Does leadership onboarding work?

Onboarding should always be a priority for HR as data complied by Tanya Bauer, Professor of Management at Portland State University from the US highlights how half of all senior outside hires fail within 18 months of starting a new position.

What is Onboarding?

There are as many ways to describe the process of “bedding in” new leaders as there are processes to implement it. Each tend to be specific to a given organisation and reflect the cultural norms.

Terms including induction, on-boarding, transition or the more academic term of socialisation are used but what exactly do they mean and what impact has the process on the success of a newly appointed leader?

Two definitions describe a process that:

 “enables newcomers to acquire the knowledge needed to successfully adjust to their new work surroundings and function in their new roles” (Scott, Montes, Irving, 2012).

“the process by which a person secures relevant job skills, acquires a functional level of organisational understanding, attains supportive social interactions with co-workers, and generally accepts the established ways of a particular organization” (Taormina, 1998).

The processes used to deliver on this are wide and varied. At one end of the scale there is no formal process with the leader thrown in at the deep end and left to left to sink or swim. Typically though, it involves some form of formal program with policies and procedures.

Impact of Onboarding:

The cost of retention is high….. The cost of employee turnover can be up to 150% of employee salary (the equivalent of 6-24 months salary).

When surveyed, organizations perceive effective onboarding as improving retention rates (52 percent), time to productivity (60 percent) and overall customer satisfaction (53 percent) (Aberdeen Group, 2006).

New hires should help an organization accomplish specific goals, and the degree to which they do this can be helped or hindered by onboarding.

In summary, research on new employee onboarding (Ashford and Black, 1996) shows that when onboarding is done correctly, it leads to:

  • Higher job satisfaction.
  • Organizational commitment.
  • Lower turnover.
  • Higher performance levels.
  • Career effectiveness.
  • Lowered stress.

Support Tools and Processes

Both during and after the orientation, readily available support tools, such as those discussed below, are invaluable for onboarding success.

  • A written onboarding plan. A formal document, or roadmap, that outlines the specific timeline, goals, responsibilities and support available to new hires will help them succeed because it spells out what they should do and what assistance they can expect. The most effective onboarding plans are usually written, communicated to all members of the company, consistently applied and tracked over time.
  • Stakeholder meetings. Proactive/ Level 3 organizations often create check-in meetings at specific intervals to help new employees get the information they need in a timely manner. Many stakeholders should be involved in these onboarding meetings, and the schedule should identify who is involved at what point in time. With regular “touching base” meetings, potential problems can be solved before they expand into large problems.
  • Onboarding online. Some organizations use technology to deliver initial orientation programs, but one study shows that benefits may not be quite as positive in computer-based orientations. Researchers compared employees taking part in a regular, face-to- face orientation to those in a computer-based orientation and found less understanding of the job and the company for those in the computer-based version. Technology also can be used to follow the boarding process, automate basic forms, track progress against development and career plans, and help stakeholders monitor new employees to see when they may need additional support. About 68 percent of Level 3 organizations have onboarding systems that are partially or fully online (Bauer and Elder, 2006).
  • Coaching and Support. As mentioned above, stakeholder involvement is extremely valuable for successful new employee onboarding because stakeholders can help newcomers manage and meet expectations (Chatman, 1991). Stakeholders include those involved in hiring, training, HR, and normal coaching and support. They can influence new hires by not only sharing information but also serving as role models to be emulated.

For more information on the onboarding and socialisation of leaders see the following articles:

Taormina, J. (1998). Employee attitudes toward organizational socialization in the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 34(4), pp. 468-485.

Scott, K., Montes, S. and Gregory, P. (2012). Examining the Impact of Socialization Through Trust: An Exploratory Study. Journal of Personnel Psychology, 11(4), pp. 191–198.

Ashford, S. J., & Black, J. S. (1996). Proactivity during organizational entry: The role of desire for control. Journal of Applied Psychology, 81, 199-214.

Aberdeen Group. (2006). Onboarding benchmark report. Retrieved on April 26, 2010, from

Bauer, T. N., & Elder, E. (2006). Onboarding newcomers into an organization. Invited presentation at the 58th Annual Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Conference & Exposition

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