Strategic onboarding

Helping new hires succeed

Posted by Bill Cleary on October 8, 2018.

An effective new-hire experience can contribute to an employee’s productivity and create value for the organization. Studies show that effective onboarding can improve retention rates by 52 percent, time to productivity by 60 percent, and overall customer satisfaction by 53 percent1. For new hires, effective onboarding can increase both job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Despite this, the most common approaches to onboarding often fail.2

Whether it’s a lack of customization, too many activities during Day 1 orientation, or lack of leadership involvement, missteps in the onboarding process can have direct impacts on the bottom line. Hiring failures can cost at least 30 percent of an employee’s salary and can go upwards of 213 percent of the salary for executives.3,4 If one out of four new hires is choosing to leave during the first 45 days in a new role, something is clearly out of sync.5 Focusing on strategic onboarding can help organizations combat new-hire attrition and its costly impact.

An experiential journey
Strategic onboarding surpasses transactional, checklist-based onboarding processes owned solely by HR and instead focuses on creating an experience owned by HR and involving the entire organization. It is not a one-time event but a journey that gives employees immediate learning experiences to reach basic proficiency levels, functional training to understand the nuances of their roles, and strategic touchpoints to maintain long-term engagement.

Along the journey, moments that matter can help move employees from initial excitement to long-term engagement, increased proficiency levels, and, potentially, long-term career viability.

Evolution of Strategic Onboarding6

By using a design thinking approach, organizations put their workplace complexities aside and focus on creating the new-hire experience first. Delivering a successful new-hire experience requires an onboarding framework focused on five key areas: (1) strong fundamentals, including well-defined processes, clear content, and consistent expectations for onboarding participants; (2) structured delivery of onboarding activities that are audience specific; (3) technology enablement; (4) a focus on relationship building; and (5) integration with overall talent management strategies.

Strong fundamentals
Best-in-class onboarding programs have mastered the fundamentals of onboarding, establishing the essentials for new hires immediately after the hiring process. This includes providing clear information about employee benefits, compensation, logistics, IT and security provisioning, and organizational values. In addition, formal introduction to peers, colleagues, and leaders of the organization helps propel new-hire integration.

Structured delivery
Onboarding should not be a single classroom event, but instead a strategically designed experience that socializes the employee with the organization over many months. This experience should be structured, long term, and audience specific.

Leading programs often use a blended approach, combining a formal, blended learning platform with on-the-job experience and exposure activities. Such activities might include: new-hire cohort meetings, connections to leaders, mentor or buddy programs, and customized continuous learning paths designed for each new hire.

Effective onboarding programs should also consider workforce demographics. Employers know that “one size does not fit all,” so a multidimensional, customized, and long-term program can better address critical retention needs and allow the business to provide a strategic and tailored experience catering to each workforce demographic: baby boomers, Generation X, millennials, and Generation Z. These programs, when delivered over a long period, often begin before Day 1 and stretch beyond the first 6 months. They are integrated across functional areas, including recruiting, performance, and talent development, ultimately serving to engage employees and improve time to productivity.

Technology enabled
Technology can enhance a strong onboarding program by enabling interactivity and connectivity between new hires and with the organization. For example, using a new-hire portal with a central repository for all onboarding processes, tools, and materials increases accessibility for new hires and further promotes the onboarding experience. In addition, technology helps to mobilize and digitize transactional tasks such as HR forms and compliance, reducing stress on the new hire and the organization.

For example, technology tools can provide personalized content and experiences to each employee, reducing stress of accessing multiple HR systems and providing the ability to complete HR tasks quickly. The ongoing use of such technology sets up the right environment to leverage data that identifies pain points for new hires, tracks performance and adoption early, and helps organizations make data-driven decisions.

In addition to a portal, the use of internal social networks and external social media platforms is essential to appealing to a younger workforce and increasing new hires’ engagement with the organization and with each other.

Relationship building
Creating a strong network of relationships through technology platforms is a core component of successful onboarding programs. To effectively integrate a new hire, the onboarding program should involve leaders in onboarding activities, provide sufficient networking opportunities, and create peer mentoring environments.

A focus on relationship building can provide invaluable channels of information to a new hire as well as strengthen a new hire’s sense of community.

Talent-management integrated
Finally, onboarding programs should be aligned with talent management strategies and link onboarding with performance, career path, and talent development efforts. The new-hire experience can be enhanced with transparent communication of competency models, career development plans, and promotion criteria. By making career progression and mobility paths clear, the organization can contribute to new hires’ success. Incorporating mentoring and performance coaching programs can help new hires stick to their career paths and accelerate time to productivity.

A competitive differentiator
If you look at hiring as an essential investment in your organization’s future, strategic onboarding is a means to not only protect that investment but also to potentially increase its value. Creating a customized onboarding journey that identifies the moments that matter to the new hire, defines the new hire’s priorities, and evaluates the success of the new hire’s integration into the organization can be key to achieving measurable results for the organization, like higher sales, greater operational consistency, lower labor costs, faster proficiency, and lower turnover.

Sample Impacts of Strategic Onboarding7

Moreover, strategic onboarding creates a differentiating experience in line with workers’ heightened expectations in today’s highly competitive job market and can become a hallmark of your employer brand.


1 Forbes, The True Cost of a Bad Hire – It’s More Than You Think, September 2016.
2 SHRM, Employers Risk Driving New Hires Away with Poor Onboarding, February 2018.
3 Forbes, The True Cost of a Bad Hire — It’s More Than You Think, September 2016.
4 SHRM, Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success, 2010.
5 Design thinking, Creating the employee experience, Bersin, 2016.
6 Bersin by Deloitte, 2015 Readiness: 10 Top actionable TA Trends.
7 Deloitte, Point of View: Strategic Onboarding, June 2017.

Bill ClearyBill Cleary, GPHR, is a senior manager in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s US Human Capital service area. Bill’s primary focus has been on complex global HR transformation projects with extensive experience focused on talent acquisition.

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