Question: Getting new hires up to speed faster


Our organization has a fast-paced and execution-driven culture, which also gives individuals a lot of flexibility in their work.

However, we still have a LOT of acronyms and process quirks like other large corporations. It takes us anywhere between 4-6 months to get a new employee fully contributing. Needless to say, the opportunity cost is really high and we want to improve our onboarding process.

Recently, we have enlarged the scope of our employee orientation (managed by HR) to get new hires past some of the common hurdles.

We are also brainstorming ideas on what can managers and teams do to get their new hires productive faster.

Your advice is much appreciated.

Thank you,


7 Expert Insights


Good onboarding is a process that must be eased into so the new hire is not overwhelmed and has a clear understanding of the priorities.  Yet a 4-6 month waiting period to bring someone up to speed seems way too long!  I would strongly suggest that the training process is your problem child.

First, let HR run day one with paperwork, and culture introduction.  Move the new hire into their work environment, getting them to their desk, cube or counter, setting up systems, email, phone and the all important tour for the bathroom and lunch room.  Introduce them to people, give them a list of people resources with names, phone numbers and emails.  Once new hires feel a part of the organization, they are willing to begin learning.

Training should be a combination of skills, policies, operations, tools, and on the job partners.  Testing each phase, and practice with feedback.  Learning should be in the format (classroom, online, etc.) based on how each area is best learned.  Acronyms, as an example, are best learned with a job aid that can be easily referenced.

Managers are critical, but often they are left to their own to figure out how to support the learning process.  Give them specific roles, and monitor their participation.

You have an easy problem to fix, and I agree that you need to improve the onboarding process quickly.  Let me know if you would like help.


In addition to all of the good logistical answers you'll get here, let me suggest that you take some time with the new hire and help them identify and articulate their strengths - what they hope to bring to the team, what experiences they've had, and where they would like to grow.  This is best done in an open forum (not just with the manager, but with the team) and can use standardized instruments (such as the DiSC) or some format that is common to all.  Knowing how and where you will contribute, and having an idea of your long term growth path are essential to retaining good people for any longer than a month.


I have a number of questions and recommendations for you - as your question is loaded with items that could be impacting the issue:

1. From your question, you state - ..."which also gives individuals a lot of flexibility in their work." - have you considered that the flexibility folks have in their work opens you up to a lack of standards and repeatable processes, language and practices being followed - which creates issues in on boarding and ramping new hires into the business.

2. However, we still have a LOT of acronyms and process quirks like other large corporations. - is this one of your HR objectives - to standardize, clean up, and/or minimize these things in the operations of the business?

3. You note 'it takes us anywhere between 4-6 months to get a new employee fully contributing.'  How do you define 'fully contributing' - is that clearly defined, mapped out, and integrated into a new hire onboarding plan?  Contributing is one thing, someone being fully embedded into a company, team or culture can take time - so ensure there is clarity and realism in when and how someone should be 'fully contributing'

4. How have you calculated opportunity cost? Is it an ROI you are expecting from them over the year against the investment made into the new hire (full compensation, training costs, etc.)....   what is the conversion period you are expecting?

5. You note - Recently, we have enlarged the scope of our employee orientation (managed by HR) to get new hires past some of the common hurdles.  - 'enlarge' is concerning, as it implies expanding vs. simplifying....

Overall,  I would simply recommend pulling a team of managers and recent new hires - discuss the pro's, con's, areas for improvements and what's working - establish a plan  but be realistic about the culture your mission/vision calls for - and ensure the People processes support it.


My compliments to your fast-paced, execution-driven culture, and your consequent focus on getting new employees up to speed. My suggestion to you is to implement open-book principles, which will help bring employees up to speed faster, as well as improve the engagement of existing employees.

Let me briefly explain why I say this.  By making the economics of the business transparent and involving all employees to understand, improve and participate in the economics of the business, one creates the learning organization.  The additional clarity of goals / metrics will make it clear to new employees what to focus on and how they can contribute.  This is particularly important in a company like yours, that wisely offers a lot of flexibility.

I have seen this work in over 300 different companies, from small / medium sized companies to large companies like Southwest Airlines, a particularly fun client of mine.  Southwest is particularly relevant, since they also are a fast-paced, execution-driven culture that focusses on their onboarding process.  As you know, Southwest is legendary for their employee engagement and results.  Several Harvard Business Review articles provide more background on OBM:
http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/12/a-winning-culture-keeps-score/
http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/06/share-your-financials-to-engage-employees/
http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/10/track-customer-experience-but-dont-forget-the-financials/

If you would like to discuss the specifics of your situation, I would welcome hearing from you.


In addition to many of the previous comments, I would recommend that any new hire should have a key relationship map and they meet regularly with and understand from their perspective what their world is like and how they can support and what value they can bring to the table.

Find it helpful with quicker culture assimilation, understanding the business expectations and helps prevent siloed behavior.


Mentors for new hires is my favorite recommendation to accelerate ramp up. Make sure they have one for each key area - Product/technology, Process, and most important organizational Culture and people.


First of all, this is your one chance to make a good first impression, so keep this in mind in developing your on-boarding process.

In terms of the first day, hold the orientation in a well-designed location that honors your mission and history, celebrates your employees and positively shapes their view of the organization. Don't hold orientation in a dreary, boring room.
Second, make sure each speaker that addresses the new employees is a champion of the direction your organization is going. You don't want to have a bunch of cynics drone on about your company and turn new employees off on the first day.

Beyond that, assign a mentor to each new employee in order to help them navigate through your organization. That will help make them comfortable and get them off to a good start. If possible, make orienting the employee the responsibility of the team to which the new employee will be assigned. It is much more welcoming if everyone is responsible for welcoming and orienting the new employee, rather than a busy supervisor. Along these lines, the team should make sure the employee has a desk, telephone, computer and other material waiting for him rather than forcing him to wait for days if not weeks for the requisite supplies.

Finally, develop with the employee a knowledge management plan that identifies how the employee will get up to snuff as quickly as possible. Such a plan should list what knowledge is needed by the employee and how he will get it. The plan should state how he will learn both the codifiable knowledge (the rules, procedures, manuals etc.) needed to succeed as well as the tacit knowledge (the art of the job.) The team, mentor or supervisor, as appropriate should then frequently monitor how he is doing in terms of gaining knowledge to ensure he is off and running as quickly as possible.