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Employee Onboarding is a Mess - How to Unlock New Employee Potential from Day One

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

How to Unlock New Employee Potential from Day One

Excitedly, I stepped into the office. It was the first day of my new job, and as I was guided to my desk and handed my laptop, my excitement quickly turned to disappointment. While being introduced to my new cube mate, Bernard, all I could think was, “I’m sharing a small cube?” Little did I know, Bernard would become my success secret weapon. Whenever I got stuck wading through unfamiliar systems and processes, I quietly sent Bernard a cry for help, and he eagerly put me on the right track. Lacking any structured employee onboarding left me relying on the generosity of Bernard for guidance. Unfortunately, my personal experience underscores the overlooked aspect of employee onboarding: delivering value to new workers.

Employee onboarding is a mess.

Regrettably, my experience is not unique. Since many companies lack a cohesive employee onboarding approach, new hires face ambiguity and lack clear guidance and goals during the most important part of the employee journey. After an hour or a day of official Human Resources orientation, employee onboarding usually addresses logging into the company network and accessing internal tools and systems like Confluence, Jira, Slack, and Teams. New hires are left to peruse employee handbooks, company policies, and self-paced training videos in isolation.

The results of poor employee onboarding are high costs, short tenures, and reduced value delivery to companies and their customers. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recruiting new employees is very costly due to hard expenses and lost productivity. Depending on the role, employee acquisition costs are often one and a half to three times the position’s salary. When onboarding consists of showing new hires their workstations and dispensing laptops it prolongs the ramp up period, adding up costs including lost productivity for both the new person and their team members required to break their focus and impart aid, as Bernard did for me. This is amplified in remote work environments, where onboarding often reduces to basic technical setups with minimal human interaction.

Tessa White, The Job Doctor, reinforced the need to quickly deliver value to employees during the 2023 keynote at CS100, the Customer Success Leadership conference. Tessa emphasized that job tenures are getting shorter, with Generation Z workers averaging just 2.2 years at each job, adding up to a whopping 25 to 30 companies across their work careers. Without impactful onboarding, these workers are on the hunt for their next opportunity before they deliver measurable use to your company.

Onboarding is the most important part of the employee journey.

Onboarding is the critical period after a new hire signs their offer letter and when they must be steered to success. Onboarding begins before the offer letter is signed and may last for a few days or several months, depending on the complexity of the product, role, and company. Hiring managers find this time exhausting. After countless interviews and due diligence, they often turn their attention to neglected projects just when it’s critical to welcome and foster the new employee.

Onboarding is the time when new employees are most eager to make a difference at your company. However, when there’s no plan, little engagement, lack of communication, and unclear expectations, enthusiasm promptly dissolves into remorse and regret. A Vice President shared their experience with me when starting a new role at a hi-tech company. Their initial passion to contribute to the company and their new team turned into misery within a handful of weeks. “It took forever to figure out who the key partners were, who to interact with, and the meetings I should attend. Plus, nobody bothered to learn from my expertise, which is why they hired me in the first place. It was up to me to figure out how to fit in. Within weeks I mentally gave up and by six months I moved on.” Unable to contribute value, new employees look elsewhere rather than provide a return on your investment.

Orchestrated Onboarding to the rescue.

Every day new employees aren’t delivering value it’s costing your company. New hires need to feel welcomed and able to contribute right away. That’s where a proactive and prescriptive onboarding framework is required to avoid high turnover, lost productivity, and unhappy employees. Recognizing these challenges, I developed the Orchestrated Onboarding® framework (see the image below). Initially focused on customer onboarding, this approach has since been adapted to employee onboarding, emphasizing swift value delivery and retention. The Orchestrated Onboarding framework includes six stages to guide you and your employees through the initial onboarding and beyond. It’s a practical process that improves communication, sets clear expectations, and provides transparency and accountability. The framework comprises of six stages: Embark, Handoff, Kickoff, Adopt, Review, and Expand; and is a phased approach to ramping up new employees.

Embark. Rather than overwhelming new hires on day one, set the stage for what to expect in the first days and weeks when working with you. During the Embark stage, you discuss where they will be in 90 days, detailing how they can deliver and extract value. Leverage these best practices to build trust from day one:

  • 90-day plan: Outline what the next three months look like: establish big-picture goals, set clear expectations, and provide a roadmap for success.

