Preboarding Stops New Hires From Walking Away From Already Accepted Offers

What could be more frustrating than working for months interviewing and selecting the perfect candidate, only to have them not to show up on their first day of work? Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly common for new hires to walk away from an offer that they have already accepted, or even worse, become no-shows on their scheduled start date.

This is because as the economy heats up, desirable individuals are continuously getting better offers, even after they have accepted yours. There is also an “ethics shift” going on, and because of it, fewer individuals now feel any sense of guilt about walking away from an offer that they only accepted days ago. Some will simply not show up for work, without even bothering to call or to notify you in any way. Obviously you can’t fire or sue these walk-aways but if you institute a pre-boarding process and take the right proactive actions during it, you can get the number of no-shows down to almost zero.

Preboarding Has Many Benefits

Onboarding programs have a well-deserved reputation for being poorly designed, undermanaged, and their results are seldom measured or quantified in dollars. Preboarding is the often omitted phase of onboarding that begins when an offer is accepted, and it ends on the new hire’s start date. It should also be considered the last component of the candidate experience. Preboarding is primarily designed to get new hires up to speed and ready for their first day of work. Typical preboarding activities include providing information, frequent contacts, providing training, benefits sign-ups, and taking actions to increase their commitment to the firm before they actually start. There are many reasons why organizations should invest in effective preboarding, including:

  • Faster employee effectiveness –– preboarding can give these new hires an early boost in becoming assimilated during their “notice period” (i.e. the time after they have given notice at their current job). The goal is to reduce the time that it takes for a new hire to become effective on the job (i.e. to reach their minimum level of expected productivity).
  • Learning the culture — New hires can get a feel for the organization’s culture and the firm can show that it is proactive.
  • Raising their excitement level — It can excite the new hire and make them look forward to their first day at work. You can also make them feel needed, valued, and get them engaged sooner.
  • Meeting and know the team — They can get a chance to electronically meet their team, their manager, and other new hires. Onboarding can also help them better understand their role and the roles of their teammates.
  • Employer branding and referrals — The best firms use preboarding to turn new hires into brand ambassadors where they tell their colleagues the positive features of the new firm and they begin thinking of which colleagues they might turn into an employee referral.
  • Reducing fear and self-doubts — It can reduce fear and uncertainty about what their first day will be like. It can reduce anxiety and build their confidence that they can do the job. By adding some online training to preboarding, you can also strengthen areas where the new hire needs improvement.
  • Improving early retention — Preboarding can reduce early turnover. Research by IBM has shown that preboarding activities can increase first-year retention by as much as 80 percent. Involving current employees in onboarding also increases their engagement and their “ownership” of new hires.
  • Reducing no-shows — And finally, preboarding can dramatically reduce those walking away from offers and first-day no-shows. This final benefit is the focus of the remainder of this article.

Preboarding Is the Best Way to Stop the Pain Of No-Shows

In addition to the obvious goal of shortening the time the productivity, preboarding has a secondary purpose … to minimize the possibility that currently employed candidates will, unfortunately, rethink their decision to accept your offer. Your goal should be to stop having a single “no-show” among your new hires because no-shows are extremely frustrating to hiring managers and recruiters. But also because of the added expense and time required to refill the position that you thought was closed. If you are not aware of the no-show phenomena, you will be soon, because they have historically increased as the hiring market improves.

The Top 25 Preboarding Actions for Reducing New Hire No-Shows

You can minimize these no-shows by taking proactive actions during their two-week notice period (relocations may require more time, and for college hires, the time period could be months). This time period is also called “the blackhole” because frequently nothing occurs to reinforce the sale (i.e. your job offer) during this time period. Obviously some of the recommended actions provided below are quite bold, but if you want to cut no-shows to zero, you have no other choice but to take aggressive actions. Obviously when a high impact job is involved or if the cost of having a no-show is above average, you should add more aggressive actions. The preboarding actions to consider are found below. They are listed in their descending order of effectiveness.

