Let’s start off with a quick quiz, shall we?

Transitions can be:

  1. Exciting
  2. Terrifying
  3. Difficult
  4. Rewarding
  5. All of the Above

Yep, you’ve got that right. Onboarding a new employee can be all of these things— and many more.

Reaching your desired destination requires a clear picture of where you are currently standing. If you aren’t completely honest about where your new hire is right now and where you want him or her to go, it is impossible to identify the right strategies to make it happen. And without the right strategies in place, you could be headed down a dark and scary road.

When it comes to driving success, you need to be able to see both the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Being aware of the challenges and opportunities that accompany a transition makes them much easier to recognize, and recognizing obstacles and strengths makes it easier to create a plan to maximize positive potential and mitigate negative setbacks.

Let's take a look at some typical onboarding challenges that often present themselves during transition.

Learned behaviors 

Every new employee comes from somewhere. Whether they’ve been in the workforce for three months or 30 years, they have developed particular habits and behaviors. Some of these behaviors will be beneficial to their new role and some of them will hinder their success.

Keep a close eye on how your new hire works. Cultivate the positive habits like crazy. When you notice negative habits that are counter-productive, resist the tendency to let them slide or address them later. The sooner you re-frame and re-train, the better the odds of a terrific transition.

Skills gaps 

Hiring the right person is a delicate mix of hard skills and soft skills. If you’ve hired primarily for skill set, it’s possible that your new employee will need minimal training to get up and running. That said, it’s important to remember one key fact: Even though that person may have done the exact same job for 20 years, they haven’t yet done it for you.

The very same job function will have its own unique set of nuances and requirements at every organization. Never assume your new hire already knows how you want things done. Take the time to clearly explain processes and expectations.

If you tend to hire primarily for culture, you will have an excited new hire that may need quite a bit of skills training. This may require a significant amount of additional time and patience. The good news is that skills can be taught. And if you’ve found yourself a fantastic cultural fit, the process will be much easier and more enjoyable.

Take your time, set realistic expectations, and share the training duties to avoid potential onboarding frustration. Plan for a longer incubation period and celebrate progress as it happens.

Aversion to change

Some new hires have a hard time adjusting to unfamiliar environments and new ways of doing things. Unfortunately, this is a challenge that can be very difficult to overcome. Ideally, your candidate search process is designed to attract people who enjoy a good challenge and value adaptability. If you look for these traits when hiring, you’ll have the pleasure of onboarding employees who are flexible and eager to learn.

If you do bring on a reluctant new hire, the most important things to do are to set clear expectations and be consistent. If you’re open to alternative ways of doing things and want to give that person some flexibility to work in their comfort zone, great.

But never let a new employee who is set in their ways undermine your processes and culture. You’ve worked hard to build these things and you owe it to your team to weed out those that aren’t a good fit. If this turns out to be the case, cut this person loose sooner rather than later. You simply cannot afford to hang onto employees who don’t share your vision.

Lack of commitment

If your new hire lacks the commitment to learning, working, or adapting, please see above. But what if it’s you?

Are you too busy to mentor your new employee? Have you been putting off important training topics? No matter how awesome the hiring process was, if you aren’t both 100% committed to a great start, things will not go well. You, and everyone on the team, must carve out the time to teach the necessary skills, answer the inevitable questions, and focus your efforts on successfully bringing that person into the fold and up to speed.

Now that we've covered some of the basic challenges, let's take a look at potential opportunities that transition can bring.

Natural strengths

There are significant areas of strength within yourself, your team members, and your new hires. Identify what they are and use them to the fullest extent possible. Delegate onboarding tasks according to natural strengths and talents. Have someone who loves public speaking? Let them run the welcome meetings. Got a great writer on staff? Ask them to take a look at your new hire communication pieces. If you discover a new strength in one of your employees, new or not, point it out! Then give that person opportunities to use it on the job.  

New Energy

Having new people around brings a new dynamic to the team. While you may have forgotten how cool your remodeled office is, if your new hire is clearly impressed, it reinforces it for everyone. Same goes for your culture, employee benefits, vacation policies, and whatever else you’ve got going on.

New energy also means new ways of looking at things. Sometimes a different set of eyes on a problem or process is all you need to get on a path toward improvement. Why not take advantage of this little energy boost? Harness your new employee’s excitement and use it for good.

The positive side of change

For every person who hates change, there’s another one who craves it. Often, it’s your top performers who love mixing things up. Exceptional people are driven to be successful and will gladly take on new challenges to achieve results. Your best applicants and new hires may have been out there looking because they were stagnant, bored, or under-challenged. Use this to your advantage, not only during training and onboarding, but as they continue to progress.

Provide pathways to opportunity within your organization to keep your new hires motivated. In other words, make sure the grass is nice and green right where they are. If they can see exciting new possibilities within their own organization, they’ll be less inclined to look for them elsewhere.

The best part? All that great onboarding you’re doing will be SO worth it!


This is the third post in a series of blogs about how to effectively onboard new employees. For more information on this topic, read How to Effectively Onboard New Employees, and 6 Ways to Accelerate Learning. Subscribe to this blog to receive new HR-related posts each week.

Photo by paulbr75

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