It’s easy for organisations to be too functional and prescriptive when it comes to onboarding new talent. Whether it’s a completely new employee or someone changing their role, it’s likely that you’ll have a whole load of procedures you think are important from day one, a list of things you don’t want new employees to do versus the pressure to get them up and running, integrated and productive as quickly as possible. A day or so should do it, right?!
If this is your thinking, stop. You’re doing it all wrong.
In this article, I’ve explored the key steps you need to take to make onboarding meaningful for new talent and successful in terms of tangible outcomes. Using our own case study and some key stats from the latest research I’ve summarised this piece with four invaluable principles from the Let’s Talk Talent toolkit. These will result in genuinely positive experiences for all of your new hires which are simple but effective to set up. I’d also like to invite you to add your own insights in the comments.
Let’s Start By Asking The Right Questions
Before you start creating or improving your onboarding experience you need to be clear about what you really want new hires to THINK, FEEL and DO from day one to day 100+ in your business.
Before you start creating or improving your onboarding experience you need to be clear about what you really want new hires to THINK, FEEL and DO from day one to day 100+ in your business. By asking yourself (and taking input from colleagues across your business) you can gain smart insights where you can improve. For example:
- When a new hire goes home on day one what do you want them to say to their friends, family/partner?
- Do your new hires need to be keenly aware of the tradition and history of your company or is it more about creativity, innovation and initiative?
- What kinds of experience do you want to create for new hires?
- How will you excite your new hires about the business and well as personal journey they about to embark on with you?
- What kind of ROI are you looking for with onboarding and what metrics really matter?
- What aspects of onboarding will need to be reviewed periodically?
- Do you need to build a uniform process or should this reflect the different talent tribes across your business?
- What are you going to run centrally and what can be devolved to the business i.e managers?
- Who owns the onboarding process you or the managers?
- How can valuable insights from within the organisation be used to create something even better?
After you’ve done the necessary soul-searching and once you know what kind of experience you want to create it’s then time to start building. You can’t rush this – it’s going to need care and attention to detail to successfully engage, embed and nurture your new talent seedlings so as to ensure this is joined up and thoughtful from first touch point to lasting memory.
Start Before They Start
If a new employee is working their notice or even using their final bit of annual leave for some chill time you can still make them feel cherished.
If a new employee is working their notice or even using their final bit of annual leave for some chill time you can still make them feel cherished. Consider inviting them to have a casual phone call with their new manager or a team member. It’s likely they’ll be feeling excited, nervous and a little vulnerable before starting – so, let them know who their team are going to be. You can send them some photos, bios, details of their favourite food or even their Twitter and Instagram handles (with their permission obviously!). Send them a postcard, invite them to a social, ask them to create a playlist on Spotify for their future colleagues. Make it as enjoyable as possible and promote the positive culture existent in your organisation.
LinkedIn have some great ideas for onboarding such as a special onboarding toolkit and L’Oreal (like many others) have their own app. For their own employees, LinkedIn even have a special hashtag newbies can use, or look at before their first day. It creates the impression of a dynamic working culture that any new person can join in with. It’s quite beautiful what employees are sharing with their #LinkedInLife tag, I look at it and think ‘who wouldn’t want to remain part of their organisation?’
You also need to use your website (ideally with a bespoke portal) to reflect the experiences people will have when they start their new role. For example, why not have a virtual office tour, blogs from recently employed team members or video content from well-established colleagues? It’s all about orientating and inspiring people before their first day.
Don’t Be Short Sighted
Although you need to expect that people will leave your organisation and that you’re hiring staff for a limited duration, if they leave earlier than planned it’s really expensive.
Replacing someone can cost you between 30% and 400% of their annual salary depending on their level.
Replacing someone can cost you between 30% and 400% of their annual salary depending on their level. Add to that the possible effect on morale and you can see how damaging a bad onboarding experience can be and how important it is to get right.
We need to get away from thinking onboarding is just about the first day, or weeks, of starting. Cramming those early hours and days with your own agenda without considering the needs of employees just doesn’t work. And it’s horrible. We’re not living in the age of factory-style working anymore. It’s about respect and understanding things from the perspective of the employee. They are your consumers and deserve to be respected as such. So, ditch your old-school blinkers and start to see the process as one of effective nurture.
The First Days Are Crucial
21% of new hires who left a role within the first six months indicated that better training during this initial period would have led to them staying.
Research from The Society of Human Resource Management found that 21% of new hires who left a role within the first six months indicated that better training during this initial period would have led to them staying. And remember the vast majority of new hires (around 85% according to this study) choose to stay or leave within the first six months. Add to this the fact that 4% of new employees leave after having a nightmare first day and 22% of leavers go within 45 days your vision of onboarding needs to be about their journey as much as the destination you want them to arrive at.
