Why quality onboarding matters for engineering leaders

“Onboarding” covers the entire gamut of practices that welcome and integrate new employees into an organization. But while companies have plenty of checklists and frameworks for ensuring a new hire is set up, relatively few organizations are thoroughly intentional about how to welcome team members into their culture and work practices.

Engineering leaders generally want to ensure engineers are comfortable, engaged and contributing members of the team. Yet taking a candidate from the interview process to becoming a fully integrated team member is surprisingly nuanced and difficult—and these difficulties can be exacerbated when teams are bringing on batches of new people every couple of weeks. 

This article highlights how a proper onboarding strategy can deliver results for engineering managers and other leaders.

Quality onboarding improves value, retention and satisfaction.

Most engineering leaders are already on board with onboarding. We’ve never talked to anyone who thinks an engineer should be 100% comfortable and productive on Day One. We all need training to succeed in our roles and in our organizations, whether we’re junior developers or executives. 

But actually doing the constructive onboarding thing is too often done poorly, because it requires clear intentions, consistent attention and thorough planning. And the truth is, these things are often challenging for engineering leaders because they are already really busy.

Of course, engineering leaders care about effectively onboarding their new teammates. But it’s difficult to carve out the time during any given week to dedicate to the new engineers on the block, even when the time spent up front is proven to increase their contribution in future. 

That’s why onboarding well requires organizational support for its managers. If an organization struggles with establishing a dedicated and effective onboarding process, it is not alone. In fact, 35% of all companies spend $0 on onboarding. Not even a single penny.

How onboarding increases value for an organization.

A quarter of all companies do not include any training in their onboarding at all, and about 30% of organizations rely on “passive onboarding,” where employees are handed a scavenger-hunt checklist of tasks to be completed. Sixty percent of organizations don’t set onboarding milestones or goals for their new hires. 

Yet every single one of these companies has an onboarding process of some kind. It just isn’t given the focus and the resources needed to truly succeed. It lacks depth. Engineers in the many organizations struggling to onboard well are feeling the pain of ineffective or incomplete onboarding—and the organizations are feeling it too. 

HR industry surveys about onboarding, including a 2017 Gallup survey found that 88% of employees don’t think their company has a good onboarding program. This is a stark percentage, but does it matter? 

According to research by Glassdoor it does, as it found that organizations who had a a strong onboarding process improved retention by an 82% clip. Additionally, a Digitate white paper notes that new hires who did not have a positive experience were twice as likely to seek new opportunities in the near future. So yeah, it matters.

The detriment to teams who fail to onboard new hires is significant—in fact, productivity lost to new hire learning curves can cost between 1% and 2.5% of total business revenues. Even more, the expense to replace an employee is about $18,000, and that figure only grows higher in specialized and high-demand fields. Hiring a software developer can cost as much as $50,000or more.

Despite all the doom-and-gloom of those statistics, onboarding isn’t a process of avoiding pain points. It’s an objectively productive method for increasing value for an organization. Not only does onboarding well prevent the sunk costs of replacing engineers, it also sets engineers up for sustained success.

That makes intuitive sense, and the numbers bear it out. Organizations with a standard onboarding procedure benefit from 50% greater new hire productivity and 58% better new hire retention after three years. 

Retention is strongly influenced by employees’ early impressions of a company.

And there’s still the managerial perspective to consider: surveys found that manager satisfaction increases by 20% when their teams have undergone formal onboarding training. 

Employees are much happier and engaged when they’ve been onboarded effectively, and companies that invest in onboarding are much more productive and aligned. Plus, a thoughtful onboarding process can significantly differentiate an organization from its peers. 

Now that you know how much a sound onboarding strategy can benefit your organization, the next step is to evaluate your onboarding strategy.