You only get one chance to make a first impression, as the saying goes, and if you’re a recruiting organisation, those first impressions really count.
Research into bad hires by the job search and review site Glassdoor suggests that organisations with a strong onboarding process not only improve retention of new hires by 82%, they also reported much higher overall productivity.
So, onboarding is important, you won’t find many who disagree, but it also seems tricky to get right. A 2017 Gallup report revealed that less than a fifth of employees felt their organisation did it well.
"It is so important that employee experience is seamless during onboarding," says Helen Armstrong, Managing Director of the independent HR & Payroll system consultancy Silver Cloud HR.
"People are used to online automated processes everywhere else in their lives and now they expect it at work. For instance, Businesses need to remember that younger generations have probably never filled out a form before! A new starter form will throw them straight away."
What are we talking about here in practical terms?
There are the must-have tasks for any new starter, non-negotiables for data capture and compliance, but in employee experience terms, what are we trying to achieve?
We’re integrating a new-hire into our organisation, a tense and nerve-wracking experience for most people, and one that can set the tone for everything that comes after.
- Onboarding should help them justify their choice
- It should fast-track them from a clueless-nube to a value-driving go-getter with as little fuss and friction as possible
- And fundamentally, it needs to reassure them that they belong
With these objectives in mind, here are our five tips for effective onboarding:
Tip one: Onboarding starts before they do
The time a person spends working their notice in their previous job, or watching daytime TV on garden leave, is critical onboarding time.
It’s time that can be spent communicating your organisation’s hierarchy, people, culture and key values. It’s an opportunity to let them know their arrival is welcome and eagerly anticipated, reinforcing the unequivocal correctness of their decision.
At the least, this can be time where the individual is invited to log in to the company portal, take ownership of their profile and personal data, peruse relevant policy documents, and crack into the administrative non-negotiables that need to be completed.
Tip two: Don’t neglect the psychology
There’s a lot going on in the mind of a new starter. Let’s put our white coats on and get scientific for a minute. Appreciating the psychological processes taking place and ensuring your onboarding activity addresses them is a key part of an effective approach.
Your new hire just closed the door for the final time on a workplace where they’d carved out a role, a profile and a sense of belonging. Now they’re entering an unknown scenario, it’s social psychology 101.
The detail of how they integrate with a completely new group of colleagues is largely down to them, but there are processes and initiatives, like a buddy system or an easily accessible organisational chart, that can be put in place to make the experience as frictionless as possible.
The sooner you can alleviate the new-guy feeling of haplessness the better. This is classic developmental psychology. Your approach can either stoke momentum and motivation, or helplessness and stagnation; so how you introduce new processes, systems, learning materials and behavioural expectations needs to be carefully considered.
Tip three: Kill day-one admin
Traditionally, day one basically involved half a day filling out forms for HR, a lightning tour of the tea-making facilities, and a paper diagram demonstrating how to sit properly at a desk. Luckily, we’ve moved on. We already gave the new starter access to their own HRMS profile, so the hours of form-filling and policy review are already complete by the time they enter the office for the first time as an employee. That means you’re able to schedule genuinely value-adding tasks; a 1-2-1 with their hiring-manager; a team lunch; an introduction to their new mentor.
Tip four: Create a checklist and automate where possible
This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many organisations just wing it. Job-specific checklists, with relevant content and resources, allow consistency and provide an easily followed onboarding roadmap.
Modern HRMS software allows for configuration and automation of the basic processes, alerts and reminders associated with onboarding best practice. Checklist items and reminders to make sure nothing is missed out of the process, important documents are received, personal information is captured, and policies and obligations are communicated.
Tip five: Remind them they still matter
They’re in, they’re set up on the system. You know their next of kin. Payroll have their bank details. In fact, they’re two months in and they haven’t run for the hill. Congratulations, your work here is done.
They’re still feeling out the organisation, getting to know their team and working out where they fit in the whole thing. And any problems that are likely to arise are going to come to a head in the first few months. The worst thing HR can do at this point is leave them high and dry. An automated onboarding process can incorporate wellbeing check-ins with the recruit and their line management, say, on key milestones – a month, three months, 120 days…
This allows you to get ahead of and potentially defuse potential problems, and it boosts that all important feeling of belonging, because you didn’t just drop them like a stone as soon as they weren’t the newest thing on the block.
"There are some simple quick-wins organisations can achieve by automating rule-based tasks," says Silver Cloud HR's Helen Armstrong. "There’s a lot of administration involved in processing a person’s joining, but much of this information can be automated. The moment someone is typing data into two places, your organisation should be asking 'is there a better way to do this?'."
Want to know more? Download our Employee Onboarding Checklist for Line Managers now.