The first days, weeks and months really are critical and according to the Harvard Business Review’s “Onboarding Isn’t Enough”, the biggest stumbling block when it comes to new roles failing or succeeding relate to confusion around company culture. Interestingly, they also report that unsuccessful induction rarely relates to lack of skills or experience. Therefore, if you can overcome any dissonance between employee expectations and how the complexities of your organisations actually work then you’ll stand more chance of success. Not an easy thing to achieve I know, but if it’s the elephant in the room you need to look at it.
Experiences Not Policies
New employees are interested in their experience of working, not policy documents. They want to be treated as individuals – so don’t overwhelm them with 100-page procedure-led documents.
The challenge is to bring them up to speed without inadvertently pushing them back out the door. My point here is to make it meaningful. Put them at the centre of your organisational world. Engage their heart and head. Employ logic and emotion, get passionate about what your company offers to new talent.
Everyone is Part of Onboarding
Although most of the onboarding work will fall to hiring managers, it’s important to get input from elsewhere in the organisations and from amongst the teams the new hire will be joining. There’s lots you can do here from inviting team members to design the onboarding process or creating resources for new hires based on colleague insight and perspective.
A Case In Point
Recently I worked with the oil and gas company Oiltanking, designing their onboarding experience for first-time employees, secondments and newly-hired expats into their central office in Hamburg. They employ nearly 4,000 people in 25 countries, so it was really important to make the process as personal as possible.
As well and providing the important collateral needed, we also carefully surveyed how new hires were doing after thirty days and ninety days. This insight fed back into the whole induction process and helped them keep the onboarding as employee-focussed as possible.
Perhaps the most important aspect of what I designed was the “Buddy Up” scheme which carefully matched new people with seasoned employees. This was very successful and helped to break down the anxiety and overwhelm so commonly experienced by new hires. This kind of approach can also increase morale and help build unity and trust swiftly. In a world where time-to-productivity is a key metric, it’s also an example of where human values meet financial expectations. After all, people perform better when they feel good about where they are and who they are working with.
The Four Building Blocks of Effective Onboarding
I’ve distilled my many years of experience down to just four building blocks. Using these will mean you’ll always be looking after your new hires and making sure they’ll want to stick around. I’ve found these to be the most effective and easy to use within my toolkit – whatever the size of the organisation and whatever role they’re inviting them to fulfil.
- Navigate New-Hires Effectively – Don’t overwhelm your new talent with overly long forms and jargon-filled documents focussed on procedure and policy. Give them the essential information and drip-feed the rest in easy to grasp chunks. Make sure you put them at the heart of how you do this and show them clearly how they fit in and are integral to your organisation. Make all language easy to understand.
- Paint The Right Pictures – Try to convey, creatively, what life is really like within your company. What is the first day going to be like for them? And the first week, month, one-hundred days and first year. You need to flesh this out as much as possible and think about how you present this to new employees. What digital forms can this take? What non-digital forms can this take? How can this all be delivered in a timely way for new recruits?
- Add the Personal Touch – Remember your humanity in all communications with new talent. First names and personal messages from managers and colleagues are helpful. Use technology to help new hires find buddies on their team and social media to introduce people. Think about gifts that really make a difference (one digital marketing company I heard about recently gave all their new employees a Brompton bike when they started). Make it genuine and from a place that really understands what it means to them to be joining you.
- Be Future Focused – What is it about your vision for the future that can really engage newcomers? How can you inspire them to feel comfortable and aligned with your values and goals in building that future together? Stories from real people can really make a difference with this, but don’t be afraid to get your CEO to present your vision to a group of new people and make them visionaries too. Remember, they are the key stakeholders that your future depends on.
The Bigger Picture
When I reflect on our own experience with Let’s Talk Talent clients and the fact that world-leading companies rank engagement, retention and time-to-productivity as the most valuable to their businesses as a whole, it’s almost shocking to hear that many companies still view induction with a production-line attitude that just leads to really terrible experiences for new hires and talented people (very understandably) leaving.
It’s often the small things that make the biggest difference and my experience has consistently shown me the importance of not over-thinking the onboarding process.
It’s often the small things that make the biggest difference and my experience has consistently shown me the importance of not over-thinking the onboarding process. Make it about people and human feelings as much as about understanding process, policy and the intricacies of the role and remember it takes time for people to get up to speed. Knowing that also takes the pressure off hiring managers as induction over a period of weeks or months (as opposed to days, or in some cases hours) can then be realistically managed.
Loading everything onto the first few days is too overwhelming and highly ineffective plus it’s likely to cause someone to leave or have a bad experience which will form a negative impression that’s hard to shift.
Another thing to bear in mind is that employees are not as focussed on salary and status as they once were. I love how Professor Barry Schwartz contextualises this in his book Why We Work. It certainly confirms many of things we have seen and continue to see on a daily basis here at Let’s Talk Talent.
I know that many of you will have understanding to share from your own experience of onboarding. So, please feel free to comment, I’d love to hear from you.
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