The Onboarding Secrets of the Most Successful Organizations

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Once you’ve put in the time and effort to identify the perfect candidate for your open role, the real work has only just begun. How you set the tone and support employees early on can make the difference between those who thrive and those who quickly head out the door.

Employee turnover is more than just a hassle. It’s an expensive, time-consuming, productivity-killing problem that can have a major impact on your bottom line. According to Gallup, voluntary turnover costs US businesses $1 trillion annually. In addition to the concrete cost of losing and replacing team members, there are also intangible costs to consider, like reductions in productivity and the blow to team morale.

Leaders of the most successful companies know great onboarding is crucial to ensure new hires become valuable, long-term team members. Follow these five rules to foster happy, high-performance employees who stick around for the long haul.

Rule 1: Prepare Your Team to Impress

Before onboarding formally begins, meet with your current employees to ensure they are prepared to enthusiastically support the new hire during their first weeks on the job. This is your opportunity to get your team fired up and ready to impress.

Each team member should come away from the meeting knowing exactly who the new person is, how the new role will interact with their role, and how and when they’re going to assist in the onboarding experience. Provide documentation, like a slide deck presentation or detailed handbook, employees can use as a guide. Encourage team members to carve out time in their schedules and even put projects on hold to accommodate training and mentoring new hires.

Ask your employees to think back to their first day on the job: Were they nervous, excited, happy, or intimidated? What resources do they wish they had? What was memorable about their own experience? What would have made it even better?

Onboarding a new hire is a lot like creating a positive first impression with a new client. You should enlist your people to surprise and delight your latest employee at every turn.

Rule 2: Tailor Onboarding to the Individual

Onboarding shouldn’t be about what’s important to you, the organization, or even previous employees. It should be helping each new team member thrive.

When designing the onboarding process for a new employee, ask yourself: What will make this an engaging and motivating experience for them? What will enable them to maximize their potential in the new position? Take what you’ve learned about the new hire during the recruiting process and use that knowledge to tailor their onboarding.

Perhaps one new employee thrives on teamwork and community. As you build out their onboarding plan, consider scheduling regular team lunches for the first few weeks to give them the personal connection they crave. On the other hand, if a new employee is an introvert driven by data, give them time to dive into the details of their work so they feel confident in their new role.

Rule 3: Use the Buddy System

No one wants to think everything’s going fine with a new hire, only to be blindsided by the fact that they’re unhappy and quitting six months later. That’s why it’s extremely important to stay in close contact with new employees, especially if your team operates remotely.

Assign each new hire a go-to person within your company, someone they can call on with questions or concerns. It could be you, a direct supervisor, or even a peer. This assigned go-to guide should engage in regular, proactive contact with the new hire to ensure they don’t fall through the cracks.

Rule 4: Cover the Fundamentals First

Don’t make the mistake of immediately throwing a new hire into the deep end without a life jacket, no matter how desperate you may be to fill the role. Sure, they might keep paddling for a while — but eventually, they’ll drown.

Dedicate time during the onboarding process to teaching new hires about the fundamentals of your company mission, vision, and culture. You should also cover how their position interacts with other roles within the organization. This foundational knowledge is essential to employee performance.

Empower each new team member to control the pace of their own training. Create a checklist of everything they need to know and understand, and then have them sign off on each item as they feel confident they understand it. Encourage the new hire to speak up if they need more time or wish to spend more time on topics that are unclear. It’s not up to the company to decide if a new employee is ready to hit the ground running — it’s up to the employee.

Rule 5: Take a Long-Term Approach to Onboarding

Ultimately, you want the new hire to become a legacy member of your team, not just a flash in the pan. To accomplish this, keep those regular check-ins going throughout the first year, not just the first few weeks.

Engage new team members in two-way conversions about their performance, career paths, and how the company can support them in achieving their goals. Think of it as performance coaching, not performance reviewing. Don’t make it complicated — just give your check-ins a repeatable structure so they’re easy to maintain.

Your conversations should cover goal setting and review, strengths identification, and opportunities for improvement. Don’t just critique the new hire’s performance — encourage them to talk about what they need from you to succeed.

Through these open conversations, new team members will feel like they’re in control of their own success — with your support, of course. By the end of the first year, they will have become engaged, thriving members of your organization.

Onboarding is an investment in terms of time, talent, and resources. However, the pitfalls you avoid and the opportunities you seize in the long run make it well worth the upfront cost.

Ilana Zivkovich is the founder and CEO of Werq.

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Ilana Zivkovich is the founder and CEO of Werq, a strategic leadership advisory firm headquartered in Austin, TX, serving clients around the country and abroad. An experienced executive leader, certified executive coach, and certified Genos Emotional Intelligence Practitioner, Zivkovich helps leadership teams align their people, processes, and strategies so that businesses can achieve exceptional results. Zivkovich holds a master’s degree in social work from the University of Texas at Austin and is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). She currently resides in Austin with her husband and daughter. She enjoys raising her young family in such a vibrant and growing city.