Hiring-managers, recruiters, and HR professionals are understandably excited when they find a qualified candidate who also interviews well. Depending on the length of the search, it can be difficult to resist offering a job on the spot. It may take a few anxious days, but, once all the hurdles are cleared, an offer is made and the candidate accepts the terms.

Now it’s time to celebrate. The hiring team got the top performer it was looking for! What can go wrong?


Alas, many employers are missing (both procedurally and philosophically) a fundamental component of making a successful hire: an onboarding plan.

Onboarding is the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders. Employees who are systematically coached and supported from the beginning, via an onboarding program, will learn faster, contribute more, and feel a closer connection to the organization. Those are the employees who, not coincidentally, will stick around longer and perform better.

Even high-potential employees can fail when they feel disengaged. And when employees are disengaged, productivity suffers and turnover increases. Not only that, management has to expend valuable time and resources replacing people who quit or get fired. The cost to employers can be catastrophic. The solution is to make onboarding an integral part of your hiring process.

Fortunately, successful onboarding is not complicated. It simply requires that management recognize the importance of onboarding and commit to following through. Here are the seven keys to doing it right:

  1. Don’t confuse orientation and onboarding

Reviewing policies with the HR Manager, getting a tour of the building, doing a meet-and-greet with co-workers, and watching corporate videos is orientation.

Onboarding is about communication, culture, and acceptance. It’s the overall process by which a new hire becomes a loyal employee. Orientation is just a tiny sliver of that.

  1. Don’t equate training with onboarding

Training new hires in processes, systems, and job requirements is an obvious and critical component of success. Employees need to feel confident and capable of doing their jobs if they are to be productive and engaged.

However, training isn’t onboarding (though it is perhaps the largest piece on a pie chart). Onboarding also involves proactive social integration, cultural fit, trust, and acceptance from management.

  1. Keep that personality assessment handy

Many companies use pre-employment personality assessments for selection. But why put an assessment report in a drawer after the hire when it can be a terrific platform for development? With awareness of a person’s strengths, motivations, and behavioral tendencies, it becomes much easier for management to shape coaching and mentoring strategies, provide targeted guidance, and help the new hire thrive in the company’s culture.

Even if you don’t use assessments for selection, you can still apply them during the onboarding process. Better yet, by looking at the assessment results for both the manager and the new employee, you can enhance mutual understanding, improve communication, and foster a strong partnership.

  1. Set SMART goals

New hires will struggle to succeed if they don’t know what success looks like. Therefore, development goals should be Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Specific goals are boiled down to their most basic component and should be free of vague or moving targets (“Getting up to speed” is not specific). Measurable goals are quantifiable and not subject to the whims or moods of management. Attainable goals are realistic; during onboarding is not the time to set up a brick wall and expect the individual to crash through it. Relevant goals should relate to the job and not be an arbitrary test of persistence. Time-bound goals have reasonable, yet competitive deadlines so manager and employee can plan and pace the effort.

  1. Involve new hires in their own development

New hires tend to be “on their best behavior,” which sometimes manifests as agreeableness and letting managers take the lead in conversations. Thus, if an eager manager jumps right in and starts assembling a grand vision of success, the new hire might sit back and play a passive role to avoid appearing difficult or uncooperative.

In reality, the best, happiest employees are the ones who feel empowered and take ownership. Management should guide the development process but encourage new hires to contribute ideas, express professional goals, and, within the requirements and expectations of the given position, define their roles.

  1. Set time aside for Q&A

A good manager is tuned-in to what employees are experiencing not through some mystical gift for mindreading but simply by asking open-ended questions. Doing so is especially important with new and recent hires, who might not feel comfortable vocalizing their feelings. Questions can include: What do you like best about the role so far? What has been the biggest challenge or difficulty? What can I (or the company) do to help? What resources do you wish you had?

And be sure to follow through, even if the answer is “We can’t do that, but what we can do is …”

  1. Recognize that onboarding is ongoing

Though every job and company is different, a general onboarding plan might include 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day meetings to formally assess progress, adjust plans, revisit goals if necessary, and determine next steps (just remember that the purpose of these particular meetings is to provide constructive guidance, not to demand accountability).

But it shouldn’t end there. Policies and best practices need reinforcement. Company culture needs maintenance. Employee engagement needs to be monitored so management can accurately evaluate the organizational climate. In short, when new hires know management is invested in their long-term success, they are more likely to positively change and grow with the company.

If you build a successful onboarding program and implement it systematically, both the organization and new hires benefit in a multitude of ways through improved communication, increased collaboration, and a reinforcement of company culture. You’re also clearing obstacles to learning, making policies understandable, increasing productivity and engagement, reducing turnover, and, ultimately, improving business results. Isn’t all that worth a little extra effort and attention in the beginning?