Don’t Ignore Onboarding in Your Retention Efforts

Jan 24, 2014

cover FlexTen years ago, Capital One invested heavily in re­cruiting top talent to fuel an ambitious growth plan. Yet once the company had all these new executives and managers in place, it found that the expected output fell short of expectations. The anticipated creative and innovative boost hadn’t happened. The new recruits weren’t plugged into their team network and hadn’t connected with their employees. It was so dire that some new hires left within the first year, citing displeasure with the lack of an onboarding process. Others were asked to leave.

To help turn things around, the company’s training and develop­ment team created a new process called the New Leader Assimilation Program meant to get new executives and managers up to speed in a rapid yet holistic process aimed at creating productive, innovative leaders.

The process begins with giving new leaders a complete pic­ture of the work environment they are stepping into, from existing challenges within the team to performance expectations. It ensures that the new leaders engage their team members and encourages com­munication, and it puts in place set milestones so that the new leader is given 360-degree feedback after six months, allowing for a revision of goals of an evaluation of areas of strength and challenge for each individual.

Many of us have stepped into positions where we wished some­one could have handed us a map that showed us where all the mines were buried so that we could have avoided them. Perhaps there was an internal candidate for a job you received whose reception of you into the team is markedly chilly. Maybe you notice a peer is able to work incredibly effectively with the admins in your team while you haven’t yet figured out the right way to engage them.

Capital One produces this map in the form of the “Customized New Leader Tran­sition Guide,” a report that culls information both practical and per­sonal from all the new recruits’ stakeholders to give the leader every advantage in integrating seamlessly into the team. Not only does the leader have each stakeholder’s honest assessment of the team before she begins, she knows more about the critical history of the team within the organization as well as of each team member, providing some of that institutional memory lacking in poor transitions. The new hire’s manager also uses the “transition guide” to identify po­tential trouble spots and create a three-month development plan for the new hire.

Some power gap masters are readily able to bridge the gap with their new team members and direct reports, while others need a bit more help. At Capital One, the onboarding process includes a facilitated team meeting during the first week where employees get to learn everything about their new manager, from her personal goals to her educational background to her preferred communication style. Here the facilitator helps bridge the distance between the new hires and the employees, giving them access and opportunity to their new boss.

To help new managers reach across to their peers, each new leader is assigned a “buddy” or peer mentor for the first 90 days who helps the leader navigate the new company culture and often be­comes a close colleague beyond the initial onboarding period.

Beyond the 90 days of rapid or accelerated onboarding Capital One delivers, new leaders are still given feedback and held account­able to their performance plan and goals. At six months each new ex­ecutive and manager receives a 360-degree performance evaluation, and is able to compare how well they think they are doing with the perspectives of their direct reports as well as their colleagues. This helps new leaders stay on track and even shift strategies as necessary.

In all, Capital One devoted a substantial amount of time, commit­ment, and resources to ensuring that its new execs and managers were onboarded quickly and effectively, and it realized tremendous results for its efforts.

One of the final and often-overlooked points to remember about the onboarding process is that the informal connections are often some of the most crucial. Folding an employee into the team in a real way, where they have people they understand and on whom they can rely, can make all the difference in a new hire’s success.

Don’t overlook the importance of relationship building in this early and critical stage. It’s as important for a new hire to focus on building trust as it is for companies seeking to form new relationships with global partners. The relationships form the basis for all future interactions.

Giving each one of your employees the fair chance to succeed and give his best can be directly enhanced by taking a more strategic approach to welcoming your new hires. The companies that do it right employ a set process that spans a few months with regular check-ins after the initial period is over. The process should connect an em­ployee with your team, introduce her to the company culture, and give her the key to the unwritten rules of your organization. You should provide clear performance expectations of your new hires and work with them to create a career development plan to achieve it. Check in frequently, give constructive feedback, and make sure to celebrate early successes. This process constitutes your first chance to flex toward your employee.

One clear benefit of your efforts will be your employee knowing she’s made the right choice in choosing your organization. She’ll also feel a sense of ownership over her work, and begin fully engaged and ready to contribute to her company.


From FLEX, by Jane Hyun and Audrey S. Lee Copyright © 2014. Reprinted courtesy of HarperBusiness, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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