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If You Don’t Know How to Onboard New Employees, You’re Not Alone

by Pam Butterfield

Business Success Tools

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Here’s the challenge many employers are facing today: baby boomers stayed in the workforce longer than anyone expected. As a result, many employers put off any efforts to recruit their replacements, and now those employers have forgotten – or never really knew – how to onboard new workers so they’ll get up to speed and stay.

Today, the onboarding process is critical. This is especially true when hiring millennials, who make quick decisions about their workplaces and have no problem leaving if they are unhappy. If a company doesn’t onboard the boomer’s replacement properly, chances are the replacement will leave. And, by the time the next employee comes along to fill the spot, the boomer (and his or her institutional knowledge) is long gone. Without that knowledge, the newest hire has a much higher chance of failing.

Get really good at developing and retaining your people.

Improving your company’s ability to develop and retain good employees is a process, not an event. Improvements take time and resources. Here are three things successful companies do to help new employees get off to a good start and become confident contributors:

1. Onboard employees. Imagine this. You’re standing with one foot on a boat and one foot on a dock. If you don’t put both feet on one of the surfaces, as the boat pulls away, you’ll fall into the water. The goal of a well-thought-out onboarding process is to get a new employee to move both feet solidly onto the boat (your company). You want new employees to be proud of the company they have joined – to feel like they belong and fit in. Successful companies have an onboarding process that fits their size, culture and needs. An Internet search using the term “onboarding new employees” will help you find excellent, free resources to get started with onboarding in your company.

2. Provide company and job-specific training. Training costs money and takes time. Not training your employees costs even more. Good people do not want to go to work every day and screw up. And millennials, who seek engagement and development, will quickly sour on their jobs without new challenges.

What that means is that you must have an established, repeatable in-house training program. This will help your employees develop the skills they need to do the job the way you want it done. It will reduce the likelihood of mistakes and rework, while helping new employees learn the procedures that allow them to do it efficiently. By the way, “I talk. You learn,” is not training. The ultimate training solution might require you to design and implement a formal apprentice program, and that may be several years away from reality. Start with small steps. How about providing checklists for routine tasks to minimize employee errors and yield more consistent results? Or, create written work instructions for more complicated job tasks? There’s more to effective training than checklists and work instructions, but at least this is a start.

3. Give ongoing feedback. Regular on-the-job “guidance” catches problems before they become huge performance issues. With newer employees, it allows you to provide course corrections, on-the-job training and feedback. If an employee improves, mistakes get nipped in the bud. If the person does not improve, you’ve spotted a potential flaw in your hiring process.

This kind of ongoing feedback also is the key to retaining millennials. They’ve grown up with constant, supportive feedback. You can make fun of that as much as you like, but it’s what they expect. The annual performance review doesn’t cut it with this crowd. They consistently want to know how they are doing now. Look for ways to provide that feedback if you want to keep them.

Millennial disruption: It’s happening, and it’s not going away.

Millennials (one in three American workers today) are disrupting the way companies find and keep talent. They expect more from companies before they will even interview with them. They expect to be engaged and challenged where they work and to move on when they’ve learned all they can from a job or employer.

Employers that are dependent upon this generation for their next round of workers need to stop complaining about these new expectations. They need to learn ways to onboard employees quickly and to get the most out of them for as long as they have them. Employers that learn how to adapt to this disruption will attract and make the best use of this tech-savvy, knowledge-hungry and growth-seeking group of employees.

Here’s the mind-bender for many employers: In the past, companies hired people. Today, people are hiring companies. Millennials learn about potential employers before they submit their resumes. They won’t hesitate to withdraw from the selection process if a company is not a fit for them.

The big takeaways

I’ve worked with and worked for small companies that have succeeded in building a strong workforce. These companies have learned how to get, grow and keep employees. What I’ve noticed is it takes time – typically one to three years – for a small company to improve its ability to acquire, develop and retain the right employees. These companies often are reluctant to accept this new reality, and they suffer for it. They kick and scream (“We don’t have time” or “It’ll cost too much”) and push back on the need to invest precious resources in reinventing how they hire and train their people. The time and cost concerns are valid; truly, they are. But, if you plan to remain in business, doing nothing to improve hiring and managing people is not an option, especially in today’s hunt for scarce talent.

Take a good look at your recruiting, onboarding, training and employee engagement processes. Start evolving now to meet the needs of the labor force you’ll need today and tomorrow. Develop repeatable processes that can be used over and over as these restless employees move on. Stop complaining and start learning from them. They may just have something to teach you.

Pam Butterfield is the founder of Business Success Tools, which helps small businesses (1 to 1,000 employees) grow productively and accelerate growth through people and processes. For more information, visit www.BusinessSuccessTools.biz.