I’m pretty interested in onboarding best practices.

Might seem weird to you, because I’ve never worked in HR — and isn’t onboarding specifically the domain of HR?

That’s how it’s commonly viewed, yes, but in reality everyone needs to own it. More on that later.

I’ve been freelancing for 22-24 months, and I like that, but before that I had various office jobs for 13-14 years.

I only worked at maybe 6-7 places, sure, but I never saw a good onboarding process. Most were awful, actually. You know the deal: transactions, paperwork, a lunch meeting with your direct boss, and then on Day 2 a few no-context tasks are assigned to you.

Onboarding best practices? Not walking through that door anytime soon.

So eventually I got interested in it. Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve written a ton about onboarding, including:

Clearly I’ve spent some time here. I also wrote an article for College Recruiter once about onboarding best practices. (There are some additional examples in there, including Rackspace.)

Now we’ve got new research on onboarding, and it all underscores the major thing we need to remember.

Onboarding best practices and “the numbers”

A reality we cannot ignore: most companies are still run on spreadsheets and “the numbers.” Those spreadsheets are now digital (you’d hope) but anyone with any authority cares about one thing: “the numbers.” That’s all you ever hear out of the big meetings.

Here’s a new article — “Your New Hires Won’t Succeed Unless You Onboard Them Properly.” Concur with that title 100 percent. I’ve never been super successful in any corporate job. Part of that is me being an asshole, yes. But part is that I never had any idea what was going on, because the onboarding process was such a rushed farce.

In that article, there’s a link to some SHRM research that 17% of new hires can be gone within three months because of onboarding issues.

Now let’s tie “the numbers” to that concept.

The importance of the revenue tie

Let’s say someone in Product went to the boss and said, “I need $1 million for this process. But the return will be amazing.”

The boss mulls it over and ultimately gives him the $1 million.

Now, three months later, the guy from Product comes back. He says, “I lost it all. It’s gone. I need to restart.”

The boss would be livid.

And yet, that 17% stat is essentially saying that. 17% is almost 1 in 5. So almost 1 dollar of every 5 you spend on hiring/recruiting is wasted in three months?

How is this possibly acceptable?

OK, let’s answer that question briefly.

It’s acceptable because …

… most executives don’t really care about HR, and — ironically! — it’s because they’re not good with “the numbers.”

So what now?

Let’s take this one in two parts.

Part 1 is that any discussion of “onboarding best practices” isn’t about checklists. It’s about establishing revenue ties for what happens when onboarding is bad. This is how you get buy-in. Most companies are still managed on cost-cutting measures, so whoever manages onboarding (HR?) needs to have a handle on costs. You need to know costs of recruitment, hiring, the onboarding process, turnover, etc. Then you can make a compelling (in the eyes of execs) business case for “We need to do this with onboarding because it will save us this much money.” Unless you can do that, you’re doomed from the start. The money tie absolutely needs to be there.

Part 2 is knowing what onboarding best practices actually look like. I’ve got three quick ideas for you there:

  • Read some of the articles linked above; some are mine and you might believe me to be an idiot, yes, but they all have lots of external research.
  • Here’s a meta-analysis of the best articles about onboarding and what they say
  • If you want a Cliffs Notes version of that meta-analysis, here it is: a lot of effective onboarding comes back to psychological safety of teams

How process nukes this whole thing

Most people hear a term like “onboarding best practices” and instantly think they need a series of processes and checklists. Sorry to be a dick here, but many HR people have a compliance-oriented mind — that’s why they gravitated towards that specific field. So of course that’s what they think when they hear the term.

The problem is, onboarding is such a powerful concept. You’re 32. You just changed jobs. This is going to be the one where you really shape your professional existence. Day 1, baby! Let’s do this! This is the new Amanda right here! And … seven hours of paperwork.

See how that would be demoralizing?

We love us some process, and that’s often well/good/fine. But for any onboarding to work — for it to be truly “onboarding best practices” — you have to root it in a place of:

  • Money/revenue/bottom line ties
  • Human psychology

Anything else you’d add on onboarding best practices or the general importance of onboarding?

Ted Bauer

Originally from New York City, Ted Bauer currently lives in Fort Worth, Texas. He's a writer and editor for RecruitingDaily who focuses on leadership, management, HR, recruiting, marketing, and the future of work. His popular blog, The Context of Things, has a simple premise -- how to improve work. Ted has a Bachelors in Psychology from Georgetown and a Masters in Organizational Development from the University of Minnesota. In addition to various blogging and ghost-writing gigs, he's also worked for brands such as McKesson, PBS, ESPN, and more. You can follow Ted on Twitter @tedbauer2003, connect with him on LinkedIn, or reach him on email at [email protected]