Business Recruitment — 12 September 2012
Employee onboarding – The key to success

According to Wikipedia, Onboarding refers to “the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders”. I’m sure most of you would agree with this definition, yet there’s myriad ways an organization goes about onboarding new staff members. Often times it’s thorough; other times it’s disorganized, piece-meal, sporadic and ill conceived.

If the overall objective is to ensure that the process leads to positive outcomes for new employees such as higher job satisfaction, better job performance, greater organizational commitment, reduction in stress and intention to quit, you would expect after going through a recruitment process that most organizations would place onboarding at the top of their list, right?

Day one in a new job is tough and can go many ways. There’s the ‘induction’, if a staff member is fortunate enough to receive one, which may include:

– Terms and conditions of employment;
– General welfare;
– Workplace health and safety;
– Introduction to the job.

However what defines new employee success, both immediate, short and long term, rests in the onboarding which, in an ideal world, might loosely include some of the following:

– Agenda for employee to meet team, key partners, and peers;
– One-on-one time with direct Manager to ensure expectations are set;
– Structured information – what information SPECIFIC to the employee’s role will they need to be able to function with minimal stress;
– Assumed knowledge decipher – don’t assume the new employee knows where to find or how to generate reports, how to complete standard functions, etc;
– Designated peer mentor;
– Feedback mechanisms – daily, weekly, first month, three months, etc.

I’ve heard many stories, good and bad, around employee induction and on-boarding. One that stands out for me was an employee who relocated internationally into an organisation undergoing significant amounts of change. Not only was there a new structure that existing staff were coming to terms with, there were redundancