Onboarding programs and the onboarding process might seem like a relatively new concept, with these and other buzzwords finding their way into modern businesses dialect it is easy to get lost in the hype around the latest buzz word. The actual process of onboarding new talent is not a new concept and it is something that has gone on for as long as businesses have existed, however, it has only really taken focus as a key business process all of its own more recently.
To clarify the meaning of ‘onboarding’…
the action or process of integrating a new employee into an organization or familiarising a new customer or client with one’s products or services.
As businesses evolve, so does terminology but it is important to recognise that onboarding and orientation are two separate things yet the process of orientation can be part of the onboarding program (but not the other way around). Orientation really refers to the red tape which both parties like to get out of the way as quickly as possible but the onboarding process could span a year or more. We will explore this in a little more detail.
Orientation and Beyond
An orientation into a business is a very formal affair, with most new employees completing an induction before they start their official job and completing the necessary paperwork and basic training to give them the starting point to build from. Orientations usually last one day and can be stressful for new starters and sometimes for the person offering the induction. An orientation would usually follow a set plan or guideline regardless of the new employees role, history or gender, the new recruit will learn the basics of things like organizational Health & Safety requirements, company policies and mission statements and who to contact if there is a problem/what to do when they are sick etc. Orientations can leave the inductee with a sense of pressure that they have to remember all the information off by heart and more often than not, an overwhelming feeling that may not reflect positively on the role or company that they are stepping into.
It goes without saying that orientations are a necessary step when moving into any new role and can be insightful for new employees as they meet their new colleagues and get introduced to an unfamiliar place of work. While they might be fundamental to the job, and in many cases cover things that make them a legal requirement (fire drills etc), what they aren’t so good for is offering a plan of action specific to that employee and discussing expectations for each individual within a time frame or introducing people to a support network; A run of the mill exercise to get new recruits on board without making sure they stay on board for the long haul is a bit of a box ticking exercise rather than something that helps the organization or employee long term.
Enter the onboarding program! Onboarding can start before an orientation has taken place and take a new recruit right through to promotion and even years beyond. Successful onboarding strategies will ensure higher employee retention rates and job satisfaction gained through confidence in the business and employers. All staff, from corporate to retail, rely on a regular income to pay the bills, but when there is no clear route for career progression, how are employees expected to commit or show loyalty to the business they have just joined when such loyalty is seemingly not reciprocated? If an employee is working the same job for several years and cannot see a route for progression their most likely approach to getting a pay increase is going to be to look around for another job in another company, in some organizational cultures asking for a pay rise or promotion can be more awkward than handing in notice.
The problem is time. Companies need to recruit fast, exceed budget targets and then follow each year up with further innovation year on year. Where do employees stand in this rolling turnaround when time has not been invested in them as carefully as it should or could have been and how can they be ready to succeed when they don’t have a good mentoring system in place to track their progress? Adopting an onboarding program and providing ongoing support for employees helps take care of all of this, it has been proven to be perticularly effective when mentoring woman or minorities. Employees working in an organization for a year to 18 months often still consider themselves as “new”, however, after a few months in a company people are often expected to be able to “get in with it” if left to their own devices.
The Best Onboarding Programs
A great onboarding program will enable employers to bring staff in to their business and give them the tools and confidence to carry out their job role effectively. The new starter may receive some kind of pack, containing a plan with training and insight specific to their job, tasks assigned to their level of competency and timescales for completion with a timetable for periodic reviews to discuss their progress. This needs to be prioritized and never pushed to the side in the interest of completing “proper work”. A solid program will make sure you as the employer, are always up to date with your staff and their level of learning. A side effect of this is that you are aware of the level of talent in your organization and where to look to fill holes in skillsets.
For all parties involved the onboarding program should feel exciting, and innovative. It should give new starters the feeling of inclusivity while training them exclusively and help them to feel as though they are part of a bigger picture.
A successful program will teach your new recruits all about the culture and values your company wants to convey and will do this through practice and two way engagement. The classroom environment is outdated, tech can make things more streamlined, and modern expansive companies often engage a more informal setting for this process, encouraging participation and discussion to gain the desired outcome.
Onboarding Process Steps
Make sure the process is clear and concise. Interviews with the potential inductee are crucial at this stage to inform them of the kind of future they can expect from your company. You can hire someone following an interview who has exceeded expectations on paper, or who has relevant experience to the job role on offer, but have you made sure your company is the right fit for them? Will they work well within the team and have a positive relationship with their manager?
With employers accounting for up to one third of new starters as either no shows or resignations just before or during the induction stage, it is clear that simply giving a firm handshake and offering a job is no longer a way to ensure your new recruit will turn up for their first shift. Taking on a successful onboarding program and putting into practice a mentally stimulating orientation, using visual and practical exercises will be a huge stepping stone to making new staff feel like they are already invested and want to know more.
Integrating or at least introducing a mentoring program into the onboarding process really shows the mentor and mentee that the company is serious about mentoring and helps easily create a relationship between someone who is new to the business and a mentor who is familiar with company culture, structure and new starters role.
A good mentor needs to be empathic with the needs of a potentially anxious person who has just been introduced to the company and may be having doubts about any number of things, the relationship must be built on trust and confidentiality.
It may be surprising to learn that 20% and 30% of new employees will leave a company within the first 90 days. Many factors can contribute to this, including a sudden change in personal circumstances, illness, or an offer of a dream job which came up at a bad time, but it goes without saying that a higher numbers of new starters will leave if they do not feel welcomed, valued or maybe don’t have a clear goal set out for them where they understand exactly what is expected of them and just how they may progress within a company.
