Avoid These Mistakes When Onboarding New Employees

Sabrina Starling On the Workforce


Avoid These Mistakes When Onboarding New Employees
While paperwork, access to office equipment and learning procedures are important aspects of onboarding, it’s relationship-building that drives retention and engagement. (Shutterstock)

Have you ever hired a new employee, had great hopes for them, then a few short weeks later been disappointed in their performance?

It’s possible you made a hiring mistake. But it’s also possible you got busy, and in an effort just to keep things moving and take care of customers, you let important training and orientation to your business slip through the cracks.  

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This happens all too often in small businesses. Overworked small-business owners hire a good team member, but unwittingly set that person up for subpar performance.

According to Gallup, only 12% of employees think their organization does a great job onboarding new employees. The Society of Human Resource Management estimates new employee turnover may be as high as 50% during the first 18 months on the job. Turnover is costly for a small business — it may cost six to nine months of the employee’s salary to find a replacement. 

As an employer, you should think of the first 18 months as a critical period to support your new employee in building strong relationships within your organization. While paperwork, access to office equipment and learning procedures are important aspects of onboarding, it’s relationship-building that drives retention and engagement.

Plan for you and your employees to spend significant time with your new employee during the first day and week of their employment. And take the time to get to know your new direct report. Ask yourself: 

  • What are their strengths? 
  • What are their goals? 
  • What excites them about their new role? 
  • What makes a great boss for them? 
  • How do they like to receive feedback?

Here are steps you can take now to position your new employees for success:

Define clear, measurable results you are expecting from this role. Do this before you hire, and then hire for the personality characteristics needed to deliver those results exceptionally well. 

Define 30-, 60- and 90-day goals for training. What results do you expect from a top-performing employee in this role at the end of year one? Then define goals for key points along the way: nine months, six months, 90 days, 30 days, week one and day one.

Be specific. You are identifying benchmarks. Communicate these expectations to your new employee. Design your training to support that person in achieving those benchmarks, which will allow you to catch problems quickly so you can decide if you will continue to invest in training your new employee. 

Check in regularly with your new team member during the first week. Make sure they know you want them to succeed and you are there to support their success. 

Implement weekly one-on-ones. Schedule brief meetings each week with your new employee to measure their progress toward the training goals. Identify wins and successes. Tell them what they’re doing right and what you want to see more of. Ask about any challenges they’re having. Identify aspects of the role the employee is struggling with. Ask them what support they need from you to be successful.

Setting clear expectations and then following up with regular communication and feedback dramatically increases an employee’s potential for long-term success at your organization. 

Get More

The Society of Human Resource Management has a guide to onboarding employees and maximizing their success, including strategies for executives and hourly workers. Get a copy at arkansasbusiness.com/SHRMonboarding.


Based in Arkansas, Sabrina Starling is the author of the “How to Hire the Best” series, founder of Tap the Potential LLC and host of the “Profit by Design” podcast. Get more resources and tips at tapthepotential.com.

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