Current State of Affairs

Despite the importance of onboarding, the process is often overlooked. According to the Learning Match Maker, 91% of employees stay with a company for at least a year if that company has an efficient onboarding process. That number only drops to 69% after 3 years.

According to Jenn Fenwick, Director & Career Coach at Rebel Road Coaching, onboarding within Medical Affairs is not at the level it should be at and needs a concerted approach. “Ironically, I think at junior levels, it’s done in a very organized, comprehensive way but for more senior hires, it’s very hit and miss. I don’t think it’s comprehensive enough, and it tends to be quite operational as opposed to really integrating the new hire into the culture, values and purpose of the organization. Pharma companies are missing a massive opportunity to really front-load investment in their people to give them the best chance of success. I worked for many years in pharma and there is huge investment in finding the best talent and attracting and recruiting those people. But as soon as someone has accepted a job and then signed a contract, it’s just radio silence and I’ve seen this across the board in pharma.”

In Medical Affairs, in particular, where competition for talent is fierce because it has grown at such a fast pace, the number of roles quite often outnumber the talent out there. “I think this is where organizations across the board are missing a huge trick. For example, in Germany, if you’re an MSL, you could have seven job offers on the table. From an organizational perspective, how do you get chosen as the best organization and then how do you ensure that your prospective hire is not wooed off by someone else in that couple of months between contract and in-role commencement. There’s a massive opportunity for organizations to engage and win over the hearts and minds of their new employees before day one.”

Mette Aagaard, Founder of consultancy firm TWIN, former Corporate VP, Global Head of People & Organization, R&D, Novo Nordisk agrees that there can often be a dramatic contrast between the initial “wooing” stage and the new hire experience. “In many cases, people experience a dramatic decrease in attention, time and money invested, and the attention from more senior leadership. That is always unacceptable because it should be, preferably, a coherent continuum from being exposed to the employer brand, going through the recruitment process, and then right through to being an employee of the company. In my experience, I still don’t think that there is sufficient emphasis placed on onboarding. There are good initiatives here and there, but generally, it’s as if the willingness to invest both time and money decreases, the more internal the perspective is.”

Why Onboarding?

  • 64% of new executives hired from outside the company will fail at their new jobs. In contrast, the percentage for those who are promoted is 38% (Ciampa & Watkins, 1999).
  • According to Bradt, Check, and Pedraza (2006), 40% of leaders going into new organizational roles fail during their first 18 months.
  • New leaders need four months to become fully functional in their jobs. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean fully productive.
  • It takes a mid-senior manager an average of 6.2 months to reach a break-even point-the point at which a new leader’s contribution to the organization begins to surpass the company’s costs of bringing the person on board (Wells, 2005).
  • 90% of new employees make their decision to stay at a company within the first six months on the job (Aberdeen Group, 2006).
  • First impressions are important. New employees decide within the first 30 days whether they feel welcome in the organization (Friedman, 2006).
  • The estimated organizational costs of a failed executive-level hire could be as high as $2.7 million (Bossert, R., 2004). With the recent skyrocketing salaries of hiring new CEOs, this figure is sure to rise.
  • Research has shown that attitudes and beliefs that newcomers develop toward their organization generally form very early and can remain relatively stable, highlighting the importance of instilling positive attitudes early in an employee’s relation with a company (Bauer & Green, 1994; Wanous, 1976).


A REVIEW OF ONBOARDING LITERATURE, Guangrong Dai Kenneth P. De Meuse Lominger Limited, Inc., a subsidiary of Korn/Ferry International.