Onboarding and the Manager: Getting buy-in, participation and engagement

Onboarding White Paper by CTD

Why don’t managers onboard their new hires?  

We did a poll during one of our recent webinars and here is what our participants said about the managers in their organizations:

  • 35%   think it is Human Resources’ job to onboard new hire
  • 30%   don’t have the time, tools or training
  • 25%   are unengaged and do not participate
  • 5%     have their own orientation and on-the-job training
  • 5%     let new hires “figure it out on their own”

This poll seems to be reflective of many organizations today who are still working to include and engage their hiring managers in the onboarding experience.  Why is this so hard? 

Whenever a position is filled there is a collective sigh of relief from the organization, especially from the hiring manager.  However, there is still work to be done and the “recruiting” is not over yet….

Whether you are a hiring manager, a Human Resources partner or one of the fortunate who have landed a new job in this post-recession rebound, you understand and have experienced the rigors and grind of a recruitment process.  As the process culminates to an offer and job acceptance, too often the key players in the organization start to quickly turn their focus to “hitting the ground running”.  This is especially true for the hiring managers.  It’s usually not that they intend to “forget” about the new hire, but they have typically been so focused on the time-consuming selection process, that they are often anxious to get back to work.  Once the candidate has accepted the job, the managers usually feel “done” and leave the integration, or onboarding, completely up to the human resources partner, the new hire himself, or worse, leave it to no one.

The opposite phenomenon actually occurs for the new hire, after she accepts the job. She is highly engaged, now having committed to this new organization and breaking ties with her old one.  This pre-start period of the onboarding process is the prime opportunity to cement her engagement with the new organization.  But too often a plan is not in place to transition the new hire from job acceptance to Day One, Month One and beyond.  Most organization have an orientation or paper work process and some limited training classes, a meet and greet schedule or a “buddy system”, but they miss the opportunity to really integrate people into their cultures and roles.  

What is onboarding?

Since the mid-90’s, onboarding has been “on the radar” of most HR leaders inside larger organizations.  Michael Watkins, with his book, The First 90 Days, made leadership onboarding a relevant business topic and many organizations followed his lead to create onboarding experiences for their new hires, particularly in leadership roles.  Unfortunately, however, these experiences varied wildly and had mixed results.  Some organizations defined onboarding similarly to orientation and while others left it to the new leaders themselves and provided little or no organizational support. 

The definition that has evolved and worked best for our clients, is that onboarding is a process that positions the an organization’s new hires with its vision, strategies, goals and culture and that success results from the partnership of the new hires, their managers and Human Resources partners.   Onboarding begins upon acceptance of the new role and usually does not extend beyond the four-to-six month mark.  It is an important part of the overall “life cycle” of the talent in an organization.  Onboarding offers that transition between selection and performance management.  It also introduces concepts and competencies that can be leveraged during the leadership development program and the succession planning process.  Onboarding is that “development bridge” that gives new hires an opportunity to learn the culture of the organization as well as learn the new role and build relationships.  Onboarding gives both the new hire and the organization permission to be new and learn and do the job at the same time.   Too often, the expectation, especially from the hiring managers is to dive into the work and not take the time to understand the people and the way things get done.  This approach results in many cultural missteps, and mistakes that at the least, waste time and resources and at the worst, cause the new hire to derail.   The Connect the Dots onboarding model starts with a definition of onboarding and its role and context in the Talent Management Cycle.   (Figure 1)

Onboarding is positioned in an organization’s talent management cycle to bridge the gap between the selection process and the performance management and leadership development processes.  It allows both the new leader and the organization to transition and assigns roles and responsibilities for each participant.  Onboarding begins upon the job acceptance and usually ends around the four-month mark, when it is appropriate to transition to the formal performance management process.  Most organizations do recognize, however, that it can take up to a full year for a new employee to be completely integrated, but best practices suggest a structured 3-6 month formal process.

It’s Not My Job

Just mention the word “culture” and people automatically think, “That’s a Human Resources’ thing—nothing that I need to think about.”  So, onboarding is left solely on the shoulders of HR partner, or it’s not addresses at all.  The hiring manager is missing a key opportunity to set up his new hire for quick success, and more importantly, lasting engagement. At the same time the HR Partner is expecting the hiring manager to take the lead role in integrating his new associate. A consequence of this “push­-pull” is that the onboarding does not happen for the new employees as it should.

To get passed how it “should be” and instead focus on how to work with what you have, we recommend taking a step back and thinking it through. Start by asking, “So what are the responsibilities of the hiring manager in an onboarding experience?”  Our experience with dozens of organizations has taught us that the last thing a hiring manager wants is another binder from HR.  Instead by showing what’s in it for them, keeping it simple, focus on the business and making it impactful you have all the secret ingredients for getting hiring managers to buy-in, participate and stay engaged in the process.

