The 3 stages of onboarding that every manager needs to know
Exasperated. Overwhelmed. Frustrated. These are some of the words that might describe a manager’s feelings when a direct report resigns. The burden of work for a manager to replace a person and have them fully productive is often significantly more than that of an HR or People and Culture department. Onboarding is a part-time process, often without a clear owner. Also, there is no rewarding metric for onboarding, as there is with hiring to say ‘vacancy filled!’. Finally, there is no c
orporate consequence for doing a poor job of onboarding.
Indeed, there are systemic structural issues in organisations that work against new hires receiving an effective onboarding. Yet, onboarding creates enormous financial and cultural costs and is likely the most poorly performed of all company processes, and almost everyone has a story to tell about bad onboarding. Effective onboarding could be the greatest opportunity for the business community today with employee review website Glassdoor finding that organisations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82 percent and productivity by over 70 percent. But what is onboarding?
Onboarding is not hiring. It’s not induction. It’s not orientation, and it’s not training.
Onboarding is the process of taking someone from outside your organisation and making them a productive, independent, and confident member of your team who understands the culture, the technical and process expectations, and their manager’s expectations.
The onboarding period begins when a person has signed a contract to work in your organisation and ends when they are a useful, valuable team member. After the onboarding process, a manager should designate a new hire as either a successful fit or an unsuccessful fit within the legal probation period.
In my global survey about the impact of onboarding, I found that 83% of organisations have an onboarding process of 14 days or less, with almost 50% less than seven days. Yet, the real impact of onboarding accelerates from 30 to 90 days.
But why the short onboardings? Around three weeks into an onboarding process, a manager might suspect that meeting with a new hire under the guise of onboarding may feel a little redundant, that they’ve covered the big things, that they’re progressing well, and in fact, it’s a little pointless to continue. So instead, we can reframe the onboarding process into a three-stage process, where the manager transitions from teaching someone to understand, then mentoring them to learn and apply those understandings and finally coaching them to embed their learnings.
Let’s take the example of a salesperson.
They may be attending sales meetings alongside other salespeople as observers in the understand stage.
In the learn and apply stage, they may attend and run sales meetings, with another salesperson attending as an observer.
They may be attending sales meetings alone in the embed stage yet providing detailed updates to their manager after each meeting.
Through the onboarding process, the agenda for meetings should transition from initially being about the manager and the company’s what, how, and why to mainly about the new hire, their issues, and their results.
Here is an overview outlining the three stages of onboarding.
The first 30 days – Understand
The goal is to confidently exit the new hire from the understand stage and have them enter the learn and apply stage at the 30-day mark. Ideally, through four weekly meetings, there should be a feeling from the new hire’s manager that they have explained most of the ‘stuff’ and that the purpose of the weekly onboarding meetings is beginning to feel a little pointless. If managers get that feeling, they’re on the right track!
The second 30 days – Learn and apply
The goal of the learn and apply stage is to confidently exit the new hire from the learn and apply stage and have them enter the embed stage at the 60-day mark. Continuing the weekly meeting format, the manager should transition from directing and teaching to advising and mentoring. The time during meetings is used to ask questions like, “What did you learn?” or “Where were you stuck when you did that?”
The third 30 days – Embed
The goal of the embed stage is to confidently classify the new hire as a successful fit at the 90-day meeting, which concludes the onboarding process. If new hires stop the onboarding process at the 60-day mark, they may revert to their old habits. The embed stage embeds the new habits they have understood, learnt, and applied. Continuing the weekly meeting format, the manager should transition from advising and mentoring to coaching.
The manager should easily transition from the final onboarding stages, where they coach the new hire, into an ongoing coaching process and meeting rhythm after completing the onboarding process.
It can be easy to view a structured process of weekly meetings for three months as a difficult habit to maintain for busy managers, especially once a new hire begins producing results. But if viewed as a three-stage process, where the new hire is transitioning from being directed at the beginning to being coached at the end, it can be valuable to both the business and the manager.