  1. Give them a “show-up bonus” — If you’re really bold, offer them a small “show up bonus” that they get on their first day of work, or alternatively, after completing one month of work. Signing employees to an employment contract can also be effective.
  2. Frequent contact from the recruiter and the hiring manager — Direct contact is the No. 2 most powerful reinforcer. And because frequent contact is so important, both recruiter and manager should call the new hire periodically just to check in. (But also to answer any questions or to counter any doubts … Skype calls may be even more powerful.)
  3. Face-to-face meetings — It’s simply more difficult to walk out on people who you know well. So schedule an off-site face-to-face meeting over drinks, coffee, lunch, or dinner within a week after accepting to reinforce the sale. During their notice or waiting period, they probably won’t be able to visit your firm during work hours, but consider having them visit the firm at night or on a Saturday to reinforce their commitment.
  4. Get them to quickly sign the offer letter — If they only accepted verbally, get them the formal offer immediately. Encourage them to quickly sign and return your formal offer letter, because that might by itself increase their commitment level. If it is possible to do it quickly, have them sign it in your presence, because that will further reinforce the sale (consider taking a picture of both of you when they sign it). Having them sign some forms or sign up for activities like training may also reinforce their commitment.
  5. Notify you when they quit — Consider telling them that you expect them to resign immediately, and also ask them to let you know immediately when they have formally done so.
  6. Stop job searching — If you’re bold, simply tell them that you expect them to cease all job-search activities immediately. Make it clear that you hold them to their word that they will immediately stop talking to recruiters.
  7. Notify their references — Consider notifying their references that they have accepted your offer, and thank them for their help. The references will likely call them with congratulations. And knowing that others know that they have made a commitment will reinforce their need to show up on the first day.
  8. Influence their families — Send their families small gifts and a welcome letter so that they will reinforce the need for the candidate to show up. Also send the family T-shirts and product samples to increase their support.
  9. Post an announcement — Placing an announcement that they are starting at your firm on your social media pages or even in the local newspaper can also put peer pressure on them to show up. Sending out a tweet can also be a good idea.
  10. Provide them with an e-mail account — Having a working e-mail and internal social media account shows them that they are part of the team, and it makes them easier to connect with. Sharing the e-mail addresses of all teammates may also help to increase their communications options.
  11. Maximize contact with their teammates — When appropriate, enable their teammates to get to know the new hire before they start by giving their teammates a link to their LinkedIn profile, or just send them a bio. Consider encouraging their teammates to also email or text them, to offer invitations to connect on social media, or just provide the new hires with links to the social media sites of the team’s employees. Next, just to provide them with more contacts from your team, encourage the administrative assistant, IT or anyone to call them, either to tell them something or to ask them a simple question (i.e. about their computer, software, or phone needs).
  12. Reinforce their acceptance decision – Immediately thank them in writing for accepting. Also reinforce the sale by reminding them that they have chosen wisely by listing again what you have to offer and why they said yes. Remind them how much they are needed and that their team is counting on them.
  13. Make them aware of their scheduled activities — Let them know that you have activities already scheduled for them. If you’re really bold, tell them that the senior manager or even the CEO will personally greet them on their first day. The thought that a senior person will realize that they are a no-show (and the fact that it may hurt them in this industry) will reinforce their need to show up on their first day.
  14. Provide information to reduce first-day anxiety — You increase the likelihood that they will show up if you minimize any anxiety they might have about their first day. That means providing them with directions, parking information, what they should wear, what they should bring or not the first day, and anything else that has caused anxiety among past hires. Also, let them know their office location, phone number, the type of computer they will have, and make them aware that their physical worksite is ready for their arrival.
  15. A personalized welcome video can show that they are expected — A personalized video can show the manager’s and firm’s commitment to the new hire. The video can be made by the people he/she will be working with, so the new hire feels welcomed and comfortable working in what will now be a more familiar environment. Also, consider sending them a picture of their work area with the team surrounding it to remind them that everything is set up and ready for them to go on the first day.
  16. Reduce any “can’t do the job” fears — Realize that even though they accepted, they may still have serious doubts that they can’t actually do the job. So remind them that they clearly fit the firm/job and that they clearly meet each of the qualifications. Let them know that everyone is 100 percent confident that they will succeed.
  17. Assume that others are trying to reverse their decision — Realize that their manager and their colleagues will be continually working on them to change their minds. So proactively provide them with some powerful counterarguments that have proven to be effective. They might include: it’s best for my family; it’s simply time for a new challenge and environment; it’s a dream chance and I have to take it; if it doesn’t work out, I can always come back; I need to diversify my work experience, so it’s time to move on; my new team really needs me too and it wouldn’t be fair to let them down; I’m simply burned out and I need a change for my health; or I gave my word and I won’t go back on it.
  18. Be ready for a counteroffer — After a few days of accepting, it’s a good idea to specifically ask them if their boss is still actively fighting to keep them. Or simply assume that they will get a counteroffer from their boss, and be ready to make a counteroffer if your company allows it.

