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Exploring the onboarding process

Workforce mobility is at its highest right now with people constantly looking for new and better opportunities. HR departments are already aware of these trends and act accordingly by keeping an eye out of fresh talent to be reeled in.

Yet once the contracts are signed, a very important process begins: onboarding. Companies understand and do this very differently.

When I was working as a trainer for a big telecommunications company, I was in charge of the induction day. We had a nice presentation about the organization and its values, products and services, HR information, confidentiality forms and many many more. I had to introduce team-leaders and managers (if they were available they would come in person and say a few words, if not I had some short films with welcoming messages from them) and then I had to conduct the safety instructions training and tell grown-ups not to get into an elevator walking backwards.

All in all it was a fun day but it had some little minuses – people did not remember much from the tons of information I was literally throwing at them and once it was over they were supposed to already feel like part of the organizational family.

Some numbers

With people leaving for new horizons as soon as something does not sit well with them, the onboarding process has become more important in the new-hire economy.

Christine Marino has researched the topic and published the findings in 7 Need to Know Facts about Employee Onboarding. Perhaps the most relevant result of her inquires was that employees who are involved in a structured onboarding program are 69% more likely to stay with that organization for 3 years.

Furthermore, she notes that by having onboarding programs set up, companies can increase retention by 25% and improve employee performance by 11%. The absence of such processes greatly weighs as a factor for quitting as 15% of employees say this was one of the reasons for their decision.

This all shows us that onboarding should be very important for any organization. But what is it really?

What exactly is onboarding?

Merriam-Webster gives a very short yet loose definition of onboarding –“the act or process of orienting and training a new employee.” Come to think of it, it’s what all L&D departments do continually, not only for new hires but also for more experienced workers and even seniors.

A more detailed description comes from Human Resources MBA - “the concept of onboarding is one used in the context of business and human resources that refers to the process of orienting new employees in a manner that aids in overall retention. It goes beyond what we’ve come to know as orientation. This process focuses on helping employees to become acclimated to their new workplace in a timely fashion and bringing them “on board” with regard to company culture, understanding of job function and overall comfort level.”

This depiction takes into consideration two key elements: the time aspect and the human component. Successful onboarding is not done in a day and is built around the employee rather than company policies.

Bottom line remains, if a company manages to handle this properly, odds are employees will stay longer and be more productive.

Onboarding basics

So what should an organization do in order to ensure its onboarding process is adequate under current conditions? First of all, it still needs to include those standard items that have been important ever since companies started out: an outline of company mission and values, a glimpse of the organizational culture, an explanation of general company-wide procedures and policies, a presentation of key business process and an introduction of the important-to-know people in the company.

Talking about important points such as compensation plans, affirmative action and complaint resolution process is a good start toward ensuring new employees that they are valuable and their rights are being respected. And of course, administrative items and paperwork should also find their spot since they are really important for compliance.

Of course, every organization is unique so apart from these generalities, it will need to take a good look at what it is doing currently and add, adapt and deploy an improved onboarding process.

Ten steps for sprucing up your onboarding program

The analysis should be conducted by a mixed team of HR professionals, team-leaders and some employees who have recently gone through the existing process. There are ten things they should do before signing off on a new, bullet-proof onboarding program:

  1. Identify the issues with the current one – figure out what is not working, what employee complaints are and what the outcome of these problems is;
  2. Isolate the greatest challenge – odds are that in the first step, a lot of small and big glitches will come up; it is important to list them according to importance and see what comes up at the top of that list;
  3. Make a list of possible solutions – this is the time for some good old-fashioned brainstorming; everything that comes up should be written down even if it sounds a bit crazy because some of the best ideas come out of the wackiest innovations;
  4. Decide what the success indicators will be – what should the program do that is not currently doing and how will that translate into numbers;
  5. Narrow-in the solution that will best generate the best results of those indicators – it is sort of a mix and match situation when at least one idea that came up during brainstorming should connect to what is on the “desired results” list;
  6. Integrate the solutions into the program – in a way that is not disruptive but will still have an impact, of course;
  7. Get management buy-in for the new program – it is important that any new endeavor in this department has at least one important sponsor from the stakeholders;
  8. Run a beta version of the new onboarding process – it’s good to tell participants that it is recent material and that their input is very valuable;
  9. Get as much feedback as possible from the trial sessions – it’s best if several channels are used for this, even informal ones (it’s amazing how much valuable information one can get during a coffee break);
  10. Adjust according to ‘customer demands’ and start deploying the new and improved program.

First impressions may not always be right but boy are they long lasting! Make the first impression your organization leaves with a new employee a powerfully positive one.

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