With three quarters of UK employers struggling to fill key posts, and with an average cost-per-hire estimated at more than £5,000, is it time to work a little harder to ensure that your most important asset sticks around?

“It just didn’t work out.” “He wasn’t a good fit.” “She didn’t really ‘get’ what our firm is all about.” Explanations for hiring fails are often couched in the vaguest of terms.

Take, for instance, the example of a stellar new recruit who takes the decision to jump ship after a few months and whose departure is described as “one of those things”. Sometimes it’s easier to reach for a glib excuse to explain it away – rather than attempt to flesh out the reasons for what actually happened.

Think about the level of investment and sheer hard work you put into finding new talent. Now compare this to the effort that goes into the introduction phase for successful candidates. Is there a disconnect? If your response to this is simply to ask, “What’s an introduction phase?”, it’s a sign that you’re at risk of putting that investment in jeopardy.

Keeping talent on board: a matter of luck or design?

If you joined the Bank of America as a senior executive between 2001 and 2006, the odds were that you’d be there for the long-haul. In fact, of the 189 top execs employed at this time, just 12 percent of hires were to end in premature derailment.

Now look at those dates again. These were the heady days before the financial crisis, at a time when talented individuals could cherry pick top positions – and where the industry derailment average was 40 percent. So did Bank of America merely get lucky?

On looking at the bank, researchers from the U.S. Society of Human Resource Management found that on their very first day with the company, each exec underwent an orientation programme. This was more than a quick tour: day one activities involved being fully briefed on the business, history, culture and values of Bank of America.

Giving new recruits a thorough sense of “Who we are” and “What we stand for” was seen as just as much a priority as explaining “What we do”.

This was just the start of it. A written plan of action, key stakeholder meetings, a programme to foster relationships between the new executive and the rest of the team: these were all elements of a carefully honed onboarding plan, running its course over several months. This was the Bank of America difference.

Can you afford not to care?

It isn’t about leaving new employees with a warm glow just for the sake of it. The logic behind the Bank of America approach was to ensure that new recruits would hit the ground running: delivering better results, faster. Underpinning all of this, the company was fully aware of the cost of hiring fails.

Here in the UK, the average price of talent acquisition – in other words, the outlay linked directly to the recruitment process, is estimated at over £5,000 per hire. But there’s much more to the true cost of recruitment than things like agency fees.

While you’re busy trying to fill gaps and you’re operating at less than full strength, what’s happening to your work in progress figure, for instance? How is customer care being affected? What’s happening to staff morale?

On top of the time spent sourcing that new recruit, it takes an estimated 28 weeks for a new starter to reach optimum productivity. That’s a long time for your company not to be firing on all cylinders. And if the hire fails, it’s a case of back to the drawing board as the whole costly cycle starts up all over again.

You promised the earth at the interview. So what next?

Step into the shoes of a promising new recruit. You’ve captured her imagination with a carefully crafted job proposition. Throughout the selection process, you’ve wowed her by invoking a real sense of what your organisation is all about; where you hope to go and why she should join you on that journey. So far, so good.

If you were to follow that very same recruit to her first day at work, a different picture might emerge. Left alone to languish in a cubicle to plough through the office manual, that “dynamic, collaborative environment” that was promised in the talent branding video may seem like a distant memory.

This is the day she’s been waiting for – but it’s hard to summon up much passion if you’ve forgotten everyone’s names and you’re not quite sure where the kitchen is.

Netflix does things better. “Which laptop do you want? How do you like it configured?” For a developer, onboarding starts before day one with a phone call to get a feel for how the new starter likes to work. Come the start date, his desired set-up is all ready and waiting for him. A dedicated mentor is also on hand to help with bootstrapping.

Two things are happening with this orientation: he’s getting to grips with the Netflix way of working and the Netflix ethos and aspirations. He’s submitting code within a matter of days. He ‘gets’ what the company’s about and where he fits in.

And in all likelihood, he’s sticking around.

This is us. Are you with us?

“Our aim is to develop successful, committed and mutually beneficial relationships with each of our employees.” This is how L’Oreal sums up its two-year onboarding programme, dubbed “L’Oreal Fit”. In common with all successful programmes, it’s much more than an induction and neither is it as simple as an orientation exercise. It’s about putting together a plan that ensures your new team member is set up for success.

That’s not to say that copying the approach of the L’Oreals of this world is the way forward for you. There isn’t a universal blueprint. You have your own way of doing things, your own vision and your own story to tell.

An intense, generically-corporate onboarding ‘bootcamp’ for instance, might be just as off putting to a new starter as having no introduction plan at all – especially if that programme bears no relationship to what your company stands for.

Zappos puts its cards on the table from day one. These are our values and this is how we operate: if you don’t consider yourself a good fit, we’ll offer you $2,000 to quit right now. In a nutshell, that’s the company’s five-week training course. Extreme transparency, it seems, pays off: the percentage of raw recruits who accept the cash is less than 1%.

Going, going, gone?

The clock is ticking. 40% of employees who move on from a company do so within the first six months. The fact that almost half of them leave for positions on the same level of salary or less, shows that this isn’t about hard cash.

Leave an employee with a sense of alienation, lack of direction and a mismatch between what was promised during the recruitment process compared to their perception of reality within your organisation, and you’re all set up for a hiring fail.

Take onboarding seriously, on the other hand, and research suggests that you’re 69% more likely to have that employee as part of your team three years down the line.

Putting in the work at the beginning, in other words, pays dividends.