Joined A New Company? Onboarding Will Determine Your Long-Term Success

A survey of senior human resources executives showed that 87% of the 143 survey respondents agreed with the statement that the transition into the new role is the most challenging time in the professional lives of managers, and 70% agreed that success or failure during the transition is a strong predictor of the success in the role.

According to Egon Zehnder’s online survey of 588 executives at the VP level and above from publicly traded and private companies worldwide, almost 60% reported it took them six months to reach full productivity, and 20% said it took them nearly nine months. Less than one-third said they had no meaningful support during the transition. Well-integrated managers can make an impact faster and cut the time to full productivity from six months to four.

There is a difference between onboarding and integration. As the word suggests, onboarding is bringing people on board, giving them a short orientation tour, and then letting them be. Integration is more comprehensive. It doesn’t end just with the onboarding done, but it helps the employee genuinely integrate with the rest of the crew. It requires more effort and takes longer. But it pays off in faster time to full performance, better relationships within the team, and an increased chance of employee success in the future.

Types of onboarding activities

In The First 90 Days, Michael Watkins, a leading expert on onboarding, suggests these four pillars to consider during onboarding: business orientation, stakeholder connection, alignment of expectations, and cultural adaptation. This categorization is helpful for you as a new employee as it focuses more strongly on what you need to succeed. It is less about the work of the human resources department and more about your learning needs. I adapted them and added a fifth pillar to take care of the necessary bureaucracy.

Administrative onboarding – is where you deal with all the paperwork and legal requirements, like health and safety training. You need to get your equipment and access to the required resources. These are all the nitty-gritty things that need to happen so you can perform your duties.

Business onboarding – is the most obvious and most straightforward. Every new leader in the organization needs to understand the business environment and have a decent overview of various parts of the company. Look for information about the history, products, go-to-market strategy, branding, and financials. Ask questions like, “how did we get to where we are?” You may find many things weird, but by getting enough background information about how they came to be, you will be better positioned to change them or let them be.

Functional onboarding – what Watkins calls expectations alignment is about double-checking the expectations of all the stakeholders. You must ensure you understand what you are expected to do and how you are supposed to do it. Talk to your manager about how business planning works and the current goals. Talk about preferred working styles and no-nos. Reach out to the human resources department to understand how performance management works and anything you need to know about your team. You need to understand what success looks like. You need to understand how decisions are made, the scope of your work, accountabilities, boundaries, and organizational no-nos. It can also include training on specific tools used for the job and should set up first short-term goals for early wins.

Social onboarding – is all about inclusion, belonging, and building a sense of community. Watkins calls it stakeholder connection. Identify the key stakeholders and start developing productive relationships. Ask your manager to provide a list of key stakeholders and introduce you. Schedule one-on-ones with them as soon as possible and start building relationships. This is arguably the most important part, as it is critical to the success and retention of the newly hired employee. And curiously, it is one often ignored by companies and human resources departments. It starts during onboarding and is a long-term activity that transforms into integration. New hires need to be supported to build relationships and alliances with their teams, bosses, peers, and internal and external customers. It pays to have a list of all the relevant stakeholders and a plan to reach out and build relationships. Integration with the team is equally critical to building camaraderie and trust. Employees who feel like they don’t belong after a year with the company will leave.

Organizational onboarding – what Watkins calls cultural adaptation is the most challenging and deals with how things work. You need to adapt to the way how things are done. You need to understand not only the proclaimed or aspirational values but also the reality of the inner working of the company. You need to learn the organizational culture and language, what all the abbreviations mean, what type of communication uses what channels, and similar things. It is also the first step into assimilation and integration into the company as the new employees meet their teams. You are essentially an explorer who discovered a new tribe, and now you are trying to figure out how things work. Discuss the company culture with your boss, the human resources department, and key long-tenured employees. Get an onboarding buddy or ask someone to act as a cultural interpreter when you get confused by something.

Culture has an oversized impact on how things are done. The most important areas you need to figure out are:

  • how decisions are made,
  • how people get support and influence things,
  • how meetings are conducted,
  • what is the level of openness to address difficult issues,
  • how things are done,
  • whether it is more important to follow the process or know the right people,
  • what are the things people are being recognized for,
  • what personality traits are being valued,
  • and how conflicts are escalated, addressed, and resolved.

On the onboarding versus integration scale, the administrative, business, and technical onboarding are more short-term focused on getting you oriented. Social and cultural onboarding are more long-term integration activities.

Onboarding buddies

Many companies are starting to use onboarding mentors or onboarding buddies to ease the onboarding and integration of new hires. A practice you may consider following. Dawn Klinghoffer, Candice Young, and Dave Haspas, Microsoft’s people analytics team, looked at onboarding data and concluded that onboarding buddies help in three key ways.

They provide context and help with acculturation – it is the why and how things are done, why something is important, and how to contribute that is often difficult for new employees to figure out. Onboarding buddies can point out the stakeholders critical for employee success, what are the cultural norms and unspoken rules, and generally help with anything that is not part of the official policies. Yet, it is in the DNA of the organization.

They help navigate processes and boost productivity – the sooner the new employee can have first success, the better. That often requires a quick understanding of processes and how to get things done. The onboarding buddies can help with time to full productivity. They can be valuable resources and mentors. Data from Microsoft suggests that 56% of new hires who met with their onboarding buddy at least once in the first 90 days indicated that the buddy helped them be more productive more quickly. This increased to 73% for those who met two to three times, 86% for those who met four to eight times, and 97% for those who met with their onboarding buddy more than eight times, so let’s say once a week.

They improve new employee satisfaction – it is all about belonging and the feeling that someone cares. Having an onboarding buddy gives the new employee the feeling that they are not alone and there is someone they can reach out to and who cares about their success. According to Microsoft’s people analytics team, new hires who had onboarding buddies were 23% more satisfied with the onboarding experience. This was even more visible at the 90-day mark when the satisfaction increase was 36%.

Obviously, for this to work, the onboarding buddy needs to give it some effort and time. This means reprioritizing their work to allow for enough interaction and for time to build a strong bond with the new employee. Even though the onboarding buddy can come from any part of the organization, they would be rated more positively if they come from the same team. Reporting to the same manager means they can bring higher value in explaining how to survive in that particular team—though for some roles, having an onboarding buddy from a different department that is critical for the employee’s success may help with building alliances.

Similar to mentorship, being an onboarding buddy should bring some value also to the experienced employee. The most visible benefits are forming a good relationship with another person at the company and, as with any teaching, improving their expertise and knowledge of the company in the process.

Putting it all together

Don’t underestimate the importance of proper onboarding and integration. It is very attractive and often expected to dive right in and start quickly producing results, but it will make you less effective and haunt you down the road. Proper onboarding will ensure that you are building your success on solid ground.

Understanding how the business operates, what is expected from you, building strong relationships with your team and other stakeholders, and adapting to the organizational culture will make you efficient and effective much faster. Getting an onboarding buddy is a tremendous help to speed things along the way without cutting corners.

What is your take on the topic? What are the key aspects of successful onboarding and integration into the company? Do you have an experience with situations when your onboarding went exceptionally well or exceptionally badly? How important are the first 100 days in a new job?

Photo: MabelAmbler /

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Categories: Career, Leadership

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