It’s all too common for HR professionals to get bogged-down with the administration around recruiting and Recruitment badgeonboarding new hires. So it’s hardly surprising when a new recruit sat behind a working computer with employee manual in hand is regarded as a job well done.

In fact, ‘onboarding’ – the process of hiring, welcoming, orienting and engaging new staff – should be viewed as far more than just a tactical solution to the issues of getting forms filled in and computers set-up. Onboarding needs to be tackled strategically from the very top of the organisation down.

Imagine a graduate being excited about their new job only to find that one week in, they still haven’t been told the names of their team members, their manager has been elusive and they are unclear about the company’s vision and goals. This is hardly going to encourage engagement and high performance!

Far from being a fluffy extravagance, an effective onboarding programme is a vital means of getting staff engaged and bought into the company’s vision and values. It is the employer’s chance to make sure the dream sold at interview is every part the reality.

Not only can effective onboarding reduce new hire turnover and increase retention, it can accelerate performance, shorten time-to-productivity and help to engender trust in the manager and team. With people more likely to jump from job to job, successful onboarding is more critical than ever.

So what does effective onboarding look like?

Research by the Aberdeen Group found that 86 per cent of new hires make their decision to stay or leave their jobs within the first six months. So if new hires are ‘onboarded’ within a month and then little is actively done to try to keep them engaged and motivated, few will be encouraged to remain past the six-month mark.

Therefore, a time limit should never be put on the onboarding process. The induction period should never stop, it needs to take place every single day and there needs to be an ongoing effort to build engagement and connection between the individuals and the ‘why’ of what you do.

Use the onboarding process to really get to know the person as an individual – how do they like to be managed? How do they like their coffee? What keeps them motivated and most effectively impacts their performance? How do they like to be recognised for great work?

This leads onto the key element of a successful onboarding programme – delivering recognition. The probation period should never be regarded as a pass or fail but should be used as an opportunity to recognise individuals’ successes. What have they done well in? What deserves particular praise? How can they be best supported and motivated to do even better?

This manager recognition needs to be included early-on as employees who feel recognised and appreciated are far more likely to stay with the organisation and perform at a high level. However, recognition is not just about a pat on the back. There should be structured and public recognitions by managers, which include setting and recognising key milestones. These may include 30/60/90 days in the job, achieving goals, completing training courses and celebrating yearly anniversaries. Employees need to be formally recognised in front of their peers and given something tangible to mark their achievements and symbolise the key part they are playing in the company’s success.

The best organisations understand that managers need to be trained and developed in how to effectively deliver recognition as it is not always intuitive. In fact, for some managers, delivering recognition is totally outside of their comfort zone and they go about it in an ineffectual and understated way that does little to engage and motivate.

Imagine sales people in neighbouring teams being recognised differently because of inconsistent managerial approaches – team X is presented with token gifts during a high profile awards ceremony whilst team Y receive their token gifts at their desks during a low-key affair. Such inconsistency will do little to motivate team Y and could, in fact, damage engagement.

The recognition training therefore needs to include an understanding of what type of recognition works best in your culture so that its delivery is consistent. The training will also need to teach managers how to best integrate recognition into the onboarding process and then sustain momentum so that on-the-spot and more formal recognition becomes second nature. By mastering the art of delivering recognition, this will help to build a positive work environment.

It’s clear to see that onboarding plays a critical role in the engagement of people throughout their employee journey. So why do just 15 per cent of companies have a formal onboarding programme in place?

Sadly, it is largely overlooked as an effective means of engagement with the induction process all too often viewed as the responsibility of HR and not within the remit of the new hire’s wider team. With many HR professionals simply fighting to keep their heads above water, it is hardly surprising if ‘onboarding’ is ticked off their ‘to do’ lists as quickly as possible.

However, the 15 per cent of organisations that understand the long-term significance of a successfully onboarded and engaged employee, celebrating the milestones of new hires well into their first year and spending time developing managers to deliver better recognition within the onboarding process, are realising significant bottom-line benefits. And so perhaps now is the time to review and invest in those critical first impressions within your business.