The Domino Effect – The Future of Onboarding

If there is one thing that organisations consistently fail miserably at, it’s onboarding. An employee’s experience during the first 45 days in a new position has a significant impact on whether they choose to remain at that company. Once organisations find the right talent, it’s crucial that they do everything they can to keep them on board and engaged. Adequate onboarding is no longer sufficient: exceptional onboarding is the only type of onboarding that reduces turnover and boosts employee morale and productivity. Is your onboarding program hurting more than it’s helping?

Despite the high stakes in retaining employees, Gallup research reveals that 88% of organisations are falling woefully short of the mark. The consequences are significant, costly, regrettable turnover within the first year of employment, followed by low morale and engagement among employees who stay. Organisations may have great talent attraction strategies, but they stumble once new employees get in the door. With unemployment rapidly trending down, as we emerge from the pandemic, and the War for Talent heating up, it’s time for organisations to reimagine onboarding as part of their strategic advantage.

Imagine you are out shopping one day and walk into a new store. Let’s say it’s one of those massive warehouse-style stores. It’s brand new, so you’ve never been there before. You look around and don’t see a single sign. More importantly, you don’t even see a single person. No one approaches you to greet you or ask if they can help you find what you need. You feel… lost. In simple terms, this is what it feels like to go through an inadequate, undeveloped, or inefficient company onboarding process. When employees do not receive the information and enthusiasm they deserve, shortly after they accept your employment offer, they may do what disgruntled customers do every day and simply walk out without a backward glance.

“Train people well enough so they can leave; treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
― Sir Richard Branson

7 Costly Mistakes for the Amatuer Onboarder

Getting your new hires started off on the right foot requires more than just offering them a quick tour of the office and sending them on their way. How companies welcome new people and bring them on board plays a significant role in engagement, productivity, and retention – especially in an increasingly virtual world. As the pandemic continues to shake up traditional ways of working, organisations need to take this opportunity to rethink how they welcome, train, and engage new hires today and into the future. Based on Gallup’s recent onboarding perspective paper, here are a few ways your organisation may be getting that all-important first impression dead wrong:

1. “It’s a HR thing.”

Socialisation is a critical factor in the success of any role, when joining a new team. Yet, oftentimes, leaders, managers and team members see onboarding as someone else’s job. If no one is reaching out, it’s no surprise that employees never feel fully engaged and decide to exit early. When leaders take an active role in onboarding, employees are 3.4 times as likely to strongly agree their onboarding experience was exceptional. New employees also need to make friends and know who to ask for help. Going out to lunch on the first day is not enough to make newcomers feel they are truly a part of the team.

2. We blinked and missed it.

Organisations have an incentive to shorten the runway for new employees. They want to see performance, contribution, and productivity as fast as possible. Here’s the reality check: New employees typically take around 12 months to reach their full performance potential. This means organisations need to accept that onboarding is a much longer journey. Rather than thinking of onboarding as a simple days-long process to be checked off, it should last at least 90 days – ideally, more like 180 days. By breaking up the onboarding information into more manageable sizes, you can deliver them over a longer period of time. In this way, new hires can comfortably consume and remember more of what they are being shown, without being overwhelmed by information overload upfront.

3. Doesn’t express the company culture

Let’s be honest: A PowerPoint slide with your core values listed is not enough to truly convey what makes your organisation a great place to work. New employees want to feel that they belong with you. Immersive experiences are the way for employees to feel your values, not just simply to name them. What do you believe? How does that make a difference in the way works gets done? If safety is essential to your culture, consider bringing in executives who can share a story about tough calls they made in the name of safety. Introduce and celebrate safety award winners in front of new employees. Or perhaps even create some role-play scenarios where real managers evaluate teams on their safety-focussed thinking.

4. Can’t visualise the future

Top talent wants to work for you because they see possibilities. Don’t allow your onboarding program to feel like a bait-and-switch operation, where many of the opportunities promised during the process are shown to be illusory. Discuss dreams and desires early on and introduce new people to learning and development opportunities that extend training beyond formal onboarding. Employees who strongly agree they have a clear plan for their professional development are 3.5 times more likely to strongly agree that their onboarding process was exceptional.

5. Unremarkable… snoozefest

If your onboarding is not exceptional, it’s broken. To make onboarding work, HR leaders must design a consistent, creative, and deeply engaging experience that WOWs new employees. If your employees aren’t consistently giving your onboarding a “5 out of 5,” the majority of people going through your program would not strongly agree they feel fully prepared and supported in their new role.

