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Why Onboarding Failure Is The Leader’s Responsibility

Whether you’re hiring a warehouse worker or a C-level executive, it’s a leadership responsibility to set new employees up for success. Failed integration always points back to the leader who didn’t plan properly, create and sustain clarity, notice that things were going off track, or take action to rectify problems.

Spare No Expense?

Failure is hugely expensive. The costs of selecting and training a new employee and the concomitant disruption to the organization as the new employee gets up to speed are significant even when everything works out just fine. But the opportunity costs that accrue when a new employee doesn’t work out are tremendous.

And most businesses don’t track or account for even the directly attributable losses. Depending on the size of the organization and the level of the failed hire, these total losses could run into thousands or millions of dollars.

First, there are the costs of replacing a bad hire and guiding the replacement employee along the learning curve. Then come the less obvious but far-reaching opportunity costs, starting with the productivity that is lost due to unnecessary organizational conflict and disruption. The negative impacts continue with squandered organizational good will and employee engagement, and often result in underperformance or the actual turnover of good employees.

Give It Your Best Shot

It takes leadership to strike a balance between the organization’s need for new hires and the disruptions that new hires create. Not every company has the structure and time — let alone the physical premises — to hold teaching sessions around these issues. No matter! The leader must take responsibility to:

  • Help the new employees’ colleagues and assigned teams explain what they’re about and the cultural customs that affect how they work.
  • Help new hires feel comfortable faster by finding out how they learn best and what things they need to learn in order to be successful.
  • Observe new employees and ask: Now that you’ve been on the job for four, six, eight, or 12 weeks, which things are clear and which are confusing?
  • Match the new employees with mentors.

When the Culture and the New Employee Conflict

There’s always the risk that the existing culture will assert itself in ways that quash the new person’s initiative: “This is how we do it, this is how we like it; do it this way or there’s no place for you here.” In the reverse scenario, and occasionally simultaneously, some new people actually have the hubris to think that they can “be themselves” and work however they like without having to fit in, as if the entire organization and its history should give way before their anointed glory and their inevitable achievements.

The truth is that no one’s that good or that special. But the converse is also true: Many people have the potential to do and be much more than they eventually deliver or become. Success comes when the leader ensures that the organization and the new employees learn how to play nicely together.

It can be excruciatingly hard to own up to the truth of our own disappointment or confusion. But when it turns out that a new hire is not what the organization expected — or what the organization now realizes that it needs — it’s crucial that the leader take decisive action to avoid continued damage to the organization, the new employee, and the leader’s own reputation.

Onward and upward,


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