When we ask executives and managers at organizations around the world what they consider the most vital part of onboarding we typically hear things like, “The paperwork needs to be signed, sealed and delivered; we need to make the new hire an official employee.” Or, “We get the new employee a badge, show them where the restrooms and coffee pot are, and then the manager gives them a firm handshake and welcomes them aboard.” Still other organizations think of onboarding in terms of something that needs to be done more efficiently. If you Google “onboarding employees”, the first page of results is full of websites describing how to fully automate the process.

New employees at these types of organizations have at least shown up, and we hope they prosper, but oftentimes they don’t. Unfortunately, there is still a false belief onboarding is all about the upfront paperwork and making the new hire an official employee.

At The JDL Group, we don’t discuss onboarding in terms of completing I9s, showing employees where the restrooms are located and hoping they hang on for the ride. Our research has identified five components of a successful onboarding process and our 25 years of implementation experience has helped us perfect the process which we will describe below.

What is Onboarding

To us, onboarding is about setting new employees up for success, outlining employee and organizational expectations, having mechanisms in place to hold each other accountable and starting the development and feedback conversation right away. “If you spend time trying to hire them — there’s interviewer time, prep time, recruiter time and candidate time — if you put all of this time into the process, then why just give them a badge, show them the restroom and tell them good luck?” asks Dr. Jared D. Lock, founder and CEO at The JDL Group. “Let’s set them up for success, and that means outlining expectations of the employee AND the organization, creating accountabilities back and forth, and, what we consider one of the most important pieces, starting the development performance feedback conversation right away,” explains Dr. Lock.

Our onboarding process may sound like a lot of work or seem hard, but as little as 10 minutes of time can go a long way with a new hire. And that’s exactly what our research has found. When a manager spends 10 minutes with a new employee during the first six weeks, it will save one hour of additional manager time and effort in the first six months. When the manager spends 60 minutes (just one hour) during the first six weeks, it saves six hours of additional managerial time and work during those first six months.

Further, our research shows, for every one hour a direct manager spends with a new employee in the first six weeks, the learning curve is reduced, they understand expectations much better and performance is moved closer to competence 4% faster (competence defined as working about as fast as most other people). If a second hour is spent, you’re now at 8% and with a third hour they reach competency 16% faster (the employee will be up to speed about one month earlier than anticipated).

“Imagine what could be accomplished if direct managers spent two hours in the first few weeks with their new employees. That’s the goal. That’s the edge. It’s a real chance for a manager to stand up, step up, and do what they were hired for, and that’s to manage their employees,” says Dr. Lock.

Five Components of Onboarding

While 10 minutes or an hour is beneficial, our best practice approach is to get managers to spend a full day with their new employees. Not all at once – an hour here and an hour there plotted out across the first couple of months will help make sure things go well. During this time, follow these five components of a successful onboarding process to give the new employee the best chance at success:

1.  Work Definition Discussion.

The Work Definition Discussion identifies what the employee is supposed to do over the next three to six months. Managers should tell new employees what they see as the three or four biggest rocks (i.e., goals, projects) they need to drive on, work on or to support the organization during those first six months. In other words, simply tell them what the job is. You’d be surprised how few new employees know what their job is, how they are supposed to do it and how they will be evaluated in terms of job performance. At The JDL Group, we also believe the employee’s opinion matters and often have managers ask the employee what they think they are supposed to be doing. “The back and forth conversation creates an up front dialogue of openness and accessibility,” says Dr. Lock.

In terms of identifying rocks, a more sophisticated method used by The JDL Group is the Performance 2×2, which we teach to whole organizations through our Guerilla Business Training Sessions.

The research is quite simple — companies need employees to do work, and employees just want to know what to do. Beyond that, we also ask managers to help the employee understand the best way to get along and get ahead, which changes from company to company. For example, as some companies getting ahead means looking out for your own project, sometimes to the detriment of others. In other companies, getting along means you work as a team. For others, it may be actively questioning other people in the organization, actually pushing them if you don’t agree with or understand them. These things are about culture and they are also major biological drives. They are inside new employees. New employees who come on board need to know the “rules of engagement” to succeed in the organization. Helping managers set this conversation up and really driving home is a JDL Group differentiator.

2.  Meeting Agenda.

Social networks in organizations dictate structure, control and how work gets done. And that third one, how work gets done is really important because social networks are not always formal. Our research shows it takes an employee, on average six months to figure out the social network and how to use it to his/her advantage (i.e., be productive). A manager (especially when we provide them a script) can typically explain this in less than 30 minutes. We often hear leaders at organizations say, “We like to throw our new hires in over their heads and let them struggle a bit,” or we hear them talk about learning versus knowing, grit mindset and other current and popular fads. And that’s fine, but this is six months versus 30 minutes. This is money you can put in the bank by spending 30 minutes with them to teach them how to accomplish their goals. This isn’t what you want them to struggle with. You want them to struggle with other things, the hard things, the things that will take their brain power. Figuring out whether they should go to Susie or Fred to succeed at their goals is just stupid.

