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Onboarding: A Road Worth Taking

Your onboarding program has the potential to increase retention, productivity and revenue

In many ways, an effective onboarding program is like using Google Maps to chart your course to a new destination. Google Maps allows you to see a clear path to where you are headed, identify potential road blocks and stay on course regardless of challenges you encounter during your journey.

A good onboarding program provides the same type of clarity. It allows managers and new employees to see the “road ahead” and to know what to expect the first few weeks and months a new employee takes on a new role. In addition, a good onboarding program can help managers manage better, increasing employee retention rates and even the company’s revenue.

So, if onboarding programs have so many benefits, why do so few IT leaders think their companies’ onboarding programs get the attention they deserve?

TEKsystems surveyed more than 2,400 IT professionals and more than 1,500 IT leaders. IT professionals provided specific insight from the employee’s perspective, and the leaders who responded provided their insight from the employer’s perspective. We asked each group to share insights on how important an onboarding program is to their organization, what most onboarding programs consist of and what exactly makes an onboarding program successful.

Knowing Your destination: The Importance of an Effective Onboarding Program

Much is determined in the first phase of the employer/new hire relationship. IT leaders say they use onboarding as an “extremely important” way to determine the new hire’s ability to be productive and add value (62 percent), their cohesiveness with the team (53 percent) and their ability to be successful long term in the company (46 percent). IT professionals report they have the same goals when it comes to onboarding and determining their own opinion of their long-term fit within their new organization. They also believe that their onboarding experiences enable them to evaluate if they like their team and their boss, if the job is what they thought it would be originally, and if the company’s culture aligns with their personal values—all criteria that play a significant role in determining their engagement, satisfaction and ultimate success with their new employer.

If facilitated effectively, IT professionals further report that onboarding programs can result in direct business value. Specifically, with a strong onboarding program in place, more than 50 percent of IT professionals say companies could save major time, effort and money. They believe organizations could cut in excess of 30 days in deciding if the new hire is a good match, enabling the new hire to become comfortable enough to initiate new ideas, and educating the new hire to the point that he or she could teach the job to someone else. Between 28 and 42 percent of IT professionals believe effective onboarding could even save more than 60 days in achieving these outcomes.

Unfortunately, most IT employers and employees say their onboarding programs do not receive the attention they deserve. Nearly a quarter of IT professionals (24 percent) say their employers have no formal onboarding plan—and that they experienced a “sink or swim” approach. Almost 40 percent say onboarding consists of “some role clarification and administrative paperwork—but that’s about it.” IT employers support these findings. Seventy-seven percent of IT leaders believe their organizations place less than sufficient significance in developing a strong onboarding program.

77 percent of IT leaders believe their organizations place less than sufficient significance in developing a strong onboarding program.

Thus, while onboarding programs have the potential to be impactful, only 13 percent of IT leaders and 12 percent of IT professionals rate their onboarding programs as “extremely effective.” conversely, 19 percent of IT leaders and 24 percent of IT professionals think their onboarding programs are “ineffective.” So what do these numbers really mean? Weak onboarding programs mean lower productivity, a drain on organizational resources and higher rate of attrition. They also dash the new hire’s hopes for a successful long-term opportunity with their new employer, costing the company time, energy and money as they go back to square one to backfill.

What’s Needed for Onboarding Success—and Where Most Programs Drive Off Course

Get to the Point: Align Onboarding Focus with Onboarding Goals

The goals of an onboarding program involve providing new hires with information, opportunities and experiences that enable success in their role. Of course new employees must understand the basic HR and administrative details regarding pay, benefits and company policies. But this information alone will not arm the new hire with all the understanding required to be successful—even in the first 30 to 90 days. During this critical time, new hires must gain a clear understanding about their role and expectations of their performance; they must acquire knowledge about the company and the business that enables them to perform their work successfully in the new environment; and they must begin to integrate with the culture, building relationships with various stakeholders who are critical to the new hires’ expected workflows.

Interestingly, the surveys show most onboarding programs fail to place sufficient focus on the right areas to position new hires for success. Both groups surveyed say their onboarding programs place the most focus on HR and administrative information, compared to information about the role, knowledge about the company and building relationships in the company. To be effective, onboarding programs must focus on conveying information to new hires that contributes to the achievement of the most important onboarding goals. IT professionals say that to be successful, it is important for onboarding programs to cover a variety of areas; the majority of these fall outside of learning where the bathrooms are and how to set up voicemail. While it takes careful thought and a bigger time investment for organizations to integrate the new employee into the team and to facilitate relationship building, doing so ultimately fuels the new hire’s productivity and long-term retention.

Both groups surveyed say their onboarding programs place the most focus on HR and administrative information, compared to information about the role, knowledge about the company and building relationships in the company.

Picking the Right Ride: Align Onboarding Approach with Onboarding Goals

The focus of onboarding programs is certainly important—but so is the way those focus areas are communicated. IT leaders say the top methods for conducting onboarding programs are: formal HR orientation (41 percent), self-directed learning (14 percent), peer instruction (11 percent), on-the-job training (8 percent), and direct manager one-on-one instruction (8 percent). IT professionals provide a more in-depth view on how different onboarding approaches are applied depending on the situation. For example, IT professionals say that formal Hr orientation is the most utilized onboarding approach when educating new hires about the company (57 percent) and addressing administrative information (58 percent), while direct manager one-on-one instruction is the most utilized approach when learning about the role (36 percent).

