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Bauer, T. N. (2013). Onboarding: The power of connection. Part 1 of the 3 part Success Factors Onboarding White Paper Series.
The Power
of Connection
Talya N. Bauer
Cameron Professor of Management
Portland State University
& Founder
Management Analytics, LLC
Onboarding: The Power
of Connection
Executive summary
Organizations compete for talent – and the knowledge, skills, and abilities new employees bring to
an organization. Those organizations that can harness the power of their new talent faster can
create a significant competitive advantage.
That competitive advantage can be measured in real business results. Specifically, firms that focus
on onboarding, versus those who consider themselves to be “laggards”, reported these results:
First-year retention rate: 91 percent versus 30 percent
First-year goal completion: 62 percent versus 17 percent
Understanding the essential elements of employee onboarding, knowing how to do it well, and
facilitating the connection between new employees and organizational insiders is a major factor that
contributed to those results.
The white paper “Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success”6 breaks down the onboarding
process into four core aspects (the four Cs): compliance, clarification, culture, and connection.
Organizations that effectively coordinate these four aspects enjoy better outcomes for new
employees than organizations that don’t, including consistently higher job satisfaction, higher
productivity, and lower turnover.
While each of the four aspects of onboarding can be associated with one or more of the outcomes
listed above, only the ‘connection’ part of onboarding impacts all of those outcomes. As a result,
it’s an important lever that organizations should use to ensure that new employees get up and
running as quickly as possible.
Onboarding defined
Every year, millions of individuals begin a job with a new organization.1 An essential goal for
organizations is to get their new employees up and running both quickly and smoothly, so they can
contribute to organizational success. New employees must learn both the social and task-related
aspects of their jobs as well as the social and organizational-related aspects of their new
organization. To facilitate their success, a system should be in place to help organize the process,
information exchange, and adjustment of new hires.
This process is called onboarding and has been studied in the academic literature for decades
under the term organizational socialization.2 The term onboarding has gone from near obscurity to
most Human Resource directors in the1990s to the mainstream language of businesses and talent
management today, as 66 percent of organizations have some aspects of formal onboarding
programs and 53 percent invest in onboarding across a new employee’s first year.3 Research
supports the idea that while the early hours, days, and weeks of onboarding are especially critical,
the process of moving from organizational outsider to organizational insider develops during the first
year on the job.
The business case for onboarding
Each week, new studies and online posts bolster the evidence that effective onboarding significantly
improves an organization’s competitive advantage. For example, a recent Boston Consulting Group
study of the most impactful human resource management functions found that recruiting was related
to an organization’s ability to generate 3.5 times the profit growth and 2 times the profit margin.
Behind recruitment, onboarding was related to 2.5 times the profit growth and 1.9 times the profit
margin.4 Therefore, collectively, organizations that have good recruiting and onboarding programs
may enjoy 6 times better growth in profits and 3.9 times the profit margin than those organizations
that continue to employ a haphazard “sink or swim” approach to recruiting and onboarding.
Additionally, new employees who went through a structured onboarding experience were 58
percent more likely to remain with the organization after 36 months than those who did not. The
cost of replacing a new employee can be three times their salary.5
The four C’s of onboarding
To make sense of the burgeoning literature on onboarding, it is helpful to break it into the four core
aspects of onboarding (the four C’s), (which are summarized in my 2010 Society of Human
Resource Management white paper) and look at them individually:6
The 4 core aspect (four C’s) of onboarding are:
Compliance refers to the on-the-job basics, such as tax forms, employment paperwork, badges,
email accounts, computers, and workstations as needed for a given job. Organizations that have
effective compliance practices have been able to take these routine aspects of new employee
onboarding and make them less onerous.
Clarification refers to the details and context of one’s job, including an understanding of the job
requirements, the norms for accomplishing tasks, and how things are described internally and
externally (acronyms, for example). The sooner new employees understand their jobs, the sooner
they become more productive.
Culture refers to learning the unique organizational culture of a new organization. Much as
individuals have different personalities, patterns, and expectations, so do organizations. The more
quickly and accurately new employees can interpret and understand the overall culture and the
subcultures within an organization, the better their chances for long-term success.
