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Effective Onboarding: the challenges of retaining top talent


We are all familiar with the struggle to attract top talent into our businesses and each sector has their own particular challenge.  What is common across all sectors is the need to do a better job of onboarding new staff.  Research shows that over a third of new employees make up their mind in the first week whether they want to stay long term.  It would seem prudent then, to focus not only on that first week, but also from the time an offer is extended, accepted and the big day arriving.

Onboarding is crucial in ensuring that your new start stays the course.  There are many reasons to get this right, yet most companies struggle to get their new starts up and running.  Studies have shown that companies with the most advanced onboarding processes retain over 90% of staff beyond 12 months.  Those with the worst onboarding process (i.e. no process) had only 30% retention rates.  You only get one chance to make a good first impression – formalise your process and identify who has responsibility to ensure you get it right for each new recruit first time, every time.

The stats for SME businesses are even more stark and smaller companies struggle the most in retaining their staff compared to larger organisations.  Add to that the cost of replacing a leaver ranges between 50% - 150% of their salary.  Time to focus on onboarding?

What is Onboarding?

There is a lot of literature about onboarding and there are many definitions – put simply, it is the process of learning all the skills, knowledge and behaviours required in order to reach optimum performance in the role.

It is not just a few days of intensive training – it should be an ongoing daily habit of learning.  Companies that focus on creating a culture of learning thrive – Josh Bersin highlights “The single biggest driver of business impact is the strength of an organization’s learning culture.”

Onboarding has a significant impact on your business

  • Better Retention
  • More cohesive team
  • Expertise built  =  positive client impact
  • Shorter time to productivity – it can take up to 28 weeks for staff to reach their full productivity potential.
  • Improved productivity
  • Improved staff engagement

Developing an effective onboarding process

Talk to your recruitment partner at the very start of the entire attraction and selection process – your onboarding should be linked to your recruiting process.  Be honest about what you can offer and realistically provide.  A mismatch between employer and employee expectations is often the cause of real frustration. 

The first point to consider when developing an effective process is compliance.  Ensuring all documentation (contracts, P45, references, payroll info etc) is correct sounds obvious, but without a checklist to work from, you can easily miss an important point, resulting in your new employee not being paid on time. 

Secondly, ensure that workspaces, phones, log-ins and systems are all set up and working.  There is nothing to make a new start feel undervalued if they find they have no workstation or limited access to the systems they need! 

Thirdly, you will need to provide all relevant information and training to enable the new start to effectively perform in their role.  This is known as induction and often involves a huge amount of information thrown at the new starter, which results in panic and overwhelm.  Again, developing a more robust process including realistic time lines and who is responsible for imparting the information is the best way forward.  Promote a culture of constant learning.

The next stage is key in terms of long-term engagement and retention of staff.  This is where your new staff acquire the values and behaviours your company expects.  This can be difficult to explain and assess during the selection process and being completely open with your new start / recruitment consultant at the outset will help reduce mis-hires.  It is essential that in the first few weeks, when the new employee is most impressionable, you do your best to ensure they understand the vision, mission, values and culture of your company.  Ideally this would have been discussed at interview stage. 

Make the acquisition of this knowledge both formal and informal.  Have a buddy system, have new starter drinks on a Friday, ensure all team members engage with your newest recruit.  This stage is key to building the confidence of your new start – once he / she understands the unwritten ground rules and the codes of conduct, they are more likely to perform better, be more enthusiastic and want to stay.

Finally, ensure you monitor the new start’s progress and give constructive and honest feedback on how they are doing.  New starts don’t always know how to measure their performance, so it is up to you to give regular updates.  Mistakes will be made and you need to decide how to guide the new starter to ensure he / she is clear on your expectations.  Underperformance is not acceptable and you want to prevent bad habits from forming.  On the flip side, good performance needs to be highlighted and noted.  Alongside the core performance milestones, ensure you allow time to have attitudinal and behavioural feedback sessions.

 Regular check-ins and a structured review at around the 12 week mark should be scheduled and adhered to.  This is your chance to seek feedback from the new starts and will help you refine your process to ensure it is effective.  Ultimately, the information gathered in these sessions can highlight trends and support your overall revenue and growth objectives.


At Eden Scott, we don’t simply match a candidate’s skill set to a job description.  We work hard to ensure that not only are the skills the right match, but also that the behaviours and personality of the candidate ensure that any new team member will fit right in with your business.  We ensure we understand not only the role, but the culture, values and ethos of your company.  Cultural fit is a key part of the transition from new start, to fully engaged, productive and positive team member.

If you would like to improve your new start’s experience, speak to your recruiting partner – our consultants will spend the time working with you to ensure the transition from new recruit to fully-fledged member of your team is painless for everyone. Click here to get in touch.

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