competition for talent is fierce, and employers vying for candidates put their best foot forward during the hiring process, emphasising opportunities for personal and career development, enumerating perks and benefits, and selling the culture. In short, new hires’ expectations of their new employers are (rightly) very high.

Now, keeping those high expectations in mind, think for a minute about what happens when a new employee starts their job, and their manager, relieved to have some new talent, throws them straight into the workstream with a few cursory introductions and a hurried tour of department systems.

How does this make the new hire feel? The short answer is “Not good.” More specifically, when there is a disconnect between the hiring process and the onboarding experience, things can go south quickly. Negative impacts on new hires can include:

Erodes credibility & trust: Right off the bat, their manager’s credibility takes a hit, and the new hire’s trust in the company is eroded when the experience does not match what was promised during the interview process.

Reduces confidence: Poor onboarding also reduces a person’s confidence in their ability to do the job well, chiefly because they don’t know who does what, and they don’t understand culturally how things are done, as we noted above.

Isolation: Isolation is another side effect of a too-abrupt or missing-altogether onboarding. Relationships are important at work, and when employees don’t have the opportunity or time to build those connections, work becomes less efficient. However, when the workplace supports and encourages relationships between employees, a multitude of benefits can be realised, including improved productivity and knowledge-sharing, better individual wellbeing, higher job satisfaction, and more loyalty to the company.

Keys to successful new hire onboarding

While larger organisations may have more resources to devote to onboarding, the following keys to success are true for companies of any size.

  • Develop a process for all new employees. Creating a consistent onboarding process that provides all new employees with an overview of the business, explanations of the company’s vision, values, and purpose, a glossary of company jargon, abbreviations, and system names, and an overview of the customer journey can deliver multiple benefits, including:
    1. A consistent baseline for all new employees
    2. A process that can be measured and improved
    3. Efficiencies upon which managers can build more specialised, department-specific onboarding processes.
  • Focus the onboarding process on the Who, Why, and How elements described above: 
    • Who: Schedule introductory meetings with the teams, peers, and stakeholders your new hire will be working with, both within the department and across the company.
    • Why: In addition to familiarising your new hire with the company’s purpose, spend some time developing their understanding of how their role contributes to the purpose, and thus help them see the meaning in their work.
    • How: Connect new hires with how things are done by showing them examples of the company’s values in action and introducing them to the company’s culture.
  • Feedback, iterate and improve: Surveying new hires and gathering their feedback about their experience will enable the organisation to make continual improvements, and motivate managers to participate fully.

Starting a new job is a moment of optimism for almost every new employee. They’re looking forward to meeting new people, learning new things, and seizing new opportunities. As our founder, Stefan Wissenbach, likes to say, people want to be engaged at work – and its companies that do the disengaging. Don’t let a poor or non-existent new hire onboarding extinguish the energy and enthusiasm your new hires bring into the organisation. Investing in their onboarding will ensure your new hires get off to a great start, and ultimately benefits all concerned.