Connection refers to the key interpersonal relationships, support mechanisms, and information
networks that new employees need to establish upon entering a new organization.
Each of the four C’s is important, but some have greater potential to create positive outcomes.
Organizations able to effectively coordinate these four aspects of onboarding enjoy positive new
employee outcomes, such as consistently higher job satisfaction, higher productivity, and lower
turnover than organizations that fail to deliver across these four onboarding dimensions.7
Organizations considered in the top 20 percent in terms of onboarding had 91 percent first year
retention, and 62 percent of new employees reached their first year goals—compared to the bottom
30 percent of organizations, which reported only 30 percent retention and 17 percent goal
completion for the same time frame.8 In organizations that practice the “sink or swim” haphazard
approach to onboarding, a majority of their new employees fail to achieve goal completion.
Focus on connection
While all of the four C’s are critical pieces of the onboarding puzzle, connection has a special role in
the onboarding process because it can directly influence important organizational outcomes, such
as new employee job performance, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, employee referrals,
intentions to remain, and turnover.9
Research has established that new employees who feel connected and accepted by their new
colleagues have less initial anxiety upon entering the new organization. A summary of more than
12,000 newcomers found that connection was the most important of the C’s, because it is the only
aspect of onboarding related to all of the outcomes.
When new employees feel more accepted, they take more risks, ask more questions, and are more
open to learning about their new job, role, colleagues, and organization. Thus, connection serves as
an important lever that organizations can focus on to ensure that new employees are up and running
as quickly as possible and that they have a healthy base of relationships within the organization to
draw upon as they encounter new challenges during their first year with the organization. Connection
can be the foundation upon which effective onboarding is built.
It’s difficult to imagine that a new employee who is feeling insecure, stressed, and overwhelmed will
be able to do his or her best. Given the foundational nature of connection, it is critical to think about
what organizations can do to help new employees feel accepted and welcomed before they even
start their first day on the job.
Connection mechanisms
Connection during the onboarding process is important. But what specifically can organizations do
to help best facilitate high levels of connection with their new employees for the benefit of both the
new employee and the organization?
Effective onboarding organizations employ several connection mechanisms. These include
assigning mentors and/or “buddies,” key introductions, key stakeholder check-ins, and the effective
use of technology during the onboarding process. The goal of each of these relational mechanisms
is to identify the people a new employee needs to meet as well as ways to ensure these meetings
take place early in the relationship and at regular intervals.
For example, having a mentor or buddy assigned to a new employee on his or her first day (or even
prior to Day 1) sends a signal to a new employee: The organization understands that being new
means an employee does not have all the answers. Getting those answers to a new employee so
he or she can feel confident and part of the organization as quickly as possible is important to the
organization as well.
Microsoft, for example, assigns mentors to new employees at all levels of the organization. These
individuals are part of the New Employee Orientation (NEO) program, and the mentor serves as a
key relationship for new employees. Similarly, L’Oreal states that “Our aim is to develop successful,
committed and mutually beneficial relationships with each of our employees.”10 This goal includes
individual mentoring and HR support for all new employees. Bank of America works with its
executives to ensure they have key stakeholder check-in meetings regularly across the first year on
the job. Rather than wait until a problem emerges, Bank of America designed these meetings to
head off potential problems before they grow by making sure newcomers receive focused attention
from a key insider who can help them be more effective in both the short and long run.
The following table highlights best practices for creating onboarding connections, the rationale and
research support for those practices, and some of the companies that follow the practices.
Best practices: Creating onboarding connections
Best practice Rationale and research support Company examples
Create seamless
transitions between
your recruiting
individuals, and
messaging to
the onboarding
process. Technology
can be an invaluable
aspect of this
Research shows that relationships begin well before a
new employee enters the organization; 77 percent of
the top 20 percent of onboarding groups agree that
onboarding starts before Day 1. What happens during
the recruiting process signals (for better or worse) the
organization as a whole. By integrating these two
pieces of the human capital management (HCM)
system, organizations have the ability to keep their
messages consistent, help to maintain applicant
interest in job acceptance, and maintain key
relationships formed during the recruiting process.11
Currently, organizations
rarely perform this
practice. This
opportunity is huge.
