March 15, 2022

Good Onboarding Fixes Bad Retention


Episode Highlights

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Trying to hire when you’ve got a retention problem is like pouring water in a leaky bucket. You can’t recruit your way out of it.

It especially hurts when it’s preventable. There’s a lot of reasons why people may leave your org, but the lowest hanging fruit and easiest fix: better onboarding.

First impressions are everything. If you’re just sending someone a computer and hoping for the best…no wonder why they bail.

We get it. It’s harder in the remote world. But strong onboarding is still very doable. Jeff Smith and James Hornick will tell you how in the next The 10 Minute Talent Rant, Good Onboarding Fixes Bad Retention

Episode Transcript

The 10 Minute Talent Rant is live. I’m James Hornick joined by Jeff Smith and we are on the clock. The 10 Minute Talent Rant is our ongoing series where we break down things that are broken in the talent acquisition and hiring space, maybe even pitch a solution or two- today’s gonna be 14. Really excited for this.

Before we dig in, all of our content can be found on This week’s topic: good onboarding, fixes bad retention. So this is one that for- before we start, I want to give a couple shout outs because I got some good feedback from friends of ours. So Arnold Molina and Erin Turnmeyer both came in with a couple of really good suggestions for this one. Background on this topic-

so rewind two years ago. I guess I should say this. So I never liked talking about stuff that I don’t consider myself somewhat of an expert on or collectively that we aren’t experts on, right. So there’s quite a few topics that are important, but I just don’t really know anything about them so, I’m just going to kind of steer clear. At the same time too,

so two years ago when COVID started, you might remember everyone was talking about how to work remotely. That lasted two weeks because it turns out that it’s like super easy. We recognized right away that like onboarding was going to be like the issue of COVID in the pandemic, because it’s just harder when you’re not onsite, when you can’t see people, or I should say not necessarily harder, but if you’re bad at onboarding, you can kind of get away with it just by picking up on people’s nonverbal cues and adjusting on the spot.

Right? And when that doesn’t exist, you’re sunk. So, that was a real issue. We didn’t really say much. And here we are two years later. Yeah, it’s funny. I felt like and I still kind of felt like up till the point where we were getting ready for this, that we like kind of still sucked at this.

We looked at some of the aggregate data from like the feedback that we got from teams that it turns out, we actually don’t suck at it too bad. We’ve been working at it for two years nonstop, improving on it. Well, the thing was is that we just had someone start on my team this week. He was like, this has been the best onboarding I’ve seen.

I’m like really? We looked at our survey results from like our onboarding and like actually, I guess it’s pretty good. But our checklist that we go through on for every person it’s over 50 items. You know what I mean? So we’ve actually gotten pretty, pretty sufficient at it but anyways. I think you had some stats out there of why it’s so important too to kind of build a case on why were you talking about it.

Yeah, I think we talk these out in the post as well, but I mean, look 82% based on Brandon Hall, the increase in retention rate is 82% with solid onboarding. 12% of employees think that companies actually do good onboarding. Yeah. That is a massive discrepancy. And you have to think about what happens, right?

So when your team’s fully remote, they’re on an island and when no one’s walking by their desk to see how they’re doing, can’t read their body language like I said, there’s no water cooler talk. Doesn’t exist. Especially when people wouldn’t even know, like even if they wanted to talk with someone, they haven’t met anyone yet, you know. So they can’t really get any kind of employee feedback.

And the other thing keep in mind too, when you’re in those positions, like all these people you just hired they’re still getting contacted about other jobs. They’re still getting InMails on a daily basis. They don’t yet have any real loyalty to you until you’ve really kind of like gotten them involved in your culture and got them working on projects and they really feel like they’re a piece of it.

So that’s why it’s important. That initial period is so critical, especially now. Yeah. And we see it a lot. You can have a great interview process. You can have a great product, a great company, great revenue. Like all of these things look wonderful but if that initial period falls flat, especially now that it’s remote,

it just doesn’t bridge the gap. And honestly it makes everything feel disconnected and borderline in some instances chaotic and that can be the difference between like somebody saying, oh, this whole thing was bullshit. Right? And that’s the scariest thing because it’s not, but you haven’t put the foresight into onboarding to make sure that that’s cooperated.

