Employee onboarding is critical to set your new hires up for success, and yet, onboarding challenges remain common across many organizations and industries.
The shift toward hybrid and remote environments complicates onboarding issues even further.
Here are 10 common onboarding mistakes — and the actions HR teams can take to turn those challenges into opportunities for superior onboarding experiences.
1. Procrastination and Disorganization
At most companies, an employee’s first day is spent signing paperwork, watching mandatory videos, and trying to secure the equipment they need to get started. This process can be tedious and chaotic, leaving little time for new hires to meet their colleagues.
Much of this disorganization results from procrastination and failure to pre-board. Without pre-boarding, new hires spend their first day busy with administrative tasks rather than learning about their role or the company culture. That’s a huge missed opportunity for your company to make a great first impression.
Pre-boarding is the process of sending helpful information to employees ahead of their start date. Since the pandemic, pre-boarding has gained momentum, especially for remote onboarding processes.
Action Item: Implement a Pre-Boarding Program
Send new employees a comprehensive (but user-friendly) onboarding packet ahead of their first day. This gives them time to review the packet and bring any questions to HR on or before day one. The packet should include a basic introduction to the company, legal paperwork, and forms for getting the necessary equipment.
Set up your applicant tracking system (ATS) to trigger the pre-boarding program when the new hire signs their offer letter. Internally, notify your IT team immediately that someone new is coming on board so they can begin creating accounts and assigning equipment.
With hiring logistics out of the way, your new hire can spend their first day learning the job’s specifics and navigating company culture.
2. Poor First Impressions
It’s hard to recover from a bad first impression, but employers that repeatedly make onboarding mistakes take that risk. Addressing employee onboarding challenges supports a better impression of the company.
Employers that treat onboarding as simply a step to check off give new hires the impression that setting them up for success is low on your priority list.
To demonstrate the value you place on new hires, give them a clear employee onboarding process that outlines their role in the company and provides growth opportunities.
Action Item: Curate Your Onboarding Experience
Don’t think of onboarding as simply a program or a process. Onboarding is an opportunity to provide new hires with a curated onboarding experience. Your onboarding program must bridge the gap between the candidate experience and the employee experience.
Set clear onboarding goals for managers and employees to accomplish together. To overcome common onboarding challenges, managers and new hires need clear direction to create an experience that resonates across all levels.
3. Unclear Goals and Expectations
New hires need to know that your company is invested in helping them achieve their professional goals and find their potential. But many employers neglect to use onboarding as an opportunity to engage new talent by guiding them to set clear professional development goals.
Once onboarding is complete, you may feel like you have plenty of time to set learning and development goals. But if you don’t show employees their options for mobility quickly, they’re at a higher risk of disengaging early in the employee life cycle.
Action Item: Create a Professional Development Plan Template
Set expectations for professional development early in each employee’s tenure.
Provide a template that managers and new hires can use to open a conversation about professional development goals and learning opportunities. They should be aware of the company structure and see opportunities for advancement.
Although vertical moves are most common, make sure new hires understand their options for lateral mobility, too. They may choose to cross-train in adjacent roles, creating a stronger team and giving the new hire a sense of control over their career.
4. Exaggerating or Understating a Job’s Scope
Managers need to set realistic expectations for new hires entering a role. Any discrepancies between what’s been advertised during the hiring process and what employees encounter on the job can make new hires feel lied to. But many managers simply don’t know how to communicate the role’s scope to new team members.
Managers may exaggerate what’s expected of employees during hiring, leading to candidates who are up for a challenge accepting the job only to be disappointed in the work. Understating the job’s scope, on the other hand, can cause employees to feel overwhelmed upon starting. In both cases, new hires are at greater risk of disengaging.
Action Item: Help Managers Communicate Scope
Your human resources team can develop guidelines to help managers communicate the role’s scope more effectively. Work with managers to set clear expectations based on actual assignments and workloads.
Develop talking points for each role so managers have guidelines and a framework to pull from when introducing candidates and new hires to the job.
5. No Formal Schedule or Process
The benefits of an effective onboarding program come from an intentional process. Daily check-ins, for example, help build strong relationships between new hires and their manager that provide a strong foundation for engagement and productivity.
Action Item: Design for Intentionality
Consider what you want new hires to take away from their first few months in the role. Most importantly, they need to learn how to do their job — but what do employees need to learn to support that goal? Employees who understand their purpose in the company and how to navigate company culture will have a path to greater participation.
Develop clear onboarding processes that align each employee’s role with the business’s mission, vision, and values. Onboarding is your first chance to engage the workforce, and a formal, intentional onboarding program lays a foundation for strong employee engagement.
6. Overflow of Information at Once
Bombarding employees with too much information can overwhelm your new hires. Employees who become overwhelmed in their first couple of months with your company are at a much higher risk of disengagement.
Many employers condense pre-boarding, onboarding, and orientation into one brief period, but this can confuse new hires with too much information and insufficient time to digest it. This lack of time is especially problematic if new hires are training to carry out their role and learn about the company in a classroom setting without the opportunity to apply their learning.
Managers need to help new employees master one or two concepts at a time before throwing more information at them.
Action Item: Set Realistic Learning Expectations
Set a standard onboarding length, and work within that time frame to allow new hires to apply what they’re learning.
Develop a learning schedule that managers can adhere to for introducing new concepts to employees. For example, pair employee training with learning the company’s mission and heftier goals. This time slot will help employees see exactly how their work drives business results.