Most companies
separate recruiting
and onboarding
processes from one
another when they
should be deeply
Identify who is
responsible for
making sure each
new employee is
welcomed on his
or her first day.
Simple gestures, such as having the employee’s name
on the lobby television the first day or making sure
someone takes the new employee to lunch, are vital.
Research shows that new employees who meet with
someone in their immediate team on the first day of
their job feel more connected and accepted than
those who do not.12
Consider which
of the connection
discussed may
work within your own
organization, and use
one or more of them
(e.g., assigned
mentors, stakeholder
check-ins, “buddies,”
or effective use of
The important point is not which of the mechanisms
are used but rather that specific planning and attention
are paid to creating mechanisms to ensure that they
exist. For example, mentors have been shown to be
highly effective during onboarding.13 Similarly, as social
media continues to become more and more widely
used, leveraging internal social networks becomes a
potentially valuable way to connect new employees to
one another and to other individuals in the organization
who can help answer questions and encourage
interactions early on when new employees need it.
Facilitate and
encourage ongoing
Networking is a powerful tool, but it can be especially
invaluable for new employees who are learning their
new organizational landscape. Organizations can
accelerate this process by formally and informally
creating opportunities for new and more established
employees to meet and share information.14 This
approach has the advantage of allowing new
employees access to insider insights, but it also allows
more veteran employees to learn from new employees
in a nonthreatening environment.15
Bank of America
Ernst & Young
Reinforce the
value of each
new employee’s
authentic self as
he or she enters
the organization.
Research indicates that focusing onboarding around
what the new employee can bring to the organization
instead of how great the organization is can result in
large gains for onboarding success. Those who
received individual onboarding had 157 percent less
turnover than those who did not.16 This shift in thinking
about how individuals can be valued during the
onboarding process is a far cry from “assimilation”
type thinking, but research indicates that small
investments can have large gains resulting in win-win
situations for newcomers and organizations alike.
Huntington National Bank
Onboarding is the key to getting new employees up and running both quickly and smoothly.
Organizations that are able to leverage the power of connection during onboarding by specifically
identifying answers to the who, what, when, and where for connecting established and new
employees benefit in a variety of ways, including enhanced new employee performance, higher job
attitudes such as satisfaction and commitment, and decreased turnover.
Author Bio
Talya N. Bauer (Ph.D., Purdue University) is the Cameron Professor of Management at Portland
State University in Portland, Oregon as well as the Program Director for The Conference Board’s
Onboarding Talent Council. She is an award-winning teacher who conducts research about
relationships at work in general and onboarding in specific. She has published in the Academy of
Management Journal, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Management, and Personnel
Psychology, works with organizations, and has been a Visiting Scholar in France, Spain, and at
Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, CA. She is the former Editor of the Journal of
Management and serves on the editorial boards for the Journal of Applied Psychology, and
Personnel Psychology. Her work is cited by numerous media outlets such as New York Times,
BusinessWeek, Wall Street Journal, and Harvard Business Review.
1 Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012). Job openings and labor turnover.
2 Bauer, T. N., & Erdogan, B. (2010). Organizational socialization: The effective onboarding of new employees. In S. Zedeck, H.
Aguinis, W. Cascio, M. Gelfand, K. Leung, S. Parker, & J. Zhou (Eds.). APA Handbook of I/O Psychology, Volume III, pp. 51-64.
Washington, DC: APA Press.
3 Laurano, M. (2012). Onboarding: The missing link to productivity. Aberdeen Group.
4 The Boston Consulting Group & World Federation of People Management Associations (2012). From capability to profitability:
Realizing the value of people management. BCG.
5 Wynhurst Group (2007). Onboarding. Presentation at the Annual SHRM Conference, Chicago, IL.
6 Bauer, T. N. (2011). Onboarding new employees: Maximizing success. SHRM Foundation’s Effective Practice Guidelines Series.
7 Laurano, M. (2012). Onboarding 2012: The business of first impressions. Aberdeen Group; Bauer, T. N., Bodner, T., Erdogan,
B., Truxillo, D. M., & Tucker, J. S. (2007). Newcomer adjustment during organizational socialization: A meta-analytic review of
antecedents, outcomes, and methods. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 707-721.