Yeah. Onboarding shouldn’t be about “here’s the keys, like go drive the car”. It should be about getting to know your teammates. Yeah, And on that note, so we actually- there’s a lot more to it than this, but we put together what I think for us have been like the 14 key things- really 13, because one, we’re going to admit we haven’t really done well on this yet, but I want to throw it in here because I think it’s important.

The first chunk of this is really kind of person to person contact. So let me kind of go through this. And I guess the last thing I’ll say kind of before I start that is to give you some perspective, we doubled in size last year. We went from basically 50 employees, 100 employees.

Our turnover was only like 6%, half of that was actually people who went to work for our clients. So we’ve had very, very little turnover. And of the 50 point checklist here are the things that kind of stick out. First, and I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on this. First meeting, first day, 9:00 AM or whenever you start

it should be a call via Zoom with your CEO or depending on the size of organization, one of the senior leaders, somewhere in the C-suite. That should be your intro to the organization. That’s something that we do. Matt Masucci talks to every single person who starts. First thing they do on the first day. Second thing,

lunch with the team. Now I realize like, as much as I hate doing like zoom, like social interactions, it’s really important. And if you can do this onsite in person, because we’re not limiting this to how to do it kind of in the Zoom or remote world. But it’s less about like having a meal with people, more about

one hour of this is a group of people you’re going to work with most often. Get a feel for what they’re about, meet them more informally, just so you kind of have a broad stroke and you’re going to meet them all in more depth- we’ll get to that in a second. But it’s really important they really feel like they’re- especially when it’s not an onsite thing, they get to meet everybody in the first day.

We don’t talk about work at all in these. I’ve talked about movies, I’ve talked about music, I’ve talked about sports, I’ve talked about food. To your point, the informality and that is key. Yeah. Next thing. End of day one, check-in with your, with the manager. It’s really the first chance to get feedback, make sure things are on track.

Something might’ve gotten screwed up during the day. If that’s the case, like you don’t want that day ending with that being “on my first day of onboarding was a train wreck” even if you thought it was going to be kind of a best intentions. Any questions you can get answered really helps kind of confirm that they’ve made a good decision in their mind.

Everything didn’t fall apart. Things you’ll want to discuss, you know what I mean? If there’s like work flexibility and stuff like that, make sure exactly what the expectations are, who the best people are to ask for, for help. Who all do they need to know which kind of dovetails into kind of the next group of thing, which is still people focused.

Jeff, if you want to take a few of these. Yeah. So we’ve set aside time for all of our folks to meet all of our functional leaders. That’ll look different for your organization but fundamentally you want exposure to every other part of the business be it operational or commercial. Who does what, what do they do?

Like who do I go to when I need help with something in this world? Like creates a human bond with other people outside of your immediate team. And again, our approach has always been like, make it human, make it approachable. With that like ensure team norms are discussed.

How do you communicate with like the specific people within that team? And we see it all the time. The interpersonal dynamics from team to team is different by design. That’s not going to be different for whoever’s watching this, your organization either. It’s important that people talk openly about how this team functions different from the team that the new team members going to join.

Number five, to me this is the most important one. We schedule 15 to 30 minutes with literally every single one of their direct immediate teammates, team members. So peers, et cetera. Who are the people that you’re going to work with every single day? What insights do they have to be successful?

What do they love about the job? What makes them want to pull their hair out about the job? It’s really important to see both sides from the people that are sitting in those seats right now. Number six is the one that were still, frankly, on a little bit of uneven footing, but I personally have seen it work in my other organizations and that’s a mentorship program.

It really is just identifying somebody outside of your immediate team that can act as a guide, as a rudder for your ship, for the rest of the organization. TBD on what ours is going to look like right. This is the one I said we haven’t quite done yet, but that’s fine. I still want to include it. Exactly. Yeah. And then number seven, the end of week kind of, or one to two check-ins with senior leadership, like informal, like have a cup of coffee, if you can get out and meet that person face to face, do it.

If not, Zoom works. The reaction really should- and I’ve had it happen. Is, is this a cult? I’m kind of looking for that because like, I want somebody to be like, this can’t be real and when does the genuine or disingenuous or genuineness stop? And it never does at least here and I think it just shows that people are trained not to trust what they’ve bought.