The Hiring Manager’s Role

The hiring manager can and should play an important role in the onboarding of her new hires.  The role will vary slightly depending on the level of the new hire in the organization.  For new leaders that manager’s role is focused primarily on the defining the priorities and milestones of that new leader.  Providing context for the culture and helping to integrate the new leader into the organization by facilitating relationship-building is probably the single most important job of the hiring manager.  For individual contributors, that hiring manager may be more “hands-on” by focusing more on the specific objectives of the new employee through the onboarding plan.  Regular “check-ins” with the hiring manager and the new employee will allow opportunities to discuss progress and feedback from both participants.

What’s in it for me?

As experts will tell you, creating a compelling business case for something is the best way to gain buy in.  Hiring managers are no different.  If you can demonstrate direct correlation to their participating in the onboarding of their new hires and their department’s success, their function’s success and their personal success, you’ve got their attention.  

According to the most recent research study on onboarding by The Aberdeen Group, 63% of the Best in Class organizations indicate that they have experienced improvements in employee performance within the first 12 months of rolling out their onboarding process.  There is a compelling case study included in the report of a Fortune 50 company that implemented an onboarding process for 1,000 new sales reps with the goal to reduce the time it took them close deals.  After six months, the company realized an average of 20% reduction in the time it took their sales reps to close their first three deals.  The sales reps were able to achieve 56% of their annual sales quotas during the first six months, as compared to achieving 48% of their quotas without an onboarding process.  With each rep carrying a $15 million sales quota, the average sales increase in the first six resulted in $600,000.00 per rep who was onboarded! 

Keeping it Simple 

Many organizations that we have worked with to revamp their onboarding experiences quickly realized that their hiring managers needed a simpler, more straight-forward approach.  Provide the top 3 action items for the time period, a few easy-to-use tools to support them, and let the go.  Any more burdens on their time, or cumbersome and complicated documents or processes to follow and you’ve lost them.  They will find a way to onboard their new hires a different, and therefore, not organizationally consistent way, or not at all.

So What?

Hiring Managers want their new hires to succeed.  

They now understand that they have a little more responsibility to support that success.  And, oh, by the way, they also have a tool/resource that makes it easy to give that support.  We are all familiar with the statistic that tells us employee satisfaction is heavily based on the relationship with their direct manager.  The onboarding period is where it all begins.

The proof is in the work.  The last thing any hiring manager wants is a binder from HR!  Use a live example to introduce and familiarize a hiring manager with the process.  Remember onboarding is a business process not an HR process.  A new employee, who has the right information at the right time, builds relationships with key stakeholders and receives feedback that allows him to stay on track, will be highly engaged and productive faster.

What New Hires Really Need

New hires are bombarded with information, people, meetings, decisions, travel, presentations, and a lot more during their first weeks on the job.  It is difficult for them to prioritize because they have no context for most of these things and everything seems important.  They also want to be perceived as competent, so they are hesitant to ask for time or help. The leadership onboarding process allows them to back up, focus and learn by doing.  

The Connect the Dots leadership onboarding model is based on three simple building blocks of success.  

They are—

  1. Knowledge
  2. Relationships
  3. Feedback

The first pillar, knowledge, refers to the information that the new hires need to acquire throughout their onboarding.  It starts with a broad overview of organizational vision, mission, values and history, and then builds to current strategies, processes and culture.  From there, new employees need timely knowledge about their function, their teams and their roles.

The next pillar, building relationships, is critically important to any new hire’s success.  This component is especially important for new leaders who are brought into an organization to bring about change or lead through a crisis.  But it is, of course, vital to any new hire’s success as they execute their objectives through and with others.

Lastly, the providing of timely and actionable feedback is usually the missing link in most onboarding programs.  Organizations are typically not set up to give formal feedback and the informal feedback on which they rely can be incomplete or missing entirely.  Impressions and perceptions about the new leaders are formed very early, so it is really important to incorporate both quantitative and qualitative early feedback into the onboarding program, usually at the 45 to 60 day mark.  These three components are the foundation on which you build your onboarding program that allows you to see results that are consistent with your objectives.  


The partnership between the new hire, her manager and her HR partner is really the key to a successful onboarding experience.  When each participant is clear about his role and follows a consistent process, the results are real.  Onboarding done right has been a useful toll in the engagement and retention of new hires in a volatile economy.  Onboarding will continue to play a key role in the talent management process as more jobs are created and the talent pool starts to shrink for certain markets.  As this happens, it will be more important than ever to get and keep the right people in the right jobs.  The hiring managers and the organizations will benefit and the numbers will then speak for themselves.