Making onboarding personal: the heart of employee engagement
Onboarding is important because it acclimatises employees to their roles, the culture and philosophy of the business and what it has to offer them. It also helps build employee loyalty, and those businesses that get it wrong are likely to see their churn levels accelerate.
In a recent survey conducted by CareerBuilder and Silkroad Technology, 9% of employees polled said they had left a company because of a poor onboarding experience. At the same time, more than a third (37%) of those surveyed claimed their manager did not play a critical role in their onboarding experience support.
These are disappointing figures given that many see it as the responsibility of the business to ensure new recruits are properly onboarded and not just handed the staff manual to read and left to fend for themselves.
More businesses are moving to a pre-boarding approach where the process of engaging with the new recruit begins when they accept the offer rather than on their first day with the company. It is a great way of ensuring that every newly appointed member of staff feels that they matter to the business as an individual from the moment they decide to join the ranks. When an organisation provides a structured pre-boarding programme, employee productivity is likely to improve while establishing a good foundation and instilling loyalty early.
Businesses also need to think even further back to the candidate level and ensure they are delivering the right kind of experience there. There is work still to do here. According to the 2021 EMEA Candidate Experience Research Report from Talent Board, positive candidate experiences are on the decline in North America and in EMEA. In North America, candidate resentment rose from 8% in 2020 to 14% in 2021, a 75% spike (although lockdown and the shift to virtual onboarding may have had a part to play here). In EMEA, candidate resentment increased 25% overall in 2021, from 8% to 10%.
Why a tailored approach to onboarding is key
To ensure the whole approach is optimised for both employer and employee, it is key that the candidate experience is improved and that both pre-boarding and onboarding are personalised and tailored as closely as possible to the needs of each individual. While some elements of the process should remain standard, especially around the level of insight delivered about the organisation itself, other elements should be customised to fit the recruit.
The onboarding process for a mature sales leader in India needs to be different from that provided to a 23-year-old engineering graduate in the US, for example. Part of it is about tailoring the content according to job role and level of responsibility. Part of it is about understanding the culture of the country in which the new employee is based and being aware that the style and pace of work may differ significantly from place to place.
The language used to communicate with the new recruit is also very important. Younger people coming into organisations today increasingly want to hear the language of corporate social responsibility (CSR), used across the onboarding process.
Making the approach more engaging
The onboarding process must also be engaging and interactive. Techniques like gamification as an onboarding strategy are proving increasingly popular and effective. Such approaches exist to serve two main objectives: to make training enjoyable, and to accelerate the pace of learning, but it is also key that they fit the culture of the organisation, as they set the tone for future employee engagement. They can be an excellent way of helping the new recruit quickly understand how the business works, while at the same time helping them to integrate well with the rest of the team.
Making the connection with business goals
It is important that onboarding also enables recruits to see how their work links with what the business does and what its strategic aims are. New inductees might for instance want to know what opportunities there are to help customers with their sustainability agendas: something which also helps deliver the organisation’s objectives.
The end goal should always be about improving time to impact or time to effectiveness as much as possible. It is about ensuring that the new recruit has all the information and intelligence they might need at their fingertips as soon as possible.
The information delivered should be carefully targeted at specific individuals, depending on their job role, level of experience, etc. That’s a key objective for any HR team rolling out an onboarding programme.
A wider connection
The onboarding process also needs to be the start of a broader ecosystem. It should never be thought of solely in the context of the current job role. Today’s new hire is, after all, likely to be tomorrow’s manager or potentially tomorrow’s customer or vendor. Across their career ecosystem, individuals often retain some kind of relationship with your organisation. In that context, onboarding can be seen as the start of an engagement process that lasts over a complete career lifecycle. This will bring long-term benefits to the business and the employee alike.
Kate Bishop, pictured below, is chief HR officer at enterprise software company IFS