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Effective Onboarding Should Last for Months

A group of people sitting around a table in a conference room.

Consider the human resources director at a 250-person high-tech startup who wants to strengthen her organization's onboarding practices. Currently the company does little more than a half-day new employee orientation that consists of a code-of-conduct video, safety demonstration, and mounds and mounds of new-hire paperwork. Before the lunch hour hits, new hires are whisked off to their departments and set free, never to hear from HR again until performance review time or some other exigency arises.

"Employers often mistakenly allow new hires to integrate into the organization without specific touch points or check-ins to measure progress and assess the individual's role and comfort level in the new organization, and that's a missed opportunity," said Ken Lloyd, Ph.D., a California-based management consultant and author of Performance Appraisals and Phrases for Dummies (For Dummies, 2009) and Jerks at Work: How to Deal with People Problems and Problem People (Career Press, 2008). 

While some organizations have very robust onboarding practices, including site visits to other corporate locations, rotations to different divisions, and meetings with senior executives, it doesn't have to be that complicated.

"Starting small is always best, and the key first step is to ensure that ongoing conversations are happening at regular intervals as well as spontaneously, when needed," Lloyd said.

The easiest way to engage new hires and ensure they stay on track is to implement specific conversations at 30-, 60- and 90-day intervals to ensure a smooth transition into the new role by identifying roadblocks as quickly as possible.

Try initiating onboarding meetings using some of the questions that follow. Then be prepared to address any shortcomings in individual performance or organizational challenges that may be hindering productivity. It doesn't take much time, can head off problems proactively and will demonstrate your effective leadership and communication abilities. 

30-Day, One-on-One Follow-Up Questions

  • What do you like about the job and the organization so far?
  • What's been going well? What are the highlights of your experiences so far? Why?
  • Tell me what you don't understand about your job or about our organization now that you've had a month to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.
  • Have you faced any surprises since joining us?
  • What could we have done differently during the interviewing process to realistically prepare you for your new role?  

60-Day, One-on-One Follow-Up Questions

  • Do you have enough, too much, or too little time to do your work? Likewise, do you have access to the appropriate tools and resources? Do you feel you haven't been sufficiently trained in any aspects of your job to perform at a high level?
  • How do you see your job relating to the organization's mission and vision?
  • What do you need to learn to improve? What can the organization do to help you become more successful as you transition further into your role?
  • Compare the organization to what we explained it would be like when you initially interviewed with us. Have you experienced any surprises, disappointments or other "aha" moments?
  • How does it go when your supervisor offers constructive criticism or corrects your work?
  • How would you describe the general tone from your co-workers: Do you find that they've been supportive of your success, or somewhat critical or pessimistic? 
  • Do you see a pivot coming? In other words, after two months in the role, do you feel that you'll need to make a major adaptation to what you originally imagined you'd be doing or a critical change in your focus or expectations to remain successful?  

90-Day, One-on-One Follow-Up Questions

  • Which co-workers have been particularly helpful since you arrived? (The goal in asking this question is to pinpoint which employees can be influential in retaining new hires.) Would you recommend anyone to become a mentor to new employees? 
  • Who do you talk to when you have questions about your work? Do you feel comfortable asking? Has anyone gone out of his or her way to make you feel welcome or included in social or work-related events?
  • Have you had any uncomfortable situations or conflicts with supervisors, co-workers or customers? Did you feel inclined to refer matters to your supervisor or to human resources on any particular occasion?
  • Does your supervisor clearly explain what the organization expects of you?  How would you rate leadership communication overall on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being highest?
  • Do you believe your ideas and suggestions are valued? Can you give me an example of some type of change you've recommended that's been implemented?
  • In retrospect, what could we have done differently in terms of setting your overall expectations appropriately for working in our company, and for your job specifically?
  • (Ask this question if the new hire supervises leaders.) Have you engaged in any skip-level meetings with your extended reports to gauge how they're feeling about their immediate supervisors? Is there anything you'd recommend reinventing in terms of how your department or team functions? 
  • How would you grade us in terms of our extended onboarding program, and what suggestions can you share that would make our program stronger?  

The result: better performance, improved engagement and stronger retention. After all, it stands to reason that employees who are engaged in these types of activities from the first day will feel a stronger connection to your organization over time. They'll feel acknowledged, included and more excited about their prospects for long-term success, so they'll likely demonstrate greater loyalty and productivity. What a high-payoff activity for such a minimal—but smart—investment of your time! 

Paul Falcone ( is vice president of HR at the Motion Picture & Television Fund in Woodland Hills, Calif. Some of his best-selling books include 101 Sample Write-Ups for Documenting Employee Performance Problems, 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire, 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees, and 2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews. 

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