Employee onboarding: how to get new starters off on the right foot

Onboarding experience
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The first six months in a new job can be a difficult time for both the employee and the hiring company. For the former, they want to know that they have made the right choice, are settling in and feel they have the support and tools to show what they can do and become a productive member of the business.

For the hiring company, it is important to get someone settled and productive quickly. No business wants the upheaval of people starting and leaving quickly, least of all the existing staff who can find their routines further disrupted.

Recruitment can be an expensive process, and the more time it takes someone to be fully productive can increase this cost, as well as taking up precious management time and possibly unsettling the rest of the team that the new hire has joined. When looking at cost of hire some of these incidental costs can be overlooked, and might not become apparent until someone has been in place for a few months. 

This early period of employment is a much-researched period...

A recent survey from Korn Ferry found up to 25% of new starters leaving within their first six months, echoing a report from Aberdeen Group in 2006 that found 90% of new employees using their experience of the first six months in deciding whether to commitment themselves to the new business long term. 

The onboarding process, through which new employees are integrated into the business, is the decisive HR intervention in the early stages - a 2015 report from US research analysts Brandon Hall estimated that new hire retention can be improved by 82% and productivity by 70% with better onboarding. 

The two main reasons people give for leaving a new job in the early months - the role not being what they envisaged and the company culture being different to what they expected - both show how crucial it is that onboarding helps to get new starters off on the right foot.

During the research for my book ‘Exceptional Talent’ I found five ways in which companies were approaching this:

Start onboarding early

If you wait until the first day of employment to start getting someone integrated with the business, then you’re probably too late.

The onboarding process should start during the interview phase - one of the people on interview will be your new employee and will want to feel welcome, arriving fully confident that they can start performing.

The period between offer and start date can be used to get the paperwork completed and share early training through a portal. Some companies show a virtual tour of the working environment and share welcome videos from leaders.

It helps to strengthen the bond between the business and their new hire, which is crucial to a good start.

With so much employee churn down to the role not matching up to expectation this gives a perfect opportunity to ensure that responsibilities, deliverables, goals and timeframes are set out and understood in advance.   

Smart use of technology

No more spending the first day filling out forms and going through a health and safety checklist.

Whether it’s through an online portal, or an onboarding mobile app, much of the traditional first day formalities can be completed in an engaging and immersive way.

Everyone you hire will be using technology in their personal lives so make their introduction to the company a consumer-style experience. Be creative. Paperwork should be completed online and signed digitally.

Videos, podcasts and e-learning can all be used to bring the essential information to life in a way that replicates how people learn and research for themselves.

Connect people socially to their new colleagues

One area where technology strengthens onboarding is in helping to build the social connections between a new hire and their colleagues.

Companies are beginning to start this early, connecting teams through social media or internal chat platforms so that a new person arrives with their internal networks already in place for support and learning.

Connecting them with other new starters can also help to create a community for shared experience and learning, helping them feel an integral part of everything going on around them.

This helps to overcome any early problems over adapting to a new culture and can help give insights to organisational values and how they are lived.  

Involve managers, don’t leave it just to HR

Technology helps to reduce the administrative burden on the HR department by getting the paperwork and learning done early, and through an automatic checking that each stage has been completed.

This gives HR more scope to create an engaging learning experience and a positive experience for each new hire at start of their employment.

However, one in six leave within the first six months because they don’t like, or get on with, their manager or boss.

Companies are overcoming this by getting managers to play a key role and get involved from the start.

Some organisations have a breakfast or lunch for new starters with managers (and senior leaders) participating and sharing their stories and plans for the business, while others encourage managers to take an active role in the day to day integration of their new team members, checking in on progress with them on a regular basis.

Regular feedback

Most HR processes are now being re-shaped to give employees more real time insight to their performance and development.

They expect to find out how they are doing on an ongoing basis rather than wait for periodic historical reviews. Onboarding needs to follow this path.

Instead of a three-month probationary review, make sure managers and HR check in with their new recruits on a regular basis, preferably weekly. Find out how they are settling in and whether they have any problems or difficulties, or need some more learning input.

Give them the best opportunity to integrate and be productive. 

The cost of regrettable attrition can be high, and damaging for morale and engagement for both the team and the broader organisation. Customers, clients, suppliers and collaborators also notice when their points of contact keep changing so longer term profitability can be affected.

If people are leaving within the first six or 12 months, then the company needs to understand why and find ways to offer better integration and onboarding experiences. 

Exceptional Talent by Mervyn Dinnen and Matt Alder is out now, published by Kogan Page, priced £29.99. For more information see www.koganpage.com/ExceptionalTalent

About Mervyn Dinnen

Mervyn Dinnen

Mervyn Dinnen is a talent and HR analyst, advising recruitment and HR technology businesses on the emerging trends impacting hiring, retention and engagement. He is author of the book Exceptional Talent and a writer and international speaker on recruitment and HR trends. He previously spent 20 years working with UK companies on Recruitment and HR strategies.

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