Consider when someone is looking for work they will rarely apply for just one job, it is more likely that they have attended several interviews and offers to work at other companies may come in after the recruit has started at your place of work, a second offer could offer higher pay or some other perk which may lure them away, however, you can take the first mover advantage by making them feel welcome.
Matching a potential mentor to an individual or a small group of people is no longer a guessing game and mentoring software can really help streamlining this process. There are a huge number of tools being utilised at every corporate level to distinguish personality types and approaches to work activities. A great mentor will bring their strengths to the table, encourage participation and be a useful resource for their mentee.
The key to a successful onboarding program is not to rush through training but not to linger on sections that may not be needed for a certain individual. One section of an onboarding program might focus on ensuring that everyone who starts at the company has a basic understanding of how to use a CMS that may be relied upon throughout the company, this CMS training may only need an hour for someone who is highly marketing or computer literate but this same section may be a sticking point for someone who has just changed roles, it is important to cater to the individual and not make them feel rushed or exposed for taking longer than average on some parts of the process as everyone has strengths and weaknesses.
Neglecting the program or putting tasks off is something that can easily happen, without the right buy in and support an onboarding program can be seen as a distraction from the core business activity and can rapidly become seen as a chore, this is something that needs to be avoided at all cost.
As mentioned before, the first 90 days from a new recruit’s start date will be the most crucial time to instil the company’s culture and values and gain high rates of productivity if executed right. This does not necessarily mean the onboarding process should stop then, but it does provide a great base to build from.
One key point to highlight is that an onboarding program doesn’t have to be just for new recruits, it can be used during promotion or getting an employee ready for future promotion opportunities, or even to revisit skills after many years within a company to refresh and invigorate staff, bringing everyone to the same page training wise.
The introduction of an onboarding system is really just the starting point, without checkpoints, progress monitoring and feedback from everyone involved the process will fail, or at best prove difficult to justify from a financial standpoint.
The business case for an onboarding program is to integrate new people, increase productivity and retention rates, and ultimately improve business. The end goal for an organization is increased revenue and a workforce that believes in the company values and methods. This type of engaged workforce are more likely to turn up on time, give 110% and recommend the organization from the point of view of a customer, client or employee. It is promotion you can’t buy or put a price on.
Failure to check in causes disengagement
So, an employee has been with the company for 6 months, they had a successful orientation, have become part of the team and are regularly hitting their targets. They tick all the boxes but no one is there to tick those boxes and no one is there to review their targets or set them new ones. Our recruit doesn’t know whether they need to improve, their mentor has had limited time with them and they feel like they will only be getting in the way by asking their unapproachable mentor for some more one to one time this quarter as business is booming and everyone is just so busy.
One of the most valuable new assets to the company this year is now feeling demoralised and demotivated and is starting to make small errors or take short cuts as no one notices. They hear of a new workplace where an old friend started work 6 months ago, who is already on a training development plan for the next set of new initiates, their mentor checks in with them regularly, offering coaching and advice, introduces them to higher management and includes them in decision making processes. Where do you think our new recruit is now?
Check-ins reinforce both party’s confidence in the other and can easily be scheduled using supporting software so there is really no excuse to let a program fail because of this. By setting milestones for learning levels, and handling feedback in a less formal manner than a performance review, it gives the employee a chance to voice their opinion and clarify their current status especially where under-performance is involved. A mentor check-in should be productive and time-conscious and add weight to the onboarding program the new starter initially signed up for.
An Onboarding Kit for New Employees
The approach to inducting an employee into a new job or training program can be tailored and personalized to encourage inclusivity. It is not enough to ask recruits to just turn up and throw them into the deep end.
Careful planning and consideration into your company’s specific onboarding program and orientation process will be the difference between a new recruit leaving after that first day feeling devalued or energised. Small touches such as having enough bottles of water around the table for the group if inductees can make all the difference. It shows attention has been paid fully into how many people are attending and it says that you have confidence in them to attend.
A standard onboarding kit will have information such as log on details for the employee learning program, key dates and a timeline for training, a guide on who is who and a contract. These are all mostly expected for any typical induction or orientation.
Successful Onboarding Plans
Once the onboarding process is in place and there is a successful program initiating new recruits, with assigned mentors, planned check-ins and progress updates it is time to measure the success of the program, this can be done in a number of ways but three of the most popular are:
- Ask! Feedback via online surveys is part and parcel of most businesses as far as customer comments are concerned, so they should also be used to find out how employees currently view the job and their peers. They should have the chance to give feedback on training, orientations, environment and facilities, in an anonymous setting where they are more likely to give honest opinions. This is something that can be facilitated by way of software and providing the feedback from behind a computer screen really adds to the level of anonymity in play. Great mentoring programs allow new employees should to feel comfortable disclosing their opinions and offer feel their advice in how to improve for future recruits is welcomed.
- Staff Retention! Calculators are widely available for tracking this. However, it doesn’t require a mathematician to see whether more staff are staying with an organization on a smaller scale. Compare your rate of employee retention to the national average, to your sector and also to previous years. If the onboarding program is introduced in one department first that department can be compared against the wider organisation. Analytical data could also be used to measure the level of engagement that employees had within a mentoring program vs their rate of retention, this key statistic can go a long way to justifying a program on its own.
- Improved Business! How is the profit & loss report looking? Is the company generating more operational profit? The direct link between onboarding, mentoring and profit and loss can be hard to see, however, mentoring software can help simplify this process, in addition. If staff turnover cost you $x last years and that number has dropped that is a strong indicator that you could tally up financial success to your onboarding if this year the number has reduced.
While the above provide a nice general guide to measuring how effective an onboarding program is organisations should try to align their evaluators and program KPIs with the key needs of the organisation. Onboarding should not be looked at as an arm of the business to itself it needs to function within the overall business and be measured using the same critical thinking any other business process would be.