Giving new hires time to process everything they’re learning sets a much stronger foundation for employee engagement. Build the habit of applying concepts in practice from the very beginning, and you’ll develop an intentional and aligned workplace culture.
7. Ignoring Cultural Adaptation
Most employers include an orientation to introduce new hires to company culture, but often that’s all-new employees get.
Without a resource for understanding culture or a deliberate program for learning about it, new hires will struggle to adjust to unspoken norms and expectations. That can harm their engagement and even their ability to complete their work.
If employees don’t know how to navigate cultural norms, they won’t find their full potential in the company: They’ll get lost simply trying to find their way.
Action Item: Make the Unspoken Transparent
Pinning down culture can be difficult because people in it don’t think critically about how their behaviors are shaped by it. But it’s essential to distill unspoken cultural norms and behaviors into actionable codes that new hires can study and learn to follow.
Your cultural norms are derived from your values in an intentional workplace culture. Provide new hires with information on using your values as a code of conduct to guide their behaviors and decision-making in their new role. Include this information in your orientation program, and provide exercises for employees to practice applying company values.
For example, provide a hypothetical scenario and ask employees to discuss the appropriate response and which values they should apply.
8. Failing to Provide Management Support and Input
At many companies, onboarding processes are as varied as the number of managers in the organization. Too much variation across the company produces significant employee onboarding challenges.
Without standard BR guidelines, managers will develop their own processes or neglect onboarding altogether. Most managers will focus on the specifics of the role rather than introduce employees to the company’s structure and culture. That results in fractured onboarding processes, shattering your employer brand and leading to a disjointed employee experience.
Managers need a set process for introducing new employees to the company and their roles.
Action Item: Provide Standardized Directions for Managers
Develop a centralized set of guidelines for your employee onboarding program. Break the process down into individual components, and explain why each piece is essential. For example, consistent check-ins between managers and employees are an indispensable element of onboarding because these conversations help employees adjust and set the stage for a trusting relationship.
Provide resources for carrying out each component of your employee onboarding process. Include a list of topics managers should cover in regular check-ins, such as applying company values in the role’s daily tasks and behaviors. Set clear milestones for each leg of the process (the first 30 or 90 days, for example).
Some components should be customizable, with options provided by the HR department. Each role will have different employee training and development options based on specific job descriptions.
Distribute HR’s standardized onboarding guidelines in the form of a checklist in your ATS or other software. HR should monitor each new hire’s progress through the program, reaching out to managers who aren’t moving employees through the checklist.
9. Confusing Orientation With Onboarding
Many companies fail to distinguish between orientation and onboarding, creating a murky experience for new-hire onboarding.
Orientation is a component of onboarding that involves introducing the new employee to the company’s culture, mission, vision, values, and structure — all of the organization details that are consistent across all levels and roles.
Where orientation simply “orients” the employee to their new surroundings, onboarding as a whole is more comprehensive. During onboarding, new hires learn how to perform their job and navigate company culture in their specific role.
Action Item: Develop Clear Orientation Programming
While onboarding varies according to each role, orientation remains consistent across all levels and titles. HR can develop guidelines for clear orientation programming to support managers during onboarding.
Orientation should introduce new hires to all of the company’s broader elements, such as mission, vision, and values. After orientation, new hires will work with their managers to apply the mission, vision, and values to their specific roles.
If you’re onboarding several new hires at once, HR can host group orientations. Since all of your new-hire onboarding goes through the same orientation program, having them experience it together gives them a chance to form bonds with colleagues in different departments, producing a more robust company culture.
10. Neglecting to Collect Feedback
You can’t continue improving onboarding processes without asking your new employees about your existing strategy. If you don’t collect feedback, you risk implementing and investing in a process that isn’t actually functional for employees. You need feedback to ensure that onboarding is doing what you need it to do, setting your new hires up for success.
Action Item: Develop Guidelines for Virtual Onboarding Practices
As employees experience onboarding, ask them to respond to quick surveys to take their temperature on the process. Don’t shy away from the difficult questions—Ask employees if they feel the method is effective in helping them adjust to their job, the workplace, and company culture. Ask them to provide specifics so you can hone in on strengths and weaknesses.
Use survey responses to provide direction as you update and refine your onboarding process.
Other Onboarding Considerations
New hires are starting their relationship with your company from a variety of places, and that extends far beyond your physical location.
Employers need to offer options for virtual onboarding for all employees, not just those working remotely full time. Even for in-person roles, much of the employee onboarding process (such as orientation) can be carried out remotely, making it more accessible to a larger group of people.
However, remote employee onboarding challenges can seem impossible, especially to direct managers. They may find it difficult to bond with and build trust in new employees in a virtual environment.
Develop Guidelines for Virtual Onboarding Processes
Identify the components of onboarding that can be conducted virtually. Produce standard best practices for onboarding remote employees. For in-person and hybrid employees, include suggestions for when to encourage in-person meetings.
To overcome the primary virtual onboarding challenge — fostering trusting relationships — set standards for touchpoints between new employees and their managers. Provide managers with a list of questions they can use to elicit information that can help both parties learn to work together. If managers expect the new hire to be detail-oriented, for example, they need to align on what that means in the context of the role.
Another remote onboarding challenge is introducing remote workers to your company culture. Orientation provides an overview of culture, but employees need to experience your culture before truly learning it. Assign a volunteer on their team to each new hire who’s onboarding, providing a resource to answer questions about company culture.
In their first few months with your company, new hires need to feel that they’re a valued part of a vibrant company culture. Address onboarding challenges so your new hires feel empowered to reach their performance potential within your organization.
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