Yeah. Which sucks. Yeah. Yeah. All right. Moving on. So that’s kind of the first chunk of this was kind of the people element, the first half of it. The second thing, training, make it relevant, specific. I’ve heard lots about this from people in other organizations where their training is just like they recorded a bunch of stuff

that’s really general years ago. They sit everyone down, just watch this and that’s what they consider onboarding. It’s gotta be- you should do a lot of like one-to-one or small group stuff. And then you should be doing this on an ongoing basis. Recorded stuff is fine. You just have to make sure it’s getting updated, it’s not hours long filled with basic stuff. It’s gotta stuff that is directly relevant to their job. Make sure you’re updating it. Like the whole idea of doing professionally shot video and putting it like no. It should be quick and dirty because it should be happening more relevant more often.

Just make sure that whatever you’re asking someone to do is actually you still think would be relevant. It’s not just something you did years ago and you forgot about. Number nine, documentation to back that up. I’m a huge fan of frequently asked questions. As you get more questions coming in from the team, every time you onboard someone new and they have some new question about something, add that, you know what I mean?

So you should always have kind of more details on that. Another kind of more documentation and process thing, 30 day reviews, 90 day reviews. These are not your formal, you’re getting bonus store, you’re getting promoted on reviews and more of just informal check-in. Like how are you feeling? You feel like you’re on track?

If not, what can we do to kind of fix things up? Is this what you expected? Like make sure you’re having those kind of conversations on a fairly regular basis, especially in the first like two, three months. Yeah. It’s a good point. Are you learning? That’s the question? Number 11, company-wide announcements, make people feel important, make them feel loved.

Give them a virtual hug. Feels good. We like that, right? Allow the entire organization to communicate with them and welcome them as well. Again, sometimes I look at when somebody starts internally here, it’s like a laundry list of emails of like, “Welcome. Welcome”. It probably- I know it feels good to join the organization and see all that.

Number 12, your sour du jour, social media features. And by features I mean, you know, let the world know you’re excited to have that person start. Yeah. So what’s funny about this one is I’ve heard people say that- some people think that like featuring employees, social media is like an employee, like to track more.

I actually don’t think it’s that at all. I think it’s actually at layer to that. It’s more of the people you just brought on, letting them know that you’re proud to have them be part of the team because just like we were talking about company-wide announcements, it feels good to be recognized.

And if you’re going to recognize your first few days, so I think it’s important. I’ve had a lot of people say they like that. So. Yup. No doubt. What are our last two? Last two because we’re way over on this one. I don’t care. It’s important. Probably the most important thing on here, surveys. You have to be doing surveys to collect good data and collect feedback to continually kind of to fix things up, to improve things.

It’s gotta really be pointed questions you’re asking. Things like “what are three things we can improve upon?” You know, what part of orientation did you find most beneficial? Like stuff like that where you’re trying to listen to response, not just like, “how was it?” Or “what else you want to tell” but it’s got to be like- all you’re going to get is “it was great!”

Ask for things that are going to give you actual results to make things better, to continually improve. And that is also number 14 is like this is never a complete process. You’re never going to hit a point where you feel like your onboarding is done, it’s locked down,

we don’t have to touch it again. Things are going to change. Norms are going to change. There’s always stuff you could be improving. So just making sure that’s kind of top of mind for someone in the organization you’re working on this kind of stuff. And if you do that well, you’ll be able to get them through that gap where you don’t have to worry about- I shouldn’t say you’d never have to worry about retention.

There’s other things, but this should not be what causes you to have a retention problem. Like this should be the biggest layup, good onboarding that could either be- that can either make it so that’s not an issue at all and you’re not losing people because of that. And if you don’t have it, you know, that’s when you do so. We’re short on clock. We’re way over.

Jeff, you have anything else? No. I did my hair today for this one. Good, good, good to see. That’s a wrap for this week. Thanks for tuning into the 10 Minute Talent Rant, part of the Talent Insights series, which is always available for replay on as well as YouTube, Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify and Amazon.

Jeff, thanks again as always. Everyone out there, see you soon!

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