Onboarding describes the range of actions and activities that take place when a new employee starts with a company. It far exceeds “orientation,” which is the nuts and bolts of filling out the necessary forms and grasping the physical layout of the office. It’s often a stressful time for the individual as well as the company. For the new employee, it’s their first exposure to the administrative side of their new employer, including learning new policies and guidelines.
The company, on the other hand, has to ensure that they get onboarding right, meaning setting up the employee for success in their new role, capturing all their information correctly and educating them about common workplace rules, to ensure maximum productivity from the outset. There are also legal documents to be signed, benefit plans to be chosen and the organizational culture has to understood. Even the physical workspace needs to be set up.
The onboarding process is a long-term one that introduces the employee to what they will be responsible for accomplishing in the first 90 days to one year on the job. They are given the goals and expectations of their role, in addition to specific training for their new position. They will have to get to know the company’s history and its business strategy, as well as understanding how that relates to their own role and its objectives.
The best companies put a lot of thought into this onboarding, conducting sessions with employees on the first day and even throughout the first week. They will then put together a series of sessions to afford the new employee the opportunity to understand what is expected of them and the steps they must take to achieve their targets. Employees often fill out paperwork electronically before arriving on site. Onboarding processes widely vary from firm to firm, yet many companies still have not fully developed this crucial process, leaving the results to chance, which can be very disappointing to employees and affect their level of engagement with the company. Consider the financial importance of this process:
- It takes between $3k and $18K to replace an employee.
- It takes 8 and 12 months for an employee to reach full proficiency.
- It costs $37 billion to keep unproductive employees who do not understand their jobs (US & UK).* (The statistics was taken from here)
These statistics alone should underline the importance of the process. With technological improvements in recent years, companies can alleviate some of the tedium of collecting information by transferring it from candidate records to employee files. However, the onboarding process is not simply about entering the correct information into a system. It’s also a new employee’s welcome to the company culture, an induction to the company philosophy and an outline of what is expected from them as an individual.
In Onboarding New Employees, Maximizing Success (SHRM, 2010), Tanya N. Bauer gives us the 4 C’s of onboarding that should be included in the process every time:
- Compliance is the most fundamental level of onboarding and includes teaching employees basic legal and policy-related regulations.
- Clarification ensures employees fully understand their new job and all related expectations.
- Culture is a broad term and includes providing employees with a sense of organizational norms — both formal and informal.
- Connection refers to establishing the vital interpersonal relationships and information networks.
At our high-tech electronics firm, we realized that people had difficulty adapting to our culture. First, we had an issue with offers being accepted, but new hires not starting with the company, as they chose another offer over ours. Then we had new employees who felt lost or unmotivated after the hype of getting the job and starting with the company, and they would then leave within a relatively short period of time. We were concerned because, as we were growing, we wanted to attract a high caliber of new talent.
– Creating an HR committee
We created a committee to restructure our onboarding process to make it more user friendly. This group consisted of hiring managers, functional heads and human resource (HR) managers discussing why these issues were arising and the impact they were having on the company.
– Conducting research and making changes
We knew we wanted to attract quality talent and retain them, so we conducted research in the form of focus groups with employees who had been with the company between six months and a year. We asked them about their experiences of starting the job — how did they feel during the process? What was their experience of their first day and first week on the job? We learned a lot about our own processes: our employees felt isolated, even intimidated. We realized that this was not the first impression we wanted to make.
– Mailing a pre-boarding package
We started by putting together a package of materials to address ‘post-offer syndrome.’ This package is mailed to the employee’s home after the acceptance of an offer. This package includes a video about the company and employee testimonials. It is intended to be viewed with family members so they too have a better sense of where their loved ones will be working. It also offers detailed information about the benefits of the job presented in an attractive format to convey clearly what the company had to offer.
– First-day tour of the facility and meeting with senior leadership
The first day on the job there is an orientation session that includes lunch and a tour of the facility. A senior executive welcomes the group to demonstrate senior leadership’s commitment to all the staff. The orientation gives an account of the company’s history and its philosophy, as well as key elements of the corporate social responsibility program to begin instilling the key elements of our corporate culture. The new employees were then released to their own departments with someone in a related role as an initial guide. This person escorts them to their work area where they meet their team members and their manager.
The work area was set up in advance so that the employee can familiarize themselves with their computer and other resources straight away. This practice is followed by many companies, including Microsoft and IBM. During few days, the new hire meets with their manager who walks them through their role using a clearly defined job description and outlines the specific objectives which form part of their future performance appraisal. There are then subsequent meetings with the manager to ensure the objectives and the methods to be used to attain them are understood.
– Creating a buddy system
In order to address the feelings of isolation described in the focus groups, we created a buddy system where new employees are paired with an established staff member who is not their immediate superior. New employees are introduced to their ‘buddy’ within the first week so that they feel comfortable finding out about the company, its divisions and departments, and how it functions. Their ‘buddy’ should be someone they can trust to provide accurate information quickly and discreetly, including aspects of the company culture. For the established staff member, this is an opportunity to develop leadership and coaching skills outside of their functional area and in a less formal setting.
The importance of an effective onboarding system is clear from a report by Aria Solar at from UrbanBound.com, who says that 77% of employees who met their first formal milestone underwent a formal onboarding process.* This study found that 70% of employees feel having a friend at work is crucial their happiness in a role. This supports the practice of offering some way for employees to start affiliating with each other through activities, lunches, or buddy systems. Some companies even take the process further using games and social events.
In order to create proper onboarding for a new employee, you need to think through the entire process and determine what exactly you want the individual to experience in their first months on the job, as well as what you are expecting them to achieve. Organizations with onboarding processes see 50% better new hire retention. Of course, technology can help with this process from simplifying the information capture to ensuring all systems are ready on the first day.
Ultimately though, it is about one person arriving at a workplace needing to fit in with the culture and become productive within a short period of time. The onboarding program should provide an easy entry into the new professional community to help the individual to feel engaged from day one.
Marylou Ponzi Kay is a multilingual innovative HR professional with global experience in a variety of industries: healthcare services call centers, manufacturing, retail, consumer goods, hospitality, technology and financial services. Her areas of expertise include the integration of new acquisitions, employee engagement and alignment, talent acquisition and change management processes, and career coaching. Her strengths include strategic HR planning, employee and labor relations, employment branding, compensation analysis and design, performance improvement/re-engineering, competency modeling, and HR startup. Marylou is also the author of “Powering Up Your Inner Brand,” a book about personal branding available from Amazon.com in print and Kindle editions.