December 15, 2022

Effectively Onboarding Employees

Imagine you have successfully recruited the right people for your organization. Your next step is to immerse them into your vision, mission, and culture.

On December 6, 2022, MSCI hosted the last of a three-part Talent Acquisition webinar series, where I was privileged to talk with two HR leaders in the metals industry, Olympic Steel Vice President of Human Resources Cassy Powers and Russel Metals Director of Human Resources Beverley Downer, about the importance of onboarding as an organizational strategy.

When used effectively, onboarding can yield big benefits for employees (e.g., better experience, higher engagement, and more productivity) and for employers (better retention, stronger brand, and easier talent attraction). Despite this value, most companies do not have a good onboarding process due to competing priorities, lack of manager accountability, constraints of resources, etc.

If you missed this webinar you can access it at the link above it you’re an MSCI, but here is a summary

Start with pre-boarding. Engage your new hires as soon as they accept your job offer or right after they sign the contract; don’t wait until their first day on the job. The pre-boarding process is critical for new employees because it is often during this time when they are most uncertain of what to expect. So: start the onboarding process before their first day by sending your new hires a welcome email, essential paperwork, and/or the onboarding schedule, and encourage them to ask questions.

Onboard over time. The ultimate goal of onboarding is to assimilate new hires into every aspect of your organization. To this end, onboarding is not a one-time event such as orientation that typically lasts a few days; instead, it should be a formalized, ongoing process for at least 100 days (ideally 6-12 months). Take your time to design a strong onboarding system with meaningful activities because research shows that organizations with strong onboarding processes increase new hire retention by 82 percent and productivity by 70 percent.

Make onboarding a team effort. The responsibility of onboarding should not be carried exclusively by the HR department or hiring managers. In fact, we would argue that a good onboarding experience is created when multiple stakeholders are involved in the process, including senior management, functional/division leaders, team members, and designated mentors or “buddies.” This practice will send new employees a ‘clear and loud’ message that they are genuinely cared about by their organization.

Personalize onboarding experiences. Every person processes information differently, which makes it necessary to customize onboarding programs to meet individual needs. Here are a few strategies as examples: (a) integrate immersive and interactive elements into onboarding activities (e.g., company videos); (b) leverage diverse online social median (e.g., LinkedIn); (3) allocate unstructured time for relationship building and networking.

Automate onboarding processes. Automated onboarding, unlike traditional manual onboarding, is creating a structured experience to guide your new hires through every step of your onboarding program. This tool requires a one-time set up for processes such as training new hires, sending reminders, and connecting them with colleagues. Doing so will help minimize human errors, reduce costs, improve efficiency, and boost productivity. In addition, automation will free up the HR team from doing manual, tedious work to spending more time with new hires, which will hopefully give the new employees the best onboarding experience and prepare them for success in their new job.

Check in regularly. Engage your new hires throughout the onboarding process by checking in with them on a regular basis. For instance, conduct focus groups, surveys, or one-on-one conversations with the new hires at the end of their first month, third month, sixth month, or even at the end of the first year. By seeking their input and feedback, the onboarding team will be able to identify and address issues encountered by the new employees during onboarding in a timely manner.

Revisit the process. The onboarding process is not set in stone, no matter how much effort and thought you have put into its design and implementation. Depending on the changes that have taken place within and outside of your company, you may have to pivot your onboarding practices from time to time — just as we all had to do during the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, develop a habit of seeking feedback. For example, conduct culture/engagement surveys with your current employees; analyze exit interviews with your former employees. Be open to new ways of onboarding and be willing to completely revamp your processes if needed. Doing so will give you a sustainable competitive advantage in the candidate-driven labor market today.

With these principles in mind, I invite you to reflect on the following questions to evaluate your current onboarding practices and identify areas for improvement.

  1. What onboarding strategy does your company use?
  2. Who is involved in your onboarding process?
  3. How do you measure the impact of your onboarding programs?
  4. What can you do differently to give new hires a better onboarding experience?

Remember: What ultimately defines the success of your onboarding strategy is not how much time, money, or energy you invest in building the processes, or how long it takes to implement the programs. It is the quality experience it brings to your new hires and the positive impact on your organization.

Dr. Jia Wang is a professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development at Texas A&M University. Her research focuses on international and national human resource development, organization crisis management, and learning within organizations.

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