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From the Trenches

7 Mistakes You’re Making in Onboarding Employees

Yvonne Lyons | November 8, 2018

So, you hired a new person. Congratulations. I’m sure you and your team are really looking forward to the workload relief and the new expertise that Ms. or Mr. New Hire will bring.

It’s likely that you’ve vetted the newbie really well. You’ve read the stats; a hiring mistake can be costly, both in terms of morale and productivity, but also financially. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the price of a bad hire is at least 30 percent of the employee’s first-year earnings, but stats range from $10,000 to more than $100,000.

Although finding the right person seems like it’s 90 percent of the job, I’d say it’s really only half the job. There’s another big hurdle, and this one seems to be the one people either avoid or half-ass: getting that new employee ramped up quickly and effectively so that they become productive. If you fail here, the repercussions can be painful. If your overworked staff doesn’t feel relief with an extra person around, morale can plummet after weeks or months of “help is on the way” messages. Your new hire will also become disillusioned — with you and maybe the whole company — if you don’t have your act together. In fact, Harvard Business Review reports that nearly 33 percent of new hires start looking for their next job within the first six months of their tenure (and the percentage is even higher for Millennials).

So, given those facts, why is it that so many people are NOT ramped up quickly? I hate to point fingers, but an employee who is ineffective or unfocused in his or her first few months has a lot to do with you, Mr. or Ms. Manager. Onboarding or ramping up an employee doesn’t happen by itself. It takes planning and effort from you and your staff. These common mistakes just might be keeping you from having a truly productive employee quickly.

Mistake #1: Your new person doesn’t have a job description.

Yup, you wrote something that seems like a job description when you put that ad on LinkedIn. You know that’s not a job description, though, right? It’s a job posting, an ad. Create a real job description that lays out the responsibilities, tasks, and performance expectations for your new person. Give your new employee his or her job description on day one and review it one-on-one so everyone is on the same page. Too many times I’ve seen people hired for one job and 3-6 months later, they aren’t actually doing much of what was anticipated.

Mistake #2: You have not prepared in advance.

Are you the boss who remembers the day before someone starts that he needs a computer? Or that she might need to talk to people in other departments during week one? Get your act together before her or she gets there.

Plan the projects new employee will be responsible for in her first few months and what you want her to deliver. Communicate what you want to see after 90 days and then give new person the tools to accomplish the tasks. Sometimes those tools are introductions and access to staff, sometimes it’s files and documentation, or it might be training and introductions to clients or vendors. Think it all through.

Mistake #3: You try to do it all alone.

Make everyone part of the onboarding team. Brief other staffers in your department on your plan, desired outcomes, and timeline, and then involve them. Maybe the new person will take half of Mary’s work so she can start to address that project she’s been looking forward to, or maybe newbie will work in tandem with Bob so your department can crush that high-priority project. Regardless, don’t wait until Ms. New Hire is standing in front of Mary or Bob. Speak to staff about the new person’s role and responsibilities so everyone starts off on the right foot.

Mistake #4: You think shadowing equals onboarding.

When you wrap your staff into the onboarding process, understand that they might need a little training on best practices. Yes, having Ms. New Hire shadow Mary for a bit can make sense, but shadowing someone does not equal training. Make sure that staff who are involved in the onboarding have a plan, too.

Mistake #5: You try to shove everything into the first few days.

It seems logical. New person doesn’t have a real workload yet and knows nothing about your company, so you overload him or her with information for three days straight. My experience tells me that people retain very little if you bombard them. Ease them in and start at the top of the onboarding funnel. At Right Source, we start with a company history, background, and then some philosophies about operation and growth from our CEO as the first big thing you learn. The broad view. And then we narrow the focus all the way down to individual clients.

Mistake #6: You’re not involved or accessible.

A new person needs your guidance to get up to speed, so this is not the time to be COMPLETELY hands off as a manager, if that’s how you lean. A senior person might not need as much as a junior person, but experience does not give you permission to throw them into the ocean with no life preserver. Managing takes time. When you have a new person starting, don’t schedule yourself with meetings from morning to night so you can’t spend time with him or her. Check in daily, even if that senior person seems super competent. More junior people might need to spend an hour a day with you to ask a million questions. That’s ok. Don’t be annoyed by it. It doesn’t last forever.

Mistake #7: You can’t let go.

If you are the type of manager who wants to know what’s happening all the time and offer tips (I’ll refrain from calling you a micromanager, but you know who you are), it’s easy to believe that your new person will take a LOT of hand-holding to be able to make it through an entire workday on her own. This is where you have to remember how much effort you put into screening your candidates. You KNOW this person is money. He doesn’t want (or need) you breathing down his neck; that’s only slowing him down. Get out of the way. Give new guy the tasks, projects, or direct reports right away and let him go. Of course you need to check in and monitor, but don’t hover. Have some faith that your vetting process is solid and that new person is smart, capable, and able to figure some things out independently. Even the most inexperienced people don’t need as much hand-holding as you think they do.

Remember, onboarding a new employee requires just as much through, planning and effort as hiring the right person in the first place. Have any winning onboarding strategies to share? Let us know.

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About Yvonne Lyons:

Yvonne Lyons is Right Source’s vice president of creative services, overseeing content and design for all of our clients. She ensures that all creative produced at Right Source is of the highest quality and is aligned with our clients’ business strategy and goals. Yvonne received a bachelor’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University in writing and literature and has more than 20 years of experience in marketing, branding, and communications.