SMART Onboarding

SMART onboarding

My day job is all about rewarding top performers. It’s a great concept, really…employee incentives are achieved not only by company performance, but by setting and attaining meaningful personal goals that impact the organization.  Needless to say, goal-setting is a frequent topic of conversation around the company!

The other day, I was thinking about my own goals and the old, familiar “S.M.A.R.T.” acronym.  And that made me think about how organizations would benefit by utilizing this same concept when developing their onboarding strategies…so I scribbled it down and have been chewing on the thought for the past few days.

And here we are.  SMART onboarding:


What are you trying to achieve in your onboarding program?  Do you even know?  (I’ll give you a hint: Saying “Our goal is to integrate new hires into the organization” won’t cut it.) Could you articulate the goal of your organization’s onboarding program to a colleague or executive?  The intent of your program should be clear to everybody, in the language that is meaningful to them.  


Metrics matter.  If your onboarding program isn’t tied to business objectives, you are missing a key ingredient to your program’s success.  You need to know where onboarding can impact the bottom line, and measure it.  Depending on your organization, it could be a variety of metrics…increased employee retention, increased employee engagement, quicker time-to-productivity post-hire, more sales, making fewer errors, less IT tickets, a reduction in legal or employee relations issues, higher performance review scores, more satisfied customers…you name it.  Find out what matters in your organization.  Find out what keeps your executives awake at night, and measure it.  I could talk for a week on this topic, but for the sake of this post, I will move on to…


Is it assumed that new employees should quickly make a impact on the bottom line, regardless of the onboarding experience?  Are they given necessary tools and resources to get the job done?  Has their job description been clearly defined?  The hiring manager and other stakeholders should partner with the new employee to get started, anticipating the inevitable learning curve.  Setting incumbents up for success means knowing what is attainable, and what is simply too deep for the first days and weeks on the job.


So many orientation and onboarding programs are nothing more than an overwhelming information dump.  In the first days or weeks of employment, new employees are given every possible detail of everything they could possibly ever need to know.  Umm, really?  Not only is this a supreme waste of time for a new employee, but also for the poor sap that facilitates it.  Context is the name of the game.  As new employees become familiar with their surroundings, organization, team, manager and role, then new information, tasks and projects are better absorbed.  This isn’t always possible, as fast-moving organizations often have shifting priorities, or that “new hire training” period is pre-determined by the business need.  That said, work with it.  Do what you can to ensure that what is expected from your new employees is truly attainable.  Set your new employees up to truly perform in their new roles.


We want new employees to make a difference (and so do they).  In their roles.  On their teams.  Throughout the organization.  Clearly communicate why every component of their onboarding experience is meaningful and relevant for their success.  Whether that experience lasts one day, one week, one month, or several months.  Let them know what they can expect from you, as the owner of the onboarding program, and when they can expect it.  Keep an organized calendar of events.  A new employee should always know what’s offered and available for them, and when to expect it.

So, there you go…a different way to think about the ol’ SMART acronym.  And maybe, just maybe, a different way to think about onboarding.

Your turn: How are you making your onboarding programs SMART? Are they SPECIFIC, MEASURABLE, ATTAINABLE, REALISTIC, and TIME-BOUND?  Do tell!

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