Retention Begins on Day One

By David A. Mersky

Our firm conducts many searches; you see them listed here every other week when we publish this newsletter. We are proud of our success identifying candidates and helping them integrate into their new positions across the country.

However, in doing this work, we witness a great inconsistency, one that occurs regardless of an organization’s size: the nonprofit spends months to get the right candidate and only a couple of days onboarding new hires. The results range from spectacular to abysmal, with much variation inbetween.

Recently, I saw data that terrified me: 22% of turnover occurs within the first six weeks of employment. Further, 4% of new hires leave a job after a disastrous first day! With onboarding missing, it’s not surprising.

That’s expensive. Some estimates put the cost of quick turnover at three times the employee’s salary — in lost opportunities, productivity, and retraining. And while we do not charge for redoing a failed search, the indirect staff and volunteer leader costs in terms of time spent screening, interviewing, and onboarding yet again are onerous for the organizations.

That’s why we say, to use a familiar phrase, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Avoiding Onboarding Disasters

Onboarding is a critical point in the talent lifecycle. It is that process which bridges the gap between the candidate’s previous experience and the new employee experience. A quality onboarding program is a catalyst for employee satisfaction and retention.

Sadly, many organizations — of any size — devote minimal resources and leadership support to an employee’s first day, week, or month. Some don’t give it even a single thought, opting instead to just toss the employee into the deep end, as if they already know how to swim in that organization’s unique pool.

Do better. What follows are some suggestions.

Before the new employee arrives…

  • Make sure they have a desk assigned to them (even if they will be hybrid, they will need a place to work) and a computer with any needed software. If you still use landlines, set up a phone and extension.
  • Set up their email address and add them to your employee directory. Be ready to add their picture and bio to your web site.
  • Send them the necessary new hire paperwork in advance. If you are set up for them to complete this online, all the better.
  • If you provide parking and permits are required, send that to them so they can park easily on their first day.
  • Remind them to bring a driver’s license (or passport) along with a voided check so you can set them up for direct deposit in your payroll system.
  • A week or two in advance of their start date, provide an agenda for that first day so they know what to expect. Provide bios (or links) for those they will be meeting.
  • Suggest that they may want to post about their new job on their own social media. Give them the company branding and appropriate hashtags so they can show pride in their new position.

When the new employee arrives…

  • Have their direct supervisor review the specifics of the job’s roles and responsibilities. Discuss expectations regarding how the employee will be managed and how best for them to “manage up.”
  • Provide a tour. If you operate in a two-room suite it won’t take long. But if you have a large building, such as a community center, show them the conference rooms, the staff lounge, the kitchen, the restrooms, etc.
  • Schedule regular meetings between the employee and supervisor. One-on-ones are vital for new hires and should take place at least weekly.
  • Introduce the new hire to other staff members with whom they will be working directly. Let the entire organization know that this person is joining the team, share a bit about who they are, and explain what they will be doing.
  • If possible, greet them on that first day with coffee, Danish, yogurt, etc. Schedule a purely social lunch for them and their teammates.

Check In Regularly

Those first few weeks and months are critically important for getting your new hire settled and comfortable. As part of your regular meetings, make sure to elicit feedback by asking direct and specific questions, such as:

  • How do you feel things are going?
  • What do you enjoy most about your role?
  • Is everything as you had expected?
  • What has surprised you?
  • What is working or not working?
  • Do you have everything you need to succeed?
  • How can I be a better manager for you?
  • How can you become a better manager?

Don’t Leave it to Chance

All of the critical processes within your organization — payroll, computer backups, financial reporting, etc. — are done consistently and with clear intention. Everyone knows that these things are essential, so deliberate steps are taken to ensure that they are done well.

Onboarding requires the same commitment and focus. It should be a standard operating procedure that is developed even before a search has started.

As my mother used to say, well begun is half done. By ensuring a thorough and well-coordinated onboarding process, you will reduce turnover while ensuring that your employees remain happy, productive, and successful for years to come.