Onboarding Strategic Planning

The 5 Biggest Mistakes of Onboarding New Employees

What do you think of when the term “onboarding” is used?  It has come to mean the process of getting new employees “into the system,” so they can start working for you.

But onboarding can be much more – it can be one of the most powerful employee recruitment, training and productivity systems that you can have, a real competitive advantage.  With that in mind, here are the 5 biggest mistakes that companies make, and how to avoid them.

#1 – Onboarding is just processing forms.

This is understandable, as there are a lot of forms to process to properly set up an employee.  Here are the most common:

  • Signed offer letter or employment agreement
  • Other legal agreements (confidentiality/non-compete, ectc.)
  • W-4 federal tax form
  • State tax form
  • Legally required notices (such as Paid Family Leave, Sexual Harassment)
  • Form I-9, eligibility to work in the US
  • Required ID that is needed with the Form I-9
  • Direct deposit form
  • Employee Handbook and acknowledgement of receipt
  • Background checks/drug testing results if applicable
  • Company specific data collection forms

It is important that this be done right at the start, and a good checklist will make the job easier.  The mistake is thinking that the onboarding process is complete once this is done.  In fact, it should only be the start.  This is a good time to begin the employee’s orientation into the company.

The Solution:  create a starter pack for each new employee.  Along with the above forms, add a document that explains the company history, goals and culture.   You may also add an organizational chart, or specific “things to do on your first day.” 

#2 – Introductions are the same as team building.

It is typical to make an announcement, “hi all, Suzy has joined the sales team,” make some introductions, and then get to work.

This is a mistake.  Suzy will not remember everyone’s name, know where the meeting room or bathroom is, have any idea of who does what, and will in general feel like a high school freshman on her first day of school – so you have to treat her as such, and really get her involved with the team.

The Solution:  your new employee should not be alone.  Pair them with an office buddy, add them to a work team, have them shadow someone for a week.  The first 30 days are critical – they will either begin to feel comfortable being a part of the new team, or they will start to isolate themselves and question their decision – and you will too.

#3:  Assuming that the new employee knows what you want.

Just because Suzy has the skills and experience for the job does not mean she knows how you want things done, let alone the expected results.

The Solution:  You – the boss – need to sit down with your new employee and show them how you think and prioritize and have them understand the results you are aiming for.  In particular, explain how you want customers to feel with your business’ product or service, and how they can do that in their role.  This ties into the company culture and goals.

#4:  Assuming that they need no training because they already have the skills.

Skills are transferable from job to job, of course.  However, it is a mistake to assume that the new employee knows exactly how to use them in your organization.  This is especially true of non-technical skills, such as sales or customer service.

The Solution:  Create standard operating procedures for each job and task.  Your employees can create these.

Then, create a competency based training program, with a checklist, to get them going in the right direction and assess their progress.  Pair the newcomer with another employee and have them work together on a daily basis.  Don’t give them the answer to every question as sometimes a little struggle helps to stretch their knowledge.  Instead, refer them back to the standard operating procedures.

In addition, you don’t have to know everything – send them to training!  It is ok to invest some money in professional training and development courses, which are widely available.

#5:  Ignoring the warning signs.

You have invested a lot in recruiting and hiring your new employee.  Now they are on board, but early results are not good.  The biggest mistake is ignoring the warning signs:  missing deadlines, incorrect work, slow learning curve.

The Solution:  Have frequent “touch base” or “walk by” meetings, ask them how things are going.  If something is done poorly, be direct and ask them to do it again.  Clear communication actually creates trust.  If they respond well, praise them.  Silence will lead to confusion and misunderstanding: “I thought I was doing a great job!”

If they are not going to make it, make a decision quickly.  Believe me, no one likes making a decision to terminate an employee they have recently hired.  But if it is inevitable, then better for everyone to get it done sooner rather than later.  If appropriate, you can give them some time to find a job with a better fit for them, or severance pay to help them.


Onboarding does require a certain amount of administrative processing.  But that is only the start.  You can do so much more with an effective onboarding program, increasing your employee’s enjoyment of the job, creating a stronger team, and improving productivity.  

You don’t have to do this all at once – take it step by step and build on it, until you have a powerhouse onboarding system.

 Interested in building a great onboarding system but don’t have the time? Schedule a call and let’s discuss how we can help.