Jamie's first day on the job was disappointing. Seemingly endless forms to fill out, meeting way too many people in a blur of names and titles and worst of all eating lunch alone in the car. Jamie's expectations and anticipation were sky high and this day seemed very disconnected from the highly engaging and friendly recruitment process.

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The nearly universal competition for talent has forced organizations to step up their game when it comes to retaining new employees. (Free Images)

On Jamie's first morning the supervisor had assured him she would have time for him later in the week but for now Jamie had a lot of reading to do in a meeting room for the rest of the week while the workstation was being prepared. If the employer makes up for the bad start, Jamie might not be like the widely reported whopping 25 per cent of new hires who leave within 45 days based on a disconnect between their expectations and what actually transpires during the critical first days and weeks.

Many employers have learned that effective onboarding of new employees makes a huge difference in how fast new hires become productive, how long they stay and how much the employer saves in rehiring costs commonly accepted as 100-300 per cent of the new recruit's salary.

'Many employers have learned that effective onboarding of new employees makes a huge difference in how fast new hires become productive.'

Historically, employers only paid attention to orientation, the requisite administrative process that surrounds hiring a new employee. They left the more critical process of building an immediate relationship by focusing on values, culture and connecting with people largely to chance and the whim of the hiring manager or HR.

The nearly universal competition for talent has forced organizations to step up their game. Thoughtful, professional, blow-the-new-hire's-socks-off onboarding is no longer limited to the expensive relocation programs once only offered to senior executives.

Onboarding tips

Some of my favorite onboarding tips if you want to move from a stale administrative orientation process to a top-shelf onboarding program:

  • In touch weeks earlier. The wait between for the first day can be anxiety filled. Smart employers are making a personal connection weeks before the start date to answer questions, start paperwork, provide reading, get business cards readied etc.
  • "We've been expecting you". Having an assigned greeter/buddy for the new person at the door is a wow factor; providing the new hire a checklist to guide their own onboarding; having their supervisor spend quality time right away, having their physical space not only ready to go but with some personal touches; plans for lunch already made with the boss and or colleagues. Having the newbie involved in real work even if just peripherally asap is a must.
  • Spreading out the administrative orientation requirements and introductions over the first week using a host of media for early learning: e-learning, classroom, meetings and written materials.
  • Involve the entire department. One firm had a Lingo Lunch where the new hire and entire department had lunch and filled a white board with acronyms, abbreviations and language unique to their work world.
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    Delighting new hires and making them feel welcome from the start is now becoming the norm. (Free Images)

  • Personalized welcome from the big boss. A handshake or phone call goes a long way.
  • If a geographic move is involved great onboarding means getting involved in helping the family settle in. Many people leave a new early job because their life partner or children are unhappy in the new location. Facilitating a welcome to the community with schools, leisure activities and social events can make a huge difference.
  • Beyond the job description, expectations, metrics and the actual performance review form is reviewed to clarify what is being evaluated and how within the first week.
  • Supervisor or a designate regularly debriefs the new hire after they attend meetings and important events for the first 90 days in order to check in regularly and often.
  • Cross-training bonanza. Within the first three months, one IT firm I know has its new hires spend one day per week in 10 or so different departments to understand roles.
  • Ongoing feedback is emphasized, done in real time and a preliminary a progress review is scheduled in the first week and carried out after three months by the supervisor. Everybody in the new hire's entourage is made responsible and accountable for checking in often on an informal basis.

New hires are vulnerable and the stakes are very high. The notion that new employees simply jump in, figure it out and in time become productive is antiquated thinking and not in keeping with today's marketplace. If the highlight of a person's first day is about forms and reading materials, something is very wrong. Delighting new hires from the start is now becoming the norm and overwhelming the new person the with feeling the employer has been eagerly awaiting their arrival is becoming the new normal.