Welcome Onboard! Coaching Employees into New Roles

Whether it’s onboarding new hires, or helping existing employees navigate a complex business transformation, integration coaching is the missing link to getting the most out of your talent.

Jessica Conser, Ph.D.

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welcome new employee onboard

Just over a year ago, my career entered a period of great change.

My job and team were transformed, and I was suddenly reporting to a new leader with new direct reports and new priorities. It felt almost like starting a new job with a whole new company. And to help me navigate all this change, I had the opportunity for a six-month coaching engagement.

As it turned out, there was so much going on that I did not take the time to engage a coach. It’s a decision that I massively regret now, but one that taught me a lot about the value of integration coaching.

And then it hit me: when I think about the concerns our clients have around onboarding new hires or, as was my experience, easing the stress that comes with a complex global business transformation, I believe integration coaching is the missing link.

Employers invest so much money in recruiting and onboarding new talent, and business transformations, that they simply cannot afford to let someone flounder because they are having trouble integrating into a new organization or role. Or, to allow top talent to jump ship after a few months because they didn’t feel they were “a good fit.”

Estimates of the cost of employee turnover range from a few thousand dollars for lower-level employees to 400 percent of annual salary for top executives. Gallup has calculated American employers spend roughly $1 trillion each year just to replace employees who voluntarily resign their positions.

There are a lot of moving parts to an effective onboarding program. It is critical to get new hires up to speed quickly, ensure they assimilate and find their groove in their new job. Research that has focused on employee turnover and onboarding programs consistently reveals that up to 20 percent of new hires voluntarily resign their jobs within the first 45 days of starting a new job. That figure is expected to grow as voluntary resignations rise to historic levels.

The converse is also true: a strong onboarding process can boost retention and productivity. Some studies have estimated new hire retention can improve by more than 80% and productivity by over 70%.

I believe this is where coaching comes in. Organizations that are keen to retain talent and help people get up to full productivity in new roles as quickly as possible can build coaching and mentoring into their onboarding programs for employees at multiple levels, ensuring they have someone to support them through the precarious first months in a new job.

Other organizations focus on training hiring managers to develop a coaching mindset, so they can interact with new hires and help guide them through the onboarding process. When you combine all these ideas, you come to something that Dr. John Sullivan, one of the pioneers of HR metrics who was dubbed “the Michael Jordan of Hiring,” has called “extreme onboarding.”

Sullivan noted that as opposed to the one-day orientation session that many organizations undertake, extreme onboarding is a longer and more involved process of integration that “provides more time for coaching, sharing information and answering questions.”

How much longer? Some of the world’s most iconic companies – Rackspace, Facebook and Zappos – extend their onboarding programs for up to six weeks. Others, such as L’Oreal and Google, have longer onboarding experiences that focus on things like corporate values, strategies, tools, and other resources necessary to be successful. For example, every new Google employee, Noogler, is assigned a mentor who is successful within the company and who has taken a course on typical new hire needs. This formal relationship spans an average of three months post hire.

In this day and age of talent mobility and voluntary resignations, employers need every advantage they can get to retain talent. Coaching can help new hires adapt and adopt a new culture, build an internal network with the true go-to people in your organization, and learn how to build a constructive relationship with a new boss. In other words, integration coaching can help new hires navigate all the issues that often prompt someone to quit a job just a few months after starting.

In the final analysis, it doesn’t really matter how good you are at your job if you don’t like coming into work and feel disconnected from co-workers. There are many anecdotes floating around the human capital world about people who were highly successful in one organization but failed when they switched jobs. We should ask ourselves – did they fail because they suddenly became incompetent? Or did they fail because they simply were not able to navigate their new organization?

As an ICF accredited coach myself, I understand the intangible value of coaching. Many studies of the impact of coaching show that organizations can make tangible gains in just about every area of talent management, from productivity and quality of work to customer service, retention and bottom-line profitability.

I wish I’d taken advantage of the opportunity for a coach when it was made available to me. I won’t make the mistake of transitioning into a new role without a coach again.

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