7 Ways Bosses Can Accelerate New-Hire Onboarding

The faster you integrate a new team member, the sooner you’ll reap big rewards. Here’s your new plan.

By Michael Watkins, Ph.D.

No one has a bigger impact on a new employee’s success than the boss who hired him.

Only the boss understands what the new hire needs to accomplish. Only the boss can set clear expectations. Only the boss knows what the new hire needs to learn before he can meet those expectations. And only the boss has the ability to successfully connect the new hire to his team and other stakeholders.

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Bosses also have the biggest stake. Research shows being systematic in onboarding brings new employees up to speed 40 percent faster, and the faster they become productive, the more quickly they can contribute.

Effective onboarding also dramatically reduces failure rates (more onboarding!) and increases employee engagement and retention. Here are seven key ways you can accelerate the onboarding of new hires. 

Onboarding Tip #1: Understand Their Challenges

Research shows that challenges with culture and relationships, especially peers, are the biggest reasons for onboarding failures.

It’s human nature to want to feel in control, leading a new hire to stick too much with what he knows how to do, or behave like he already has the answers. Assure him that it’s more important to focus on learning than doing in the early days. 

Onboarding is even tougher when there’s a move or promotion involved. He needs to learn how to operate effectively at his new level, in addition to all the other challenges of onboarding.

Onboarding Tip #2: Accelerate Their Learning

Start by focusing on what the new hire needs to learn. Think in terms of technical, cultural, and political learning:

  • Technical is what new hires need to know about the fundamentals of your business—products, customers, technologies, systems.
  • Cultural includes attitudes, behavioral norms, and values that contribute to the unique character of your organization.
  • Political helps them understand how decisions are made, how power and influence work, and whose support they’ll need. 

Onboarding Tip #3: Connect Them with Stakeholders

Make a list of everyone the new hire needs to know outside of her new boss and team. Make introductions. Small efforts like these can dramatically reduce a new hire’s time to full productivity. 

Then schedule a date, perhaps in 30 to 45 days, when you’ll check in with these stakeholders to see how well your new hire is doing. You can also set up meetings between her and the stakeholders to provide early course-correction feedback. 

Onboarding Tip #4: Define Success

New hires want to understand what they need to do to be successful. Help them answer three key questions: 

  • What do I need to do? Define the goals, timeframes, and measures you’ll use to evaluate progress.
  • How should I go about doing it? Be specific about the strategies, priorities, and activities.
  • Why should I feel motivated to accomplish it? Communicate a vision for the organization, and help her see her part.

Onboarding Tip #5: Make Them Part of the Team

The sooner he builds effective working relationships with teammates, the better. You can speed up the process by making sure the team understands why he was hired, and what roles he’ll play. If you involve team members in the recruiting process, you’ll not only accelerate their relationships, but you’ll also give the team a stake in his success.

You should also make clear the team’s role in the onboarding process. They should understand it benefits everyone to get the new person up to speed as fast as possible, and how small efforts now will pay off in the future. 

Onboarding Tip #6Get Them a Win

Initial success builds the new hire’s credibility and boosts her confidence. Keep her focused on a few essential priorities and help her identify ways to make rapid progress. Watch for signs that a new hire is falling into the common trap of spreading herself too thin by taking on too much, too soon. 

Also, help her avoid mistakes and misunderstandings by showing her paths to success consistent with “the way we do things here.” 

Onboarding Tip #7: Let Them Swim

Full integration into the team and company takes time. Give the new hire room, but stay connected. Schedule biweekly “how are things going?” check-ins, and continue them until there’s nothing to talk about. 

If you see him struggling, don’t hesitate to throw him a lifeline. Don’t assume early issues will resolve themselves. This situation can spiral fast until the new hire has unwittingly dug himself a hole that’s difficult to climb out of. 

Michael Watkins, Ph.D., is the chairman of Genesis Advisers and author of the bestselling The First 90 Days