What are the Four C's of Employee Onboarding Framework?

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Author Talya Bauer, Ph.D.

Introduction

During the 25 years that I have studied the employee onboarding process, I have witnessed the power and direct impact it has on the success of organizations. I discovered that key levers could be identified and broken down into core components of effective onboarding. From those findings came the 4 C’s of employee onboarding as a framework to illustrate these key elements. In this article, I will explain the “why” behind employee onboarding and share each of the 4 core elements, or best practices, of employee onboarding.

Why is employee onboarding important?

My research, and that of many other scholars, has consistently shown that effective onboarding leads to faster adjustment, better job attitudes, more customer referrals, better performance, and stronger retention.

The statistics are sobering, with half of all hourly workers leaving their new jobs within the first 120 days and half of all senior external hires failing within 18 months in a new position.

When onboarding goes well, individuals and organizations thrive. When it goes poorly, the adverse outcomes can be equally influential with high levels of dissatisfaction, low engagement, poor performance, and high turnover.

It’s a risky strategy to rely on new employees to “sink or swim”. Organizations can help new employees maximize success by engaging in onboarding best practices. These are based on research, consulting, and observations regarding new employee success that consistently show that when you invest in new employees, they invest back into their co-workers, customers, and the organization.

Kickstart your employee onboarding program in less than a week using our step-by-step process laid out in this article.

The Four C’s of Employee Onboarding4 Cs of Employee Onboarding (1)

I first developed the 4 C’s of onboarding a decade ago based on the academic research done on effective onboarding and published by the SHRM Foundation (Society for Human Resource Management). They are Compliance, Clarification, Connection, and Culture.

Four C's of employee onboarding #1: Compliance

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Compliance refers to the mandatory actions needed for all new employees. It is the housekeeping of the onboarding process. This includes completing paperwork, the badging process, and provisioning tasks like equipping new employees with computers and phones as well as a workspace.

Organizations, even those that claim they do not have a formal onboarding program, must be compliant at this basic level to stay in business. Due to this, many employees spend their first day on the job filling out forms and miss the opportunity for connection.

Organizations spend millions of hours and billions of dollars working through the recruitment funnel to attract candidates, identify qualified candidates, assess candidates, and then finally hire them with the hope that they join the organization. The irony is that they spend much less time thinking about improving the employee experience.

Four C’s of employee onboarding #2: Clarification

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Clarification refers to how well new employees understand their roles and performance expectations. Of course, organizations hire new employees to do specific jobs, so clarifying what they need to be doing, how to do it, and how the organization functions in terms of rules and policies are important.

We also know that structure and clarity are essential for individual and team success. But spending time learning these basics is not the most exciting way to spend your time when you’re new.

 

It’s essential to build ways to help new employees understand what is expected of them and make them feel equipped and supported in their decision to join your organization. Further, it gives them confidence in their ability to do a good job, which feeds into the next C. 

Four C’s of employee onboarding #3: Connection

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Connection refers to how accepted and valued new employees feel. When new employees feel connected to their colleagues, they feel safe. Research has consistently shown that a sense of connection leads to various positive individual and organizational outcomes.

When new employees feel connected and secure, they ask questions and try new things. Additionally, they engage more fully with their co-workers, their roles, and the organization with a greater sense of appreciation. It is a factor that helps new employees feel that they made the right decision to join the organization.

Gallup has consistently found that having a close friend at work is related to a 50% boost in job satisfaction and that those employees with a best friend at work were seven times more likely to engage with their work fully.26F[i] This starts with onboarding. If new employees feel alone and isolated on their first day, it can be challenging to recover, as researchers found at Microsoft.

Four C’s of employee onboarding #4: Culture

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Culture refers to how well new employees understand their new organization's norms, values, stories, and symbols. Onboarding is one of the key ways organizational culture is formed, maintained, and changed.

When I was working at Google, we focused on onboarding as a KPI in People Operations because the number of new employees at Google was forecast to double within 18 months.

That turned out to be true. We needed to identify the Google culture and how this growth would impact it. One important consideration was acknowledging the stories about how the company was founded yet respecting that its norms, missions, and goals were constantly evolving.

Onboarding is a great way to teach your people what matters within your organization. It is also a great way to learn about how your organization can evolve for the better and learn about the contributions of new employees to the organization’s future.

The evolution of employee onboarding

The 4 C’s of employee onboarding evolved into the 5 C’s of onboarding with the addition of Confidence. It further evolved into the 6 C’s of onboarding when I added a layer of practicality called Checkback.

Each of the 6 C’s is an essential component of onboarding that indicates an increasing level of effectiveness as an organization’s onboarding process progresses on the scale from Compliance to Checkback.

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[i] C. Riordan, ‘We all need friends at work’, Harvard Business Review, July 3, 2013. Last accessed 12/21/21. https://hbr.org/2013/07/we-all-need-friends-at-work