Onboarding is the most important HR process for helping to attract, retain and develop employees.
When done well it helps new hires settle and become productive quickly, lessening the risk of both increased attrition and lower morale amongst existing employees, and helping to keep recruitment costs down. It maps out a seamless journey from hopeful job candidate to productive and engaged employee.
The approach to onboarding needs to be consistent across all parts of the business, and for all levels of employees. Too often it can be taken for granted that more experienced hires, particularly those joining at a management or leadership level, will find their own way around the organization quickly, without much support.
The actions of senior hires are more visible
Senior hires can be more exposed. There is an expectation on them to show that they know what they are doing and have earned their new role, which can often come at the expense of an existing employee who was not considered ready for promotion. The actions of senior hires are more visible. There will be an assumption that they are decisive and knowledgeable, ready to lead teams and positively improve operational performance.
Experienced recruits need effective onboarding to be successful. Recent research from executive search and leadership consultants Egon Zehnder, amongst senior executives who had transitioned unsuccessfully into a new role, found almost 70% pointing to a poor grasp of how an organisation works as the main reason for failure. This lack of understanding of the practices, internal systems and operational norms was closely followed by a mismatch with organisational culture and difficulty in forming relationships with peers and stakeholders. Nearly half also admitted that they failed to fully grasp the business model they were joining.
For a new senior hire, joining with a determination to make a difference quickly, these operational and cultural insights should not be left to chance. Are organisations doing enough though? The research also asked HR executives about their onboarding efforts, and found the strongest new hire support to be around administrative formalities and basic orientation. Only half aligned expectations with teams, a third organised formal meetings with stakeholders and less than 30% facilitated some form of cultural integration and familiarisation.
The failure of a senior hire to settle, integrate and become productive can have a negative impact on the wider business. Teams will be unsettled, customers affected, whilst operations can lose momentum. When onboarding an experienced employee, there are three key areas that need to be covered for the process to be truly effective:
As a minimum, each new hire should be familiar with structure and plans, know the key business areas and have had an opportunity to get involved with business-critical meetings before they start. Familiarisation with company locations and products, business plans and the longer term strategic vision, are also key. If new hires are failing because they don’t understand organisational practices, then all companies must focus on this ahead of start date.
A key part of modern onboarding is to get all new hires connected and communicating with their new colleagues ahead of starting. For experienced hires, this is even more crucial. Those who are joining to lead a team will need to know the individual career histories, performance data, and strengths of each team member, and also get a feel for the team dynamics. Whether or not they are managing, they will need to know their key stakeholders and to have already had initial meetings and briefings with them. A key problem that the Egon Zehnder research identified was the difficulty in navigating and building internal networks – this should start happening once an offer is accepted. On the other hand, it’s also very important as a senior or manager to keep track of your new hires as well.
Not only do two-thirds of unsuccessful senior hires put failure down to a misfit with organizational culture, but less than 30% of companies facilitate any cultural integration. The success of any new senior hire will depend on there being a cultural fit so company values and philosophy must be known and the way they are lived by employees fully understood, particularly “the way that things get done”. During the period before starting it’s worth assessing any differences between previous cultures and the one they are about to join, and for real success, each hire should have someone to guide them and provide insight on the nuances, practices, and rituals that define the company culture.
Hiring an experienced employee, particularly one with management or leadership duties, requires a large investment of time and money. Like any new starter, they need effective onboarding if that investment is going to pay off with long term business success.