Managers should focus on (a) overall organizational structure and how work flows through the company; (b) identifying those people in the department the employee will need to meet, those people across the company the employee will need to do their job, and those people outside the organization they need to meet, as well. For each of these, we suggest setting up a meeting, or showing the employee how, with dates and times. Further, The JDL Group differentiates by having managers tell the employee why the meeting is important and what the outcome should be — set it up for them.

3.  Leadership Values Discussion.

This is not only about the organization’s culture and leadership, but also what the direct manager stands for — who they are and what is important to them. At The JDL Group, we have found employees who know what their leaders stand for are 75% more likely to earn high performance ratings. Now, most leaders will say, “Of course, my employees know what I stand for, I have been very clear.” But when we go to test it and ask employees what makes their boss happy, sad, angry or mad, over 78% simply say they don’t know.

One of the things we try to teach leaders is to become more deliberate in their actions. Just let employees know what’s going on. Employees want to know what is going to get them in trouble and what is going to help them. They need their boss to tell them. And yes, they could figure it out over three or six months, or they could use the gossip train or let other employees tell them, but the better way is to have the manager directly explain it at the very beginning and set a standard. 

On a more sophisticated level, The JDL Group works with leaders at organizations during our Individual and Team Coaching and Development sessions in terms of their personal and organizational pillars — what that leader stands for.

4.  Boss-Subordinate Energy Pact.

At The JDL Group, we predict at a 95% accuracy rate how much energy it will take for a person to succeed in a role or at a company. In a lot of ways, this is a central theme of the onboarding process. In order to be successful, an employee needs to put energy into their role. In order to be successful FASTER, a boss can provide the employee the needed energy to set him/her up for success.

“As I tell leaders all the time, you give different energy to different employees. Some need kicks in the butt, some needs pats on the back. Some need you to stay the heck out of their way and others need you a lot. It’s much easier to know where the energy is needed and where it’s not when you and the employee can come to an agreement. If the employee knows how to do X, Y, and Z, then stay the heck out of their way. If the employee has questions about A, B, and C, then spend your energy there,” explains Dr. Lock.

Essentially, the Boss-Subordinate Energy Pact is a discussion of the employee’s style, characteristics and beliefs. It often relates to his/her strengths and weaknesses and is somewhat of a “pre-performance” review. Unfortunately, 78% of managers will not know how to run this meeting and most will be scared to. Therefore, a lot of organizations will not run this meeting on their own.

At The JDL Group, we use data gathered through our Whole Person Assessment process to provide a more accurate and sophisticated experience when assisting organizations with the onboarding process. We use assessments because they are predictive, but in this scenario, they also put a third person in the room. As part of our assessment process, we create onboarding reports for the hiring manager and the employee which are basically mirror images of each other. At the back of the onboarding report is a workbook with a variety of questions that works to get the hiring manager and employee talking together about the assessment results. At the end of the day, it gets the employee and the boss to the same spot of here’s two or three places we need to spend our energy.

Pre-Employment Assessments: Why Scientific Credibility Matters

5.  The Follow Up Discussion.

Above, we have laid out two hours of meetings with a new employee, we took all the “guts” out in case your managers do not have any guts and we have structured the process so a novice or a CEO can run the same meeting. By virtue of being in the meeting, the employee now believes (and likely is relieved) the organization cares about feedback. Use the good graces of this system to jump start performance discussions. Once a week, in six days, in six weeks … please, just have one. At the meeting, review the original Work Definition Discussion and have a status update, review the results from the Meeting Agenda, ask about Pillars from the Leadership Values Discussion and ask the employee if you’ve given the requested time and energy as promised in the Boss-Subordinate Energy Pact. At the end, make a plan for another meeting.

The JDL Group Difference

At The JDL Group, our goal is to bring accurate business psychology to intelligent professionals. We do believe in measurement. We do believe in assessment. We do believe in research and understanding the why behind what happens. And so, most of what we have discussed is based on our research and also the fact we’ve been implementing these practices and processes all around the world to Fortune 100 organizations for many, many years. The idea being that we can take all of those lessons learned and build strong action plans and practically guarantee outcomes for our clients, no matter their size, because we’ve repeated it over and over again. To find out how we can help solve your organization’s most complex people problems, contact us today.

Related Reading: Pre-Employment Assessment: Why Scientific Credibility Matters