Why Onboarding May Be More Important Than Hiring

Here’s a controversial opinion: right now, for most companies, onboarding is more important to obsess over than hiring. To be sure, both are generally important things (we’re not saying that hiring is unimportant). But right now, how you onboard talent is even more important than how you find talent.


  1. Full employment. You’re just going to have a harder time recruiting, especially if you’re the underdog and/or you have scarce resources (which is most of us). Yes, there are more ways to recruit than with money, but money is going to be hard to beat as your better-resourced competitors begin to increase wages and add on perks. You won’t get the best talent. You just won’t. Instead, you’ll need to grow the best talent, which starts with onboarding.
  2. Star talent isn’t as beneficial as you think. Too many stars on the field, or in the office, can actually harm teamwork and strategic thinking. Moreover, star players tend to suffer a performance plummet when they switch organizations (so you’ll pay more for that star and reap less of the reward than you were hoping for).
  3. There’s more untapped potential to unlock in onboarding than in hiring. Most companies ignore onboarding, save the requisite HR forms and office tour. Microsoft looked at what could predict whether the company could retain someone better over time, and guess what—it was whether their manager met with them 1:1 during their first week on the job. Obvious, overlooked, and profoundly impactful. A 2007 study found that employees are 58% more likely to still be at the company three years later if they had completed a structured onboarding process. Onboarding is talent money-ball.
  4. We know how to do onboarding better, but hiring better is way more complicated. Remember all those Google interview brainteasers that became everyone’s hiring brainteasers? If not, tell me why manhole covers are round (and do it in an environment where you’re stressed out over landing a job and impressing a potential boss). Those questions were really clever, and in Google’s own words, “a complete waste of time.” What about referrals? Sure, some research shows that talent sourced through a referral improves company performance, but other research shows that it also decreases diversity, which in turn hurts company performance. What about the new trend of blind hiring? Turns out it might actually hurt diversity. Google also looked into whether some employees were just better at sniffing out talent than others. (Spoiler alert: Nope.) Whereas in onboarding, the new employee needs three things: 1) to understand the company (structurally and culturally), 2) to understand their role and its context on their team, and 3) to build their internal social network.
  5. Obsessing over onboarding leads to obsessing over the holistic employee experience. Onboarding is the gateway drug to caring about the lifecycle of your employee. So many companies obsess over hiring—and then ignore the rest of the employee experience because they think those stars should be able to work it out for themselves. (They don’t.) The companies that I’ve seen obsess over onboarding always ask “what’s next?” in terms of employee touch-points and memorable moments.
Published February 12, 2019

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