Would you spend thousands of dollars attracting talent, but squander the best opportunity to shape and retain them as employees? That’s the reality for many companies. Recruiting is important, of course, but it can become such a narrow focus that no one stops to think what will happen once a candidate becomes an employee.
Amy Hirsh Robinson, principal, Interchange Consulting Group, presented on this topic in her session, “The First 90 Days Will Make or Break Your New Hire” at the 2018 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Conference and Expo.
What she’s found is that many companies fall back on the standard, mind-numbing, hours-long orientation, or a frustrating, difficult-to-navigate web solution. This struggle right from the start of an employee’s experience creates what she calls “premature cognitive commitments.”
New employees are more alert for environmental cues than long-term employees and tend to jump to conclusions during the onboarding process. They may see even the smallest example of a poorly run onboarding process and extrapolate upon it — assuming your company is poorly run as well, and that it doesn’t care about its employees.
Recruiting often gets most of the attention, but it's important to bring onboarding in line with your recruiting process.
Another consideration is the different expectations of different generations of new employees. There has been much written about the differences between baby boomers, Generation X, and millennials. But remember that millennials compose the majority of new employees — and now the majority of the workforce in general — and as a whole, they’re looking to your company to find opportunity, the right cultural fit, and a sense of community.
How can your onboarding process do a better job of engaging these new employees? Here are five strategies you should consider:
1. Build the business case
To make a significant change in your onboarding process, you’ll need to convince executive management as well as the line managers who truly influence a new employee’s experience. To accomplish that, you’ll need to know how a good onboarding experience can align with business goals, and what a bad experience can cost. You’ll also need to address the needs of your HR department and recent hires, whose opinions of your onboarding and work environment can make a new employee feel more confident in their decision, or cause them to regret working for you.
Attrition is a major cost of a poor onboarding program; poor productivity is another (employees may be more mistake-prone). Reduced engagement, a loss of respect for management, and ultimately the degradation of your employer brand may also result.
Just as poor onboarding has costs, successful onboarding has benefits. According to Robinson, companies can see a 60 percent rise in revenue per full-time equivalent employee, and a 63 percent rise in customer satisfaction.
2. Focus on the experience
What are new hires thinking and perceiving about your organization? Robinson suggests process-mapping their experience. Is your onboarding process easy or difficult? Does it help or hinder their ability to be productive, increase or decrease their thoughts of succeeding in your organization, and ensure or sabotage their long-term commitment to your company?
You can help improve their experience by taking these steps to onboarding with the support of the new employee’s manager:
- Classify entrants by position, generation, function, etc.
- Identify competencies for each level.
- Identify the resources needed at each level.
- Identify key phases and activities of the onboarding process. Some companies parcel it out over as long as two years; others categorize onboarding as pre-employment, the first three days, and the first three months.
- Implement the program.
- Automate repeatable tasks and training platforms, then define and track success.
3. Onboard with intention
Because onboarding has such an outsized effect on retention and productivity, it’s important to take a planned, structured approach to introducing new employees to your company.
Robinson suggests the following key phases and activities for the first 90 days.
- Before the first day — Assign new employees a “buddy,” and welcome them. Make sure you communicate what they can expect in the coming days and send paperwork, or give them access to your online portal. You’ll also want to inform others in your company of the employee’s hiring, prepare the employee’s computer access, desk, and other ephemera.
- First day — Introduce the employee to their buddy, meet the immediate requirements for employment, provide the employee with helpful resources, and orient them to your company’s organization and culture.
- First week — Set performance expectations and job scope, and explain your performance appraisal process. Their manager can now start assigning them meaningful work. Also, schedule meetings for the new employee to meet their leadership team.
- First 90 days — Create their career development plan, provide any essential training, assign a mentor, plan team-focused activities to encourage comradery, monitor the employee’s performance, and provide feedback.
After six months, measure whether there have been changes in the success of your onboarding program.
Empower managers by giving them the encouragement and tools to become mentors and coaches.
4. Leverage your NEO (new employee organization)
Why bombard new employees with PowerPoint presentations on day one? Focus on what really matters to your organization. Give employees information about your industry, your business history, and big-picture strategy. Also, give them a taste of your culture, values, and the people they’ll be working with.
And don’t just talk at them. Allow employees to reflect on their own background, values and strengths, and career aspirations. Then empower them to contribute to their role and place in the company, potential growth opportunities, and provide them with the resources and information they need. For example, explain your company’s and industry’s acronyms. We’d be surprised if your company doesn’t have them, and long-term employees tend to internalize them, so it sometimes comes as a shock that they’d need to explain.
5. Invest in career development
New employees, especially millennials, expect career development. Robinson suggests sharing with them in a visual way the career paths they can aspire to. Then provide them with growth opportunities through short, strategic rotations and projects that employees can sign up or apply for over a defined period of time. These projects should involve working on an important strategic issue for the organization. Also, make sure you give employees viable platforms for sharing their ideas. It will make them feel like an important contributor to the company’s success, and their own.
Finally, train your managers. Make sure they understand how to have career development conversations. Empower them to become mentors and coaches. Managers can be your onboarding process’s largest obstacles, or greatest benefactors. Give them the encouragement and tools to be the latter.
It’s easy to see how onboarding can be just as important to the success of your company as recruiting. And while recruiting gets most of the attention, there are things you can begin to do today that can help bring onboarding in line with your recruiting process. Remember, employees are going to leave if they don’t get the experience they want, so let’s find out how to give it to them.