8 Laurano, M. (2013). Onboarding: A new look at new hires. Aberdeen Group.
9 Bauer, T. N., Bodner, T., Erdogan, B., Truxillo, D. M., & Tucker, J. S. (2007). Newcomer adjustment during organizational
socialization: A meta-analytic review of antecedents, outcomes, and methods. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 707-721.
10 Your career at L’Oreal:
integration.aspx?&profile=&profileExcl=&. Retrieved on June 10, 2010.
11 Boston Consulting Group (2012) (see above); Walker, J., Bauer, T. N., Cole, M. S., Bernerth, J. B., Feild, H. S., & Short, J. C.
(in press, August 2012). Is this how I will be treated? Reducing uncertainty through recruitment interactions. Academy of
Management Journal.
12 Shepherd, W. (2012, December 4). Designing for onboarding success at Huntington National Bank. Pre-conference Workshop,
The Conference Board’s Onboarding Conference, NY, NY.
13 Ostroff, C., & Kozlowski, S. W. (1993). The role of mentoring in the information gathering processes of newcomers during early
organizational socialization. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 42, 170-183; Yang, C., Hu, C., Baranik, L. E., & Lin, C. (in press).
Can protégés be successfully socialized without socialized mentors? A close look at mentorship formality. Journal of Career
14 Conger, J. A., & Fishel, B. (2007). Accelerating leadership performance at the top: Lessons from the Bank of America’s
executive on-boarding process. Human Resource Management Review, 17, 442-254; Bruesehoff, D. (2013, April 24).
Onboarding for Success: Challenges and Opportunities, The Conference Board’s Onboarding Talent Council Webcast
15 Gallagher, E. B., & Sias, P. M. (2009). The new employee as a source of uncertainty: Veteran employee information seeking
about new hires. Western Journal of Communication, 73, 23-46.
16 Bauer, T. N., Erdogan, B., Cable, D. M., & Truxillo, D. M. (2011). New employees come with new ideas: The role of
socialization on newcomer idea acceptance and creativity. In S. Nurmohamed & S. J. Ashford (Chairs), Symposium entitled
Coming in with the new: Directions for research on socialization and newcomers with J. Kammeyer-Mueller as discussant.
Academy of Management Conference, San Antonio, TX; Cable, D. M., Gino, F., & Staats, B. R. (2013). Breaking them in or
eliciting their best? Reframing socialization around newcomers’ authentic self-expression. Administrative Science Quarterly, 58,
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While a great deal of research has investigated strategies for increasing job seekersí initial attraction to organizations, far less is known about how job seekers respond to recruitment activities after application submission. We draw from signaling, uncertainty reduction, and uncertainty management theories to develop a conceptual model of the relationship between recruitment interactions (contact episodes) after application submission and organizational attraction. We test this model in three independent studies with data collected at multiple time periods. Study 1 employed a time-lagged research design with actual job seekers. Findings showed that justice perceptions associated with recruitment interactions influence organizational attraction indirectly and directly via positive relational certainty (i.e., reduced uncertainty regarding how organizational relations might be upon entering the organization). Study 2 used a controlled experimental design to provide additional evidence of the relational certainty mechanism through which justice signals influence attraction. Finally, Study 3 incorporated a longitudinal (repeated measures) design to examine reactions to recruitment interactions across 10 weeks. Results indicated that the relationship between justice signals and organizational attraction via positive relational certainty is dynamic in nature, suggesting that organizations should carefully manage their communications throughout the recruitment process.
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APA Handbook of I/O Psychology
  • W Aguinis
  • M Cascio
  • K Gelfand
  • S Leung
  • Parker
Aguinis, W. Cascio, M. Gelfand, K. Leung, S. Parker, & J. Zhou (Eds.). APA Handbook of I/O Psychology, Volume III, pp. 51-64. Washington, DC: APA Press.
Onboarding: The missing link to productivity
  • M Laurano
Laurano, M. (2012). Onboarding: The missing link to productivity. Aberdeen Group.