YOUR new employee is about to begin a journey that involves significant risk and reward for both him and your company.

Knowing that a significant percentage of new hires fail to deliver the anticipated performance, what can employers do to help ensure success?

Effective onboarding begins well before the start date.

Even during the selection stage, it is vital that interviewers provide honest information about the company, its culture and its work environment so that the prospective employee knows what to expect and can turn down the role if it is not a good fit.

Organisational onboarding procedures vary widely from a brief presentation by a human resource representative to a formal programme with scheduled activities and objectives planned for the first 30, 90, 120 and 360 days.

By structuring a well-thought-out orientation and providing support and feedback over the first critical period, leaders can decrease the newcomer’s learning curve, speed up the rate of productivity and improve the rate of successfully assimilating and retaining employees.

What matters most for newcomers

The most important elements a new hire must achieve are:

* Task mastery — learning the responsibilities of the new job;

* Cultural fluency — learning “how things work,” expected behaviours and social mores; and

* Establishing relationships — building trust and collaboration with co-workers, supervisors and other colleagues.

By far, the most critical factor in successful onboarding is the relationship with the direct supervisor or manager.

Generally, the more support the manager offers and the longer that support is maintained, the more rapidly and fully the employee will achieve the socialisation necessary for long-term success.

Research shows that it takes up to two years for a new hire to be fully confident and competent in a position.

Onboarding tasks for managers

Human resource representatives can assist managers of newly hired employees to design and implement a development programme that includes the following steps:

* Provide information about the company’s organisational structure, values, priorities, challenges and goals.

* Identify key stakeholders within the company whose collaboration and goodwill are needed for success. Schedule orientation meetings with each, suggesting what information they might share with your new employee.

* Identify a willing “buddy” or mentor who will take the new employee to lunch, show him around and be a resource for learning the unwritten rules and customs of the work group and organisation.

* Set clear expectations of job responsibilities, goals, deadlines and standards. Put as much of this in writing as appropriate, but do not neglect verbal discussions. Check to make sure your employee fully understands the requirements.

* Together, set developmental and productivity goals for the short, mid and long term.

* Determine if any training is needed and, if so, schedule it. Set clear expectations for learning outcomes and follow up afterwards to determine how the employee applies the new knowledge.

* Provide assistance in obtaining resources and removing barriers as needed.

* Regularly observe your employee’s work and provide specific and objective positive and constructive feedback. Recognise milestones and progress along the learning curve.

* Schedule regular meetings to discuss progress, answer questions and help the newcomer reflect on what he has learnt.

* Maintain ongoing high-touch support until it is clear the newcomer has successfully and fully integrated into the new job — up to two years, if possible.

* If conflicting priorities prevent you from providing a high level of support after the initial orientation period, enlist a co-worker to provide some informal coaching. This should not replace regular one-on-one meetings with you.

* Celebrate success with the employee and identify new objectives and opportunities as his confidence and competence increases.

Human resource partners should also check back individually with the new hire and the manager at intervals throughout the process, to gauge progress and provide input and encouragement.