Actions that reveal to them the impact of reneging

  1. Make them aware of the cost of a no-show — Some will rethink reneging on their acceptance of a job if you make them unaware of the economic consequences that they are creating. Therefore, let the new hire know generally the amount of time and money spent on their hiring. Also, make them aware of the added dollars that they will cost the firm if the hiring process must be restarted and the cost to the firm if the position remains vacant for at least another month.
  2. Make them aware of manager/recruiter impacts — Making them aware of the human impacts can also help. Let them know that if they are a no-show, it will make the hiring manager look bad and it may even hurt their recruiter’s career (who fought for them) if they don’t show.

Dual-purpose actions that can reduce no-shows and increase a new hire’s performance

  1. Assign them a mentor — If you’re going to assign them a buddy (as Google does) or a mentor, don’t wait till they start the job. Have that individual contact them and begin helping the new hire during their notice period.
  2. Pre-hire training — Provide them with at least minimal optional online training and online onboarding activities before they start. These may cause them to develop faster and they may also increase retention.
  3. Send them a starter package — For professional jobs, consider sending them a starter package that includes their mobile phone and laptop. Also include their new business cards and message pads with their name on it to make them feel like they have already formally joined the team. This package will likely startle them because it doesn’t happen at most firms, but it will also show that you trust them and that you are invested in them.
  4. Send an information packet — Send them a packet of company information, with links to websites, wikis, blogs, company social media sites, and videos that describe and introduce them to your firm. Include in it a list of frequently asked questions with answers that you have gleaned from previous new hires. Give them a number to call if they have any questions or concerns and a checklist covering everything to do up to and including their first day. In the case where many hires are starting at the same time (i.e. college hires), you should consider setting up a social media network so that the group of new hires can communicate with each other.
  5. Send them a new hire survey — A simple survey covering their recruiting / candidate experience will reinforce the fact that you care. A survey covering their job and training needs will let them know that their individual needs are important both to the manager and the firm.

Reasons Why New Hires Change Their Minds

Yes, I know that “they promised,” but being negative simply doesn’t help. Managers and recruiting leaders need to know which factors can cause these new hires to change their minds. Some of the pressures that these new hires are facing include: going away parties, pleas from their colleagues, counteroffers from their manager, late arriving offers from other firms, and “first-day fears.” If a relocation is involved, the pressure from the family to reconsider may be enormous. Recruiters from agencies or other firms can frequently make the problem worse because once they hear that one of their recruiting targets has accepted an offer, the best (and especially agency recruiters that face losing a fee) rather than giving up, will redouble their efforts to immediately get their target to change their mind. Taken together, each of these factors can easily give your new hires cold feet and cause them to at least think about backing out of their promise.

Preboarding can also help during M&A — Preboarding can play a powerful role in mergers and acquisitions. It can smooth the transition and the integration of the two firms. It can also decrease their “time to productivity” and it can improve the retention of the acquired employees who you decide to keep.

Final Thoughts

Don’t be fooled in the thinking that having only a few no-shows is no big deal, because the costs are significant. But also remember that the preboarding actions to reduce no-shows are simple, inexpensive, and highly effective. In addition, there are various emerging vendor technologies that make preboarding easier every day. Lastly, even if no-shows are not yet a big issue with your firm, there are so many other benefits associated with preboarding that you should make it a priority to add it to your onboarding activities.

Author’s note: Special thanks to Teodoro Diaz for his research contribution to this article.

As seen on ERE Media on JULY 20, 2015

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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