Hungry, Hungry HiPos

The people in your organization on the fast track to success are called HiPos – short for high potentials. And they’re hungry. They’re hungry to learn, be led effectively, have challenging assignments, work in functional teams, and grow within their careers.

It’s a tall order I know, but if you want to keep them around – you have to feed it.

When it comes to keeping HiPos working for you, it’s critical to note that the vast majority of new hires make a decision on whether to stay with an organization in their first six months on the job. If you don’t engage them right from the start, you risk high turnover or – worse – employees who just “phone it in” with subpar performance until something better comes along.

All of this leaves employers scratching their heads. When you spend a lot of money and time recruiting HiPos, it sucks when they leave – not to mention the lather, rinse, repeat recruiting cycle steals time away from what you should be doing, i.e. serving clients.

Still, when I talk to employers about onboarding, one of the things I hear most often is that it’s not something that “keeps them up at night” like bottom-line sales performance, meeting deadlines, or making payroll.

This makes me scratch my head because – without exception – EVERYTHING that keeps employers awake at 3am is tied to one thing: the talent of their people. If you don’t have great staff in place, things fall apart. Customers become unsatisfied. The decimals on your bank statement shrink. Your business grows weeds.

As part of this onboarding blog series, I want to share a Q&A that I wrote recently for the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). Whether you’re in the process of developing your onboarding program or benchmarking the success of an existing one, I hope you find some ideas in here to feed your hungry HiPos.

What are the signs that tell an employer their onboarding program is not effective?

The first sign is “do you have a structured onboarding program?” and I’m not trying to be glib here, but if you don’t have a program – it can’t be successful. And most companies don’t have a program. The second sign is high turnover. No question. completed a pretty comprehensive survey recently of 3,700 job seekers and more than 1,200 hiring managers.  They discovered a whopping 30% of external hires are no longer with their organization after three years. So, again, if your company has high turnover, it’s not only a headache for you to keep re-staffing, but that’s also a neon sign to your clients that something is out-of-whack internally at your organization.

What are some common mistakes employers make with regard to onboarding?

The biggest mistake I see – over and above not having a program in general – is not making anyone directly accountable for the success of onboarding efforts. So what frequently happens is that new hires will come in and, if no one is directly tasked with “taking charge” of their orientation, they are usually passed back and forth between managers who haven’t been adequately briefed on their arrival. These managers are usually well-meaning and will make gallant attempts to “squeeze” in time here and there, but the experience for the new hire is, frankly, underwhelming. The second mistake I see a lot is companies that view onboarding as the completion of a “checklist” versus what it really is, i.e. a systematic process of early career support. As part of bringing on an employee, it’s obviously very important to ensure they have all required payroll and benefit forms completed so you can “check the box”, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What are you doing beyond that to ensure they are connecting with colleagues, learning the specifics of your business, and feeling like they belong to something special? If the answer is, “nothing”, you have lost a huge opportunity to harness the excitement and energy recruits naturally bring to a new job and turn it into engagement.

How can an employer rejuvenate or correct an ineffective onboarding process?  

Get senior leaders involved. Whether you’re just starting a program from scratch or revamping an existing one, I’d begin by scheduling a meeting with your company’s executive management team and brainstorming one question, i.e. “What can we do to get our new hires productive faster, while making them really excited to work here at the same time?” This accomplishes two things: one, you get buy-in from the top because they’re involved at the outset, but it also sends a signal to everyone else that onboarding is a strategic initiative that is taken seriously at your organization.  Should employers measure the effectiveness of their onboarding programs? If so, how can they accurately measure it?

One way employers can measure the success of onboarding efforts is through direct surveys to new hires. I recommend brief assessments at the 1-month, 4-month, 8-month, and one year marks. Basically, the goal here is to track engagement so you can respond in real time, but you want to make the process simple and quantifiable. Sample questions could include: How would you rate your overall satisfaction at our company? Are we meeting your expectations? Do you have the tools and resources you need to be successful? If you survey consistently, you’ll have comparative data you can use to continually tweak your program so it evolves and improves over time. Another way to measure success is to track your turnover rates. Effective onboarding has been proven to decrease turnover between 2-6% so, if that jives with what you’re seeing at your company, it’s working.


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