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Engineering Onboarding: How It’s Different and Why You Need It

Kristen Buchanan

When a new hire is brought on to a company, there’s generally a training program or orientation in place to help them get acquainted with the company, its policies, and the basic outline of the position. Usually, it doesn’t go much further than that — and employees are expected to hit the ground running immediately after this welcome packet is handed to them.

This is the status quo: a stack of forms to complete, a brief history of the company and its policies, a tour with a lot of new names to memorize and hands to shake, and IT setting up an email inbox.

That’s how it’s done, right?

Maybe — but it’s far from effective.

As crucial as it is to get onboarding right, companies and startups often underestimate it. Sometimes, they completely overlook it: often, they don’t know they need a revamp (or even a program in the first place) until their office doors start revolving.

To retain top-notch people and enable their best work, you need more than traditional company onboarding. A smooth transition from hire date to year mark requires a framework and process that communicates exactly what the employee needs to know, when they need to know it, in a way that will create a lasting impression.

We like to call this functional onboarding.

What is functional onboarding?

If you’re not familiar with functional onboarding, don’t worry. While it’s a fairly intuitive concept, a lot of people are new to the term.

To clear this up and get to the good stuff, let’s first focus on what exactly we mean when we talk about functional onboarding, and how it’s beneficial.

We define functional onboarding as the learning and knowledge that new hires need, specific to their department and role (function). Functional onboarding is an in-depth, guided journey into the employee’s new job beyond their duties and expectations.

Functional onboarding illustrates how a position fits with, informs, and is informed by the others around it. It imparts the central message of what the company truly is so that the employee feels that they’re part of a whole and that they’re working toward something.

This approach takes into account the differences between teams and departments, and then weaves them together dynamically to facilitate cohesion. It’s at once a bird’s eye view of a company, and a dive into its most intricate details.

Why does functional onboarding make sense?

If you’re an employer, chances are you’ve either experienced or feared the following: you hire a promising employee with a stellar resume and set of skills like a swiss army knife, but they quit right before their six-month mark with the company. The hiring manager has to brush off the job postings all over again while coworkers scramble to pick up projects left in the lurch.

Research shows that employees decide in their first six months whether they will stay or go, and the deciding factor is usually the existence (and effectiveness) of an onboarding program.

Most employees are fully functional at about one year with their new employer. At this time, they truly understand the company and its nuances, as well as those of their role and service or product.

If a company wants an employee to have a good experience, do their best work, and stay on for years to come, then their welcome mat has to extend past the typical greeting most companies provide their new hires.

The cost in time and money of losing an employee and restarting the hiring process is enormous. For example — if new hires have to sit down for two to three hours with each person on a team, and there are 10 new hires in a rapidly-scaling startup, that’s 50 hours spent on training… and this training is likely neither effective nor lasting, so all in all, it’s a waste of resources!

Functional onboarding makes sense from a business perspective, saving those resources and creating returns on your investment.

Functional onboarding makes your employees happy — which makes your profit margin happy too.

In Edify’s experience, new hires have a great amount of anxiety about the specifics of their new job. At the offset, they’re still wrapping their minds around the company, its product, and the market — all while being expected to reach peak performance in zero to sixty.

To use a recent example from some of Edify’s work in the past year, let’s take the case of a new member of an engineering group. This new worker had such a difficult and disorienting experience that they had to take a medical leave of absence — in their first three months!  

Do I really need it?

We often see companies independently realize the need for functional onboarding after a few negative experiences. Even if they haven’t heard the term, it’s intuitive.

If any of these indicators sound familiar, it’s a sign the company is in dire need of a functional onboarding program:

  • Rapid hiring, especially if the company is young
  • High rates of absenteeism
  • Newly-hired employees leaving after six to 18 months

There’s a big difference between showing and teaching, which is where many training programs fall short. This can be due to design gaps or professionals not having the bandwidth, time, resources or instruction necessary.

Edify’s approach to onboarding is different. We go deep to identify all those tacit, need-to-know things about your company and its roles. Our Touch Point Matrix helps identify what knowledge and experiences a new hire should be exposed to — and when to deliver them.

We create a manager checklist, toolkit and operational plan, and ensure that all documentation is present to keep the structure in place. We help you get the functional onboarding that you and your hires need to thrive.

Neglecting essential onboarding throws away all the time and energy you spent finding that perfect-fit employee. Talk to us about your experiences, and we’ll create a comprehensive functional onboarding program that will help you close that revolving door and get back to business.

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