  • Success planning: Leverage my success plan template to define a tailored plan with your new hire. Determine achievable and stretch success outcomes that are meaningful for you both. Determine how to immediately address and resolve blockers and issues. When employees are involved in creating their success plan, they take ownership and monitor themselves.

  • Curiosity: Since each new team member is unique and brings something new and special to the company, be curious about what they offer, help them feel valued, and invite them to be accountable to the business.

  • Meetings: Define a cadence for meetings to ensure you stay on track with the 90-day plan.

Handoff. The second stage, Handoff, starts once you and the new employee have a shared vision. Rather than hoping new employees figure out who to engage with, when, and how, make the connections for them.

  • Establish relationships: Introduce new hires to teammates and complementary teams. Proactively make connections with key players and stakeholders to ensure everyone knows their roles and responsibilities.

  • Assign a mentor: Assigning an official mentor or buddy is helpful to guide the new hire through the initial period. While Bernard was my unofficial buddy, it's helpful for existing team members to know how much time and effort to devote to the new hire during the onboarding period.

  • Communication plan: Establish guidelines for how to communicate with you and the team. Do you prefer Slack or email? Are there daily standups to stay in the loop?

Kickoff. When working for a founder of a high-growth startup, it took me a while to realize they couldn’t “hear” me in meetings if I didn’t have data in a spreadsheet to share. I would have been immediately impactful if I knew that up front. While the key is to stay big picture focused during the Embark and Handoff stages, the Kickoff stage is all about the details. This stage is when to introduce project plans, timelines, and success metrics.

  • Project plans and status reports: Ensure new hires know exactly how they will demonstrate their value in their early days with the company and provide details for how to keep you and others updated on their progress.

Adopt. The Adopt stage is the longest stage of employee onboarding. This is when new hires get up to speed on your products, industry, and customer needs. Provide structured learning pathways, using tools like your online academy, if you have one.

  • Product enablement: Leverage existing internal and customer enablement content to help people learn your product as quickly as possible.

  • Industry enablement: What do new hires need to know to ramp up on the industry they now work in?

  • Shadowing: Transition new hires from the learning phase to the execution phase with shadowing. New workers start by accompanying mentors as they work through real-world tasks. As the new hire ramps up, they switch roles, with the mentor tracking the new hire.

Review. Instead of waiting for the annual performance review, leverage the Review stage to tackle issues as they come up. Remember, new workers are assessing your company during onboarding, so stay engaged and celebrate accomplishments during this stage. When onboarding is complete review the success plan and work together to map out what’s next.

  • Quarterly reviews: For the first year, it’s helpful to check in about every 90 days to assess the employee’s progress. During these meetings update the success plan and create new 90-day plans.

  • Evaluate and adapt: New employees offer a fresh perspective. Encourage them to provide feedback on the onboarding process so you can identify areas of improvement and keep improving the new hire experience.

Expand. Employee development does not stop once onboarding is complete. The Expand stage keeps them learning, growing, and adding ongoing value to your company.

  • Identify opportunities: Work together to explore areas for increased responsibility, learning, and further development

  • Update the success plan: Use the success plan as a living document, continually updating it based on evolving company and employee needs to keep them fulfilled.

Invest in employee onboarding.

In today’s business environment, where employees celebrate the flexibility offered through hybrid and remote roles, a robust onboarding plan is more critical than ever. To retain your workers, you need to invest in a strategic and well-structured framework that lays a strong foundation for the employer-employee relationship— one that increases employee engagement, reduces turnover, and helps grow a strong business.

The Orchestrated Onboarding framework is a collaborative process that starts with the big picture, integrates actionable tasks, and ensures new hires are set up for success from day one. Initially, an orchestrated employee onboarding journey takes time and effort. However, it ultimately saves you, your company, and your employees time and money by delivering value to all parties as quickly as possible.

Remember, it's not just about integrating employees into your company; it's about providing them with the tools and tailored guidance to thrive. As they grow and succeed, so too does your organization.

DONNA WEBER is the world’s leading expert in customer onboarding. For more than two decades, she has helped high-growth startups and established enterprises turn new and existing customers into loyal champions. Her award-winning book is Onboarding Matters: How Successful Companies Transform New Customers Into Loyal Champions. Learn more at



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