The lack of direct manager involvement introduces another factor in why many onboarding programs are not as effective as they could and should be. IT managers have the most to lose or gain from the onboarding process—after all, they suffer if the new hire takes too long to overcome the learning curve or fails to be productive in the role. Moreover, it’s well known that the manager/employee relationship is a key success factor for any new hire. That’s because managers have expectations of their employees and can help align their new hires with their perspective on the company, the role, the team, how to add value, etc. What’s more, it is only by being directly involved in the new hire’s onboarding experience that the manager will know exactly how the new hire is progressing.

Watch Out for Speed Traps: Be Clear on Expectations for Progress

To feel reassured that the employer/employee relationship is indeed the right match, IT leaders and professionals want to see and experience progress over time. The surveys reveal, however, that IT leaders and IT professionals often have different expectations around just how quickly various stages of employee development should occur throughout the onboarding program.

For example, just 17 percent of IT leaders say it should take less than a month for a new hire to become productive in their new role, while 34 percent of IT professionals say this is the expected time frame for productivity. This finding suggests that employees tend to think they should know more than they actually should in a given amount of time. To avoid employee frustrations or a sense of failure and defeat in their new roles, managers must help new employees set realistic timelines for progress.

Another example involves how long it should take to learn a role well enough to teach someone else how to do it. Only 9 percent of IT leaders believe a new hire should progress this far in their first two to three months of employment with their new company. However, 27 percent of IT professionals feel this time frame is reasonable. This finding suggests that employees sometimes think they know more than they actually do. Managers must be involved to help employees realize what they don’t know but need to in order to truly master their role.

Relationships present a third area of disparate expectations between employers and employees. 35 percent of IT leaders say new hires should build relationships with team members within their first 30 days, compared to 51 percent of IT professionals. It’s critical for managers to grasp the importance that new hires place on forming relationships with their team early in the onboarding experience. By facilitating connections and encouraging enough relationship building between new hires and current team members, managers maximize the impact and the value of the onboarding experience, while boosting loyalty levels that the new hire feels toward their employer.

Knowing the ETA: Set Realistic Timelines for Support

According to the surveys, most formal onboarding programs last between one and two months—whether the role is entry level, mid-level, or high level. Yet, between 20 and 30 percent of IT leaders report that formal onboarding programs for these roles last less than one week, and between 20 and 28 percent of IT professionals say it should last between two and three weeks.

To set realistic timelines for support, it’s important for organizations to consider the needs of new employees at each level and the lessons the organization expects them to learn to perform their role successfully. For example, an entry level hire typically must learn not only the role and how to do it, but how to navigate a professional work environment. A high level hire, comparatively, tends to have the experience and competence in the role he or she accepts. They need support navigating the new culture and leading their new team. Successful onboarding programs last long enough to ensure the initial needs of each new hire are met. As a result, both the new employee, as well as the employer, benefit as the new hire is better informed and adjusted.

Make It to the Finish Line: Use Metrics and Accountability

The old adage says “what gets measured gets done.” In the case of onboarding, organizations must try to measure how the new employee is performing and how the onboarding process itself is working. The surveys show that the top three methods for tracking such onboarding results include formal check-ins/evaluations, informal check-ins/evaluations and new hire surveys.

While check-ins, evaluations and surveys are helpful tactics to monitor and facilitate an effective onboarding program, they are not enough to ensure true success. Because, really, whose fault is it if the new hire isn’t progressing according to plan? It’s often difficult to decipher if the new employee is the one who should be doing more, or if the manager is not as involved as they should be to drive more productivity. As a result of the nebulous accountability factor involved in onboarding, many new hires with potential can fall through the cracks, and many managers pay the price of dealing with the aftermath of unsuccessful hires that were great hires to begin with. Ultimately, then, the goal of evaluating onboarding programs should not be to cast blame. The goal is to establish a sense of mutual accountability for the positive outcomes both the employer and the employee sought upon extending and accepting an offer, respectively.


As with Google Maps, an effective onboarding plan enables its users to navigate to their destination in a time- and cost-efficient manner. A carefully “mapped” onboarding plan is an investment with a very high potential return to the employer and new employee, while the damage caused by a poorly designed onboarding plan can be costly from both perspectives.

In a well-executed onboarding program, the employer is able to chart the progress of the employee over time, establish professional goals and performance metrics, and ensure the new hire is properly educated and equipped with the know-how to hit the ground running.

From the lens of the new employee, a great onboarding plan will help pave the way through unfamiliar territory. The new employee can leverage the onboarding process to clearly define where they fit into the business, gain the knowledge and confidence to dive into new tasks, envision a long-term career path, and acclimate themselves to the culture of the organization.

By implementing a thoughtful onboarding plan, employers are steering new hires down a road that will enable them to successfully arrive at their destination—a place of employment where they are comfortable doing their job, understand where they fit into the organization, and feel connected to the culture and people. This, in turn, provides the employer with great rewards as well—primarily a prepared and engaged new member of the team who is set up to add real business value.