On-boarding: The Critical Role of the Manager

POSTED: May. 10, 2017

Program ParticipantHave you ever started a new job or can remember going off to college with the mixed emotions of excitement and anxiety? You were excited for the new opportunity and to hit the ground running, making the best impression you can, but anxious because you’re not exactly sure what’s expected of you and what it will actually be like. In essence, starting a new job is often wrapped in similar emotions and on-boarding, like college orientation, is meant to help new employees through that transitional period. By guiding new hires through the ins and outs of the office, as well as their responsibilities and your expectations of them, on-boarding is meant to guide that initial energy into productivity and relieve some of the stress and anxiety that comes with any transition in life.

On-boarding, beyond being helpful for the new hire, is essential for talent retention and employee engagement, which translate directly into efficient productivity. Talent retention has become a hot topic in the human resource (HR) community because of the looming talent shortage as baby boomers leave the workforce. The research is showing that employees more often quit working for their managers, not for their organization, so first impressions for the managers are important. Not to mention that turnover is time consuming and expensive, wasting not only the productivity of position being filled, but also in the managers and HR department going through the talent search and bringing the new hire up to speed. This makes any activity that increases employee retention a long-term gain for the bottom line.

Employee engagement hangs on the manager/employee relationship, so it’s important to start out on the right foot and that means taking an active and serious role in the on-boarding process. The on-boarding process should be seen as an opportunity to cement a positive working relationship between a manager and employee. One of the key ways to do this is to earn the employees’ trust by taking the time to help them through this often difficult transition period. Every good relationship is built on trust, which is as true at home as in the workplace, and trust is built through honesty, respect and demonstrating that you have the other person’s interests at heart. This concern for the new hire in the on-boarding process will demonstrate just that and set a firm foundation for a healthy and productive work relationship.

What is On-boarding?

On-boarding is quite simply the process by which new hires transition from the selection process to performance-based management. It is that time when they’re learning the ropes and their responsibilities. Our experts tell us that transitional learning process breaks down into three main categories: knowledge, relationships and feedback, which we’ll deal with in more detail below.

Knowledge – This entails the information that the new hire needs to acquire throughout the process and can be as simple as which printer to use, but also as complex as what they and their department are responsible for. It can and should also include non-technical information about the workplace culture and those unique aspects of the organization. This is also a good time and place to lay out expectations for the employee and what the employee can expect from his/her manager and the Human Resource department.

Relationships – Relationships are crucial to a new hire’s success because these relationships will give the new hire the support and resources to help the individual transition, as well as help him/her really invest in their new company. A critical aspect of this is working out the manager/employee relationship, which should look at communication styles, personality types and personal and career development goals. This sets the foundation for a healthy relationship that will lead to employee engagement and a healthy work environment. Also, if the new hire is a manager, it is important to help him/her navigate the new relationships with the team because again the power of a good first impression can’t be understated.

Feedback – Feedback is helpful for the new hire to become oriented in the organization, allowing him/her to understand the organization’s expectations and better direct his/her own time and efforts. Also, for new managers this is especially important because their team will begin to form impressions of them quickly and if perceptions aren’t managed correctly this can cause long-term issues in team cohesion and productivity. In general, when feedback is done correctly it provides a useful avenue for more formal communication that allows the new hire to gain his/her bearings and quickly correct missteps and miscommunications.

The Who, How and How Much Time of On-boarding

These three areas are key to the on-boarding process, but the questions that often arise are:

  • Whose job is it?
  • How should it be implemented in practical terms?
  • How long should it take?

The question of whose responsibility it is to take the lead in the on-boarding process is often one of the major reasons it doesn’t get done. This is because the hiring manager has often spent a significant amount of time and energy on the selection process and is now anxious to get back to work, while HR is not able to take the lead on the most important aspects of the on-boarding process, namely fostering a healthy working relationship between the hiring manager and the new hire. This means HR can advocate and facilitate the on-boarding process, but the responsibility lies with the hiring manager to take the lead on the process.

Taking into account the stressful time crunch the hiring manager is under, HR can be most effective here by keeping the on-boarding process simple and straight forward. Just like exercise or a diet, the best kind is the one that you’ll actually do. If you make the process too complicated and time consuming hiring managers will either opt out or go about it in their own way, so keep it simple and select the most important aspects to stress. These should focus on the three major categories: knowledge, relationships and feedback. In particular, feedback can be structured with 45 and 60 day reviews to gauge progress and make sure the important aspects of on-boarding are taking place.

Unlike a college orientation, the on-boarding process normally lasts three to six months, according to best practices, but it can take as long as a year before the new hire has fully transitioned into his/her role. This timeline is important for the hiring manager and HR to be aware of so that their expectations properly align with reality. They should also make sure to communicate this expectation to the new hire, to:

  1. Alleviate some of their anxiety, and
  2. As a means to foster a healthy relationship with the new hire.

Showing that you understand that this transition can’t happen overnight demonstrates that you have realistic expectations and you’re invested in their long-term success. Demonstrating this reasonableness and investment in the new hire early and often will lead to high levels of employee engagement and retention.

Perspective and Expectation

While the idea of this process taking six months to a year may sound overwhelming, remember the cost and time loss due to turnover and lost talent is even higher. On top of that it’s important to remember that this boost in productivity doesn’t take three to six months to kick in, there are increases in productivity from the outset and every step along the way. Some organizations who have taken on-boarding to heart have seen huge increases in sales quotas and other measures within the first months of hiring that represent real increases to the bottom line. This is because the new hire transition period will occur whether you help them through it or not. The real question is whether you will have the long-term perspective to invest the time and effort to help them through that transition. That is exactly what on-boarding aims to do with great benefits to productivity in the short- and long-term by increasing employee engagement, competence and talent retention.

Out takes

The partnership between the new hire and manager is really the key to a successful on-boarding experience.  And, when done right is a useful tool in the engagement and retention of new hires. What can you do to ensure success with your new hires?