Orientation is not Onboarding

September 9th, 2013
Written by: Dana Papke

Part 2 in a Series on the Onboarding Gap: Reducing “Non-Productive Compensation,” Identifying Bad Hires Sooner and Protecting Your Investment

If a new hire is fortunate, she’ll have a manager who understands the care and feeding necessary to get her onto–and stay on–a productive track as soon as possible. What’s more likely to happen is that there is a 90 or even 180-day window when the new employee wonders, “I hope I’m doing OK,” and the company says “I hope we made the right hire.”

In our previous Onboarding post, we discussed this Onboarding Gap:

(The) somewhat neglected interval in between (Recruiting and Performance Management)…where a profit-draining phenomenon known as Non-Productive Compensation lurks and where bad hires roam without being identified.

A company hearing about the Onboarding Gap might say, “Oh, we do onboarding. We have a full half day of briefings for new hires where we introduce them into our culture, explain our vision and provide them with all the tools they need to succeed during their career with us!”

What that company is referring to is Orientation, not Onboarding. They are basically saying to new hires, “Welcome aboard—now go make it happen.” Orientation is important, but it is just a small and very brief subset of Onboarding.

By relying on Orientation, companies assume a lot– that each individual manager is going to:

  • Support the new hire in learning the culture of the organization;
  • Help them understand how to get their jobs done in the most effective manner;
  • Provide the necessary training and tools;
  • Set clear expectations; and
  • Provide candid assessments along the way.

Orientation also assumes that managers will do all of these things well and in the same way, resulting in a consistent experience from the new hires’ perspectives.

These things simply don’t happen in most organizations. We’ve all heard horror stories about new hires left in a room to read employee manuals, product descriptions, and org charts for their first week. Whose “cultural orientation” consists of a team lunch or Happy Hour, or a PowerPoint presentation on the organization’s core values on the first day. Or who get a grand total of zero feedback until their 6-month review.

And there are negative consequences: Studies show that the first 120 days of the employee lifecycle hold tremendous risk and opportunity–for both the employer and new hire:

  • Lost productivity resulting from the learning curve for new hires and transfers is between 1% – 2.5% of total company revenues.1
  • New employees are 69% more likely to stay after three years if they’ve experienced a well-structured onboarding program.2

TPO is always interested in hearing examples of great or not-so-great (OK, horrible) experiences people have during their first 90 days with a new organization. We’d love to hear from you in the Comments section below. Of course, we do not want you to use the employer’s name.

Next in this Series: “I, (name of employer), hereby agree to pay this new employee for being non-productive for a period of up to 120 days.”

1 Source: Mellon Financial Corp © 2013 IHS

2 Source: Ganzel, 1998, Cited in Fast Company Magazine

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