6. No idea if it’s working

If the first time you realise your onboarding isn’t working is when you have already lost someone important, you’re doing it wrong. Using a systematic approach, organisations can use pulse surveys throughout the onboarding process to measure engagement.

7. It’s costing you money

The cost of finding, hiring, and training talent is exceptionally high. Conservative estimates indicate that it will cost a company one-half to two times an employee’s annual salary to identify and onboard a replacement. A dysfunctional onboarding process loses exceptional talent and wastes that upfront investment. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), employee turnover can be as much as 50% in the first four months for hourly workers and 50% in the first 18 months for senior outside hires. This is unnecessary money down the drain.

“Saying “I’m sorry for the inconvenience” many times doesn’t fix the fact that your process is a mess and you are not addressing it even now”
― Daren Martin

Stats Unbelievable!

Employee onboarding looks vastly different today as staff are more dispersed and may be working from different locations – whether at home, from the office, or on-site. The right technology is critical to onboarding success (for companies and their people) as employees are desiring a more seamless and consistent experience and employers are prioritising time-to-hire and time-to-productivity. A report from SHRM confirms that 1 in every 25 employees leaves their jobs due to poor onboarding. This is alarming when we consider the cost of hiring new employees. Not only that, up to 20% of staff turnover occurs within the first 45 days of employment. In the US and UK, a combined total of $37 Billion is spent annually to keep unproductive employees who do not understand their jobs. This is outrageous!

30% of new hires quit within 90 days of joining the company. 16% of these new hires quit within the first two weeks of joining. HR and business leaders recognise that an effective onboarding process can reduce early attrition. Leaders are investing in onboarding design too. The global onboarding industry is pegged to be $2190 million by 2027. Lack of clarity in role and expectations is a big factor in people leaving. A recent survey by Jobvite says 43% of new hires quit within 90 days for this very reason. Another 32% quit because they did not like the company culture. These are costly and unnecessary mistakes in purely monetary terms and in non-monetary terms as well. Clearly, this space demands more attention than we have been giving it.

“There is no hospitality like understanding.”
― Vanna Bonta

One Shot - Don't Miss This Moment

The onboarding process is the first chance an employer has to make a great impression on new hires, which is why it’s critical that companies are getting it right. It is high time we remove any friction points to create a more welcoming and seamless experience. In fact, the effectiveness of the processes used to source, select, orient, and assimilate new employees directly influences how likely retention is. Onboarding must be a priority throughout the entire first year an employee starts a new job, not just in the first few weeks.

69% of employees who have a positive onboarding experience are more likely to remain with the employer for three years. Companies that focus on onboarding retain 50% more new employees than companies that don’t. Standardised onboarding also results in a 50% increase in productivity. Clearly, onboarding has a huge impact on the success of the organisation. 8-months are needed for an employee to reach their maximum productivity. One-third of new employees begin searching for a new job before they have been with the employer for six months, and 25% leave before they have been there a year. This gives them little to no time at peak productivity. Any amount of turnover can harm company culture and productivity, and it can take a serious toll on your bottom line.

“You hire the best people you can possibly find. Then it’s up to you to create an environment where great people decide to stay and invest their time.”
― Rich Lesser

5 Ways to Reimagine Your Approach to Onboarding

If companies were struggling to deliver great onboarding experiences in person, there’s no reason to think the virtual versions of those same experiences will be any more effective. Business leaders need to take this time to reimagine the onboarding experience. Leverage new tools and technologies to create people-centric programs that successfully welcome new hires. Getting new employees off on the right foot is the smartest (and easiest) decision you will ever make.

1. Create a Communication Experience, Not a Training Event

Make a lasting impact on new employees with an integrated communication experience that carries them through their first 90 (or even 180) days on the job. An onboarding experience built around ongoing communications, easy access to forms and resources, one-on-ones with managers, and virtual team meetings will make much more of an impact than one built around discrete training events. Reach your new employee using channels they’re already using. Send your communications through email, instant messages, or team meetings. The variety and accessibility of information will keep employees both informed and engaged.

2. Build Culture and Connection

With fewer face-to-face interactions, you’ll need to think of new and novel ways to connect employees to your brand, culture, and people throughout the onboarding process, like:

  • Videos featuring the leadership team;
  • Content, leveraging employees in more informal settings to evoke the feeling of working together in person;
  • Targeted communications around personalised programs;
  • Virtual coffee dates for new hires to get to know colleagues outside their teams;
  • Culture-centric initiatives like Friday happy hours, interest-specific chat channels, or opportunities to recognise coworkers’ accomplishments.


Your opportunity to build a great employee experience starts as soon as someone joins the team, and onboarding is as much about making sure your new employee feels like a connected team member as it is about ramping them up to speed.

3. Measure Everything!

You won’t successfully transform your onboarding program overnight, nor will you do it successfully in a silo. To get a sense of whether your onboarding experience is working, measure feedback data like email opens, clicks, and engaged views to find out what employees are connecting with most often. Read between the lines of your data. Are you striking the right tone? Have you used the right delivery channels? Do employees need more information on certain subject matters? Feedback and two-way communication is essential to fine-tune your approach.

4. Empower Your People Managers

72 percent of employees say one-on-one time with managers is the most important part of the onboarding process. Integrating leaders into the onboarding process as much as possible is crucial for retention, productivity, and the employee experience. Make sure your managers are familiar with the various milestones they’ll need to track and reinforce when a new member joins their team. If you want leaders to play an active, impactful role in the onboarding experience, be sure to also lend them some guidance during the most crucial moments in their new hire’s experience.

5. The Right Tools for the Job

For your onboarding program to thrive in the digital era, leverage technology to deliver a dazzling experience and to save on time and resources. Onboarding requires several process steps (like completing forms and ordering supplies) that can be streamlined with the right tools. There are also platforms that can help organisations to manage overlapping multi-month communication experiences. The technology is here; you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Just find the right tools to best suit your needs.

“Values beat experience when experience doesn’t work hard.”
― Doug Radkey

The Desire to Hire

For all the research out there today highlighting the negative effects of bad employee onboarding experiences, there is just as much underscoring the wide range of benefits that can be realised through a well-structured program and a little time, energy and effort.  Research has shown that a strategic onboarding process brings new employees up to speed 50% faster. In an increasingly virtual world, leading companies are realising the benefits of smarter onboarding technology that supports business continuity and helps prevent disruption to their hiring processes. 

Researchers have found that companies can focus on both job role and socio-environmental elements of employee onboarding to maximise their onboarding success and increase overall employee performance. This involves providing the right resources and technology to learn cultural norms and values, the fundamentals of the business, how decisions are made, and whose support the employee will need the most. To accomplish this, employers can focus on the six Cs of effective onboarding:


Give timely congratulations after the candidate is accepted.


Help employees understand legal and policy-related rules by completing the necessary documents.


Clarify the role, responsibilities, and expectations. Consider moving quarterly meetings to a monthly cadence or holding your twice-monthly staff meeting weekly, so you can provide frequent updates and make yourself more available.


Familiarise employees with the company values and vision. This is especially important in the absence of in-person onboarding or for a dispersed workforce. Introduce new hires to clubs, social groups, and professional networks. Give them plenty of information about how to get involved. 


Set employees up for success by providing them with all the right coaching, learning opportunities, and feedback. Providing mentorship and coaching programs in conjunction with succession planning will support employees’ growth trajectory within the company. 


Better integrate employees by encouraging them to build interpersonal relationships. This will help them create a personal network for support or assistance when needed. Leveraging technology in the onboarding process can help establish connections early on.

“Looking to the future, it’s not about developing people to rise to a certain title. The focus will be on skills-based and experience- based talent development.”

– Susan Tohyama

Out With the Old

The world has changed, and it’s going to keep changing. Before the pandemic hit, hiring the right talent was a challenge as competition was high and unemployment rates were low. A McKinsey Quarterly article from several years ago, stated that by 2020, as many as 95 million workers could lack the skills needed for employment. However, the pandemic upended the economy and presented employers (and job seekers) with an entirely new and unique set of challenges. Many organisations, particularly those in industries such as healthcare and food services, have had to align skilled workers with fluctuations in demand. Talent needs will continue to change as socio-economic conditions evolve, putting greater pressure on teams to hire the right people quickly. Companies will also need to prioritise employees’ evolving needs in order to continue to attract the best candidates.

“People want guidance, not rhetoric. They need to know what the plan of action is, and how it will be implemented. They want to be given responsibility to help solve the problem and authority to act on it.”
― Howard Schultz

Best in Class

If you want exceptional employee outcomes, you must have exceptional onboarding. Without the WOW experience up front, employees will be unable to find inspiration from day one. What sets successful organisations apart from those that face inertia is the ability to develop strategies that can easily adapt and evolve with the changing world of work. It is our responsibility to help new employees gain access to the right skills to succeed and thrive in the future. Organisations across the globe are facing unique challenges brought on by the pandemic in which they now need to find new ways to serve their customers and society at large. Building a resilient workforce that has the skills needed to take on the business challenges of tomorrow will require different talent strategies that are agile and can evolve alongside the needs of both the company and its people.

“One competent go-getter is worth one hundred incompetent do-nothings.

– Kailin Gow


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