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Mastering the onboarding

Research shows that about half of the newly hired managers and executives leave the company within the first year.

Just like customers, employees choose to join an organization, and if things go well, they decide to stay to deliver their best and be advocates of the company. Yet they also can choose to disengage and leave - and this often happens in the critical phase of onboarding.

Failure rates among new hires are staggeringly high, independently of their role and hierarchical level within the organization. Based on the research, they vary between 40-50%, meaning that about half of the hired managers and executives leave the company within the first year.

If these were numbers about customer retention, investors might request a change in management.

Most companies spend their energy on hiring and interviewing, while onboarding is ticked off quickly as a parenthesis between arriving at a company and starting the actual work. Both the company and the newly hired or transitioning employee are under pressure to prove that the hiring decision was correct, both strategically and financially. 

Working with specialized headhunters can significantly help to get the right candidate, who has the necessary skills and experience and is also well aligned with the organizations’ strategy and culture. This article explains in detail how such a “match-making” works and how much research, testing, and diplomacy is involved. 

Likewise, investing in a proper onboarding using the support of an external coach has considerable benefits for the organization and its employees.  Overall, the cost is negligible compared to the losses in productivity to get a new person going or restarting the hiring process. The positive impact translates in successful integration, higher engagement and retention rates, both in the short term and in the long term.

Effective onboarding is a transformational process that reshapes how people enter your organization and how they are engaged and effective from the very start.

The first 6-12 months in a new work environment is often a make-or-break period.

To counter the problem of high failure rates in new hires & transfers, companies are turning their efforts toward retention and that starts with onboarding. Strategic onboarding is investment into an organization’s biggest asset - in human capital. 

Coaching is an important element in onboarding new & transitioning employees to integrate them socially and culturally in the new work environment. With the support of coaching they become effective faster and the time to break-even is reduced.

Organizations investing in onboarding coaching by external professionals accelerate the time to productivity of the new employee, increasing the visibility of new hires, which in turn helps with their social integration. Providing coaching support during the onboarding phase improves internal communications, brings on a coaching culture, improves retention rates and the brand image of the employer.

A common perception is that onboarding coaching is for new hires only, but in reality it’s helpful for a broader range of categories:

  • Externally hired new senior managers or executives

  • Internally transitioning senior managers or executives

  • Expatriate taking on a leadership role

  • Technical experts beginning a broader leadership role

  • New hires starting in a position with immediate challenges (high turnover, low morale, resentment about the new leader, etc.)

  • Leaders filling a position that has just been created

  • Leaders whose supervisors are at a different location

  • New employees joining the company after a merger or acquisition

Individual coaching is a short- to medium-term relationship between an individual and a coach with the purpose of creating change. Coaching supports the individual to grow mentally and emotionally and improve their habits, behavior, actions and reactions by increasing awareness, strengthening identity and developing talents.

Coaching helps to minimize risk and maximize potential.

Working with a professional coach provides onboarding and transitioning employees with:

  • A safe space to discuss the challenges and ambiguities they are going through. Usually, the higher a person is in the organizational hierarchy, the more they are cautious to speak about their questions and dilemmas openly.

  • A sounding board to brainstorm strategies together and work with the challenges of a given situation

  • A partner on the journey of insight into the strengths, preferences, and functioning of their personality

  • A creative lab to paint a vision what can be accomplished

  • A stepping stone to personal growth / a partnership to go through the discomfort of change and ask hard questions when necessary

The most common factors that hinder the integration of a new employee into the work environment are within the area of social integration:

Ambiguity of role

Understanding the role and its expectations is a good indicator of job satisfaction and organizational commitment. It’s opposite, role ambiguity can hinder adjustment and lower performance.

Lack of personal effectiveness

The more an employee is confident to deliver a good job, the more they are motivated and enter a positive cycle of success. Organizations and line managers can help by recognizing the decisions and initiatives of the new employee that went well. 

Social disconnection

Feeling socially connected and accepted by peers and superiors is a crucial element in creating trust and cohesion. Social integration helps new employees becoming an organizational insider. 

Poor understanding of organizational culture and values

Company culture encompasses acceptable behaviors, communication style, corporate politics, and brand narratives. It is relatively easy to understand the tangible aspects of organizational culture, such as reporting relationships, budgeting processes, or benefit schemes. 

Understanding intangible aspects like values and norms, language and jargon, celebrations, and insider stories is a whole different story. 

Poor soft skills

The Global Talent Management Survey of Leadership IQ found that a lack of technical skills accounts for barely 11% of hiring failures. As workplaces have become more dispersed and team cultures more collaborative, the so-called soft skills such as communication skills, problem-solving and emotional intelligence are becoming more critical. 

Experiencing the above elements, employees often feel disconnected, unprepared, overwhelmed, and undervalued. When these impressions last, they negatively impact commitment, teamwork, and performance. In the worst case, the person even leaves the organization, further increasing costs of disruption.

Working with an external coach shortens the learning phase during which the new employee uses more resources than he or she produces.

Coachees gain more clarity about their roles, expectations, and awaiting challenges. Through coaching sessions, they can explore their questions around company culture, shared values, and relationship dynamics between teams and departments. Coaching employees during the phase of onboarding helps them to feel supported and valued, allows clearing communication for immediate feedback. 

Questions to reflect on:

  • What are the current onboarding practices at your organization?

  • Is onboarding only done for the newly hired employees?

  • In the first 3 months, do you have a planned monthly session for new direct reports to answer their questions and provide valuable feedback on how they are doing in a new role?

  • What are the existing tools for helping social integration at your company?

  • What actions are taken to share company values, code of conduct, and general habits explicitly?

  • Are there unspoken rules and practices that may hinder such an integration?

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Juliet Kasko