What this article is about:

  • 25% of newly hired employees quit within the first six months.
  • A structured onboarding process can help to avoid initial fluctuation.
  • Good onboarding includes administrative and professional induction as well as cultural-social integration of new hires.
  • 11% of German companies use coaching as an onboarding tool for their new specialists and managers.
  • Key onboarding elements remain a management responsibility.
  • A coach can support the manager in onboarding the new team member.

The lack of skilled talents is omnipresent, and companies spend a lot of time and money recruiting new specialists and managers. Unfortunately, studies show that nothing is in the bag with a signed employment contract. About a quarter of new hires quit during the first six months. This article is about the key elements of a targeted and structured onboarding process, and the benefits of coaching as an onboarding tool.

Onboarding is important for employee retention

The new team member has been found; the employment contract signed. It looks as if the company has won the so-called “war for talents” and will now do everything to successfully retain the new employee after spending a lot of time and money on recruitment.

It is therefore even more surprising what experiences my coaching clients report when they start work. One of the “classics” is still that the workplace is not set up and the technical equipment is missing. Or the team doesn’t know that the new team member is coming that day, and there is simply no one there to welcome the newcomer.

I remember that I was once warmly welcomed to my new workplace with a bouquet of flowers. After that, however, I was left on my own with a surprisingly frustrated team, different ideas about my scope of action as a manager, and a product that didn’t work. I also remember a job description that turned out to be creative prose because the real job had nothing to do with the tasks promised. And I can laugh today about the “flexible use” sign that hung on one of my office doors. And I can laugh today about the “flexible use” sign that hung on one of my office doors for a long time. For months, the company had failed to put up a sign with my name instead.

And finally, I also hear this in coaching sessions: New employees are not given a clear set of goals for the first 100 days, they work “somehow” on their own, overburdened managers are hardly available for conversations and feedbacks and suddenly the new hire is invited to a conversation in which the performance is negatively evaluated because of unfulfilled expectations.

A quarter quit during the first six months

These examples show how the opportunity of early performance and long-term retention of new employees can be put at risk. According to the 2019 Haufe Onboarding Survey in Germany, a quarter of new hires quit within the first six months. This is a terrifying figure. For the company, this means that the recruiting starts all over again and costs again time and money. This does not include the growing frustration in an understaffed team that had just adjusted to a new person and now must shoulder additional tasks again. 81% of the HR managers surveyed in the German Haufe Onboarding Survey 2021 see therefore an urgent need for action regarding initial turnover within the first year of employment.

Good onboarding includes social-cultural integration

The solution is a structured onboarding process. What does that mean? Almost half of the companies surveyed by Haufe in 2021 focus on an onboarding plan with trainings and education in the professional working field. However, highly trained specialists and managers rarely fail because of their professional skills. Often, they lack an understanding of the cultural norms and values of the new company as well as knowledge of power centers and decision-making structures. And sometimes their own role, goals and expectations are simply not yet clear.

My impression from coaching practice is that this mismatch increases as the hierarchy level rises. The more complex the (management) task and the higher the expectations, the less social-cultural support the newcomers experience. The motto is: “Hey, we are hiring experienced people. They must be able to do it on their own!”

Mentoring and reflection instead of “flying blind“

Such a “blind start” is usually associated with stress and pressure. It is said that specialists and managers have one hundred days to leave their own footprint. The culture of the new company is not even tangible at that point. Valuable time and energy are wasted on “research”, e.g., on the question of who the important internal and external stakeholders are, with whose goals and interests it would be better to become familiar. There is a risk of lack of focus, missed targets and unfulfilled expectations – simply because there is not enough communication, guidance, integration, and reflection.

A well-structured onboarding process therefore takes a holistic approach and, in addition to the administrative basics and the professional induction, also focuses on the cultural and social integration of the new employees. For all three aspects of onboarding, there are many helpful tools that companies can incorporate into a structured onboarding process to welcome people with appreciation, bind them emotionally to the company and quickly develop them into productive employees.

A coach as a sparring partner for new specialists and managers

In this article, I would like to focus on a tool that 11% of the companies surveyed by Haufe already use in the onboarding process: Coaching. A professional coach can meaningfully accompany the onboarding of new specialists and managers, assist with reflection, and support with topics such as leadership, team collaboration, focus and self-management, and corporate culture.
This applies to all new specialists and managers. However, it is particularly true for new employees who are confronted with challenges, high target expectations or the need for high problem-solving skills from the very beginning. This includes, for example,

  • specialists who are moving into their first leadership position
  • managers transferring from outside to larger companies with complex (matrix) structures
  • managers whose department or business unit is undergoing transformation
  • newly created positions
  • staff positions with lateral leadership responsibility
  • positions with known conflict potential in the department or work area
  • positions with a failed predecessor and correspondingly high pressure of expectations

Regardless of the quality of the onboarding process, wherever people work with people, in a yet unknown corporate culture with unwritten rules, individual issues can arise for which new specialists or managers want a sparring partner for (self-)reflection. In my experience, coaching processes in onboarding deal with topics such as

  • uncertainties in strategy development and focus for oneself and/or the new work area
  • communication with the manager “does not run smoothly” and expectations are unclear
  • own role (goals, tasks) is unclear
  • difficulties in building relationships with the team
  • uncertainty about which stakeholders to build relationships with
  • strengthening the manager in challenging situations (e.g. transformation, conflicts)
  • reflection of one’s own understanding of leadership for the new role
  • reflection and sensitization for the corporate culture and the systemic interrelationships of the new company
  • knowledge transfer (change management, organizational development) to support transformational processes

Coaching for the superior manager in the onboarding process

Some parts of the onboarding process can be taken over by the HR department or by team colleagues as part of a sponsorship. However, integrating the new specialist or manager into the team and the company is primarily a management task and requires a permanent presence of the superior manager in onboarding. Also, important onboarding tasks such as agreeing on objectives, clarifying responsibilities, feedback conversation and performance appraisals cannot be delegated by the manager.

For some supervisors, these onboarding tasks can be challenging. The shortage of skilled workers usually leads to an increased workload – even more so if the company culture emphasizes specialist tasks at the expense of management tasks.

A professional coach can sensitize the higher-level manager to their role in the onboarding process and support them in reflecting on their own expectations of the new team member. A coach can also support the manager as a sparring partner in preparing important onboarding tasks. This includes, for example

  • familiarization with the corporate / divisional strategy and existing plans
  • transparency about possible challenges of the new position
  • preparation of conversations with internal / external stakeholders on strategy and market situation and challenges
  • clarification of mutual expectations regarding communication and collaboration
  • planning of regular feedback meetings during the probationary period

No doubt, the onboarding process places great demands on managers. However, the reward for these efforts is a motivated specialist or manager who can quickly grow into their role and make a productive contribution. Difficulties with the new role or culture can be detected and eliminated early on. In the end, the quality of the onboarding process plays a decisive role in determining whether new employees commit to the company in the long term or whether time and money are again spent on recruiting.