If you want outstanding employees, you need exceptional employee onboarding. Most companies have an onboarding program, but not necessarily a sufficient one. As a result, some of the best employees quit companies like yours before their value is recognized.

In a tight labor market, it’s difficult to hire employees. Articulating the employee value proposition through a meaningful onboarding process is a differentiator that separates you from those competing for the same workers. Once an offer is accepted, keeping new hires is its own unique challenge. Poor onboarding will leave your new employees feeling anxious in their roles and could increase the odds of losing them.

Investing in your employees with a well-thought-out onboarding program will improve retention. People enjoy doing what they are good at. But it’s more than creating a sticky employee; it’s creating an empowered and valuable employee.

According to Gallup’s “Creating an Exceptional Onboarding Journey for New Employees” report, the average onboarding program lasts 90 days. However, it takes about one year for employees to fully integrate into a new organization, longer for those with more supervisory oversight. The onboarding journey should extend throughout the entire first year. Ongoing manager feedback about what is working and what isn’t promotes employee growth. Don’t think of those conversations as evaluations but as success check-ins.

You can make the mistake of letting your new employees figure it out on their own. Or you can put in the effort to make them more valuable more quickly. Gallup found that companies implementing a formal onboarding program recognized 50 percent greater retention and 62 percent more productivity among those exceptionally onboarded. Gallup cites employees who experience exceptional onboarding are nearly three times more likely to be prepared for their role. Employees say that the onboarding is more effective when managers are included and when they have exposure to other departments.

John, the owner of a manufacturing company in Pittsfield, struggled with onboarding. John would show a new hire where they sit, play an orientation video and some software webinars, make some introductions, and drop off forms and manuals. John had the new hires shadow other workers until an assignment could be tossed their way. This kept happening until enough tasks consistently flowed to the worker to keep them busy throughout the day. As a result, John had to hire more employees than was necessary because those employees weren’t operating at their highest and best use.

A lackluster — or even a good — onboarding experience isn’t much better than a poor process like John’s. Treating onboarding as a mere formality works against the employer. Without an exceptional onboarding program, new employees will feel unengaged in the company’s mission, unclear about their responsibilities and career path, and unsatisfied with their job. This leaves them vulnerable to being poached. But would it matter anyhow? If you don’t set your employees up for success from the start, there isn’t much sense in paying a dollar of wages for 10 cents of output. Employee productivity depends upon the amount of upfront effort companies put into new hires.

An exceptional program supports employees and assimilates them into your culture. Employees are more likely to make a difference in your company if they undergo proper onboarding, including defined time-bound expectations and metrics used to measure success. People want clear goals, and they want to know the steps to accomplish those goals. Like a treasure map, you can’t get to the finish line if you don’t know from where you are starting. Employees want to know how their future (their treasure) will look. That direction should be reinforced by management throughout onboarding. Gallup found that the most effective onboarding includes management feedback.

Companies with a Human Resources department typically have an onboarding process. But there should be more to it than obligatory safety videos and the scoop on break room etiquette. Employees need to be shown the ropes. The training should span the departments relevant to the new employees’ roles. If there is interaction, there is relevance. People operate at their highest level when they know and trust their partners. Explain how the company’s mission influences decisions and actions.

Clarify to each onboarding team member the new employees’ role in the department and for the organization and why the new hire has been hired (aptitude, attitude, a new project, augmenting a current service). The “whys” of their hiring will allow customization according to each employee’s strengths and weaknesses.

Angie, the owner of a professional services firm in Cohoes, N.Y., hired three new consultants this year. Angie could have brought them on separately at staggered dates, which would have had its benefits. However, she assigned them the same start date so that they could bond and collaborate through the process. They simultaneously sat with the receptionist to see how he received incoming requests. This meant less front desk disruption throughout the day. Also, during that time, the consultants had an opportunity to discuss the difference between leads that called in versus those funneled in through their website.

The consultants then worked with their associates; and then technical contributors (engineering, accounting, presentation) straight through to invoicing. Not all departments require equal time, but the workflow interaction should be understood. The best onboarding process is a “living” process that evolves with updated management techniques, new best practices and changing responsibilities.

Regularly check in on new hires to offer support. You want to be sure they meet the right people, learn essential responsibilities and complete the requisite actions to do their job well. Employees want a manager who takes an active role in their development and can help them connect personal growth to the business’s mission. An engaging onboarding program can set you apart from other employers to help your company hire, develop, and retain top talent.

This article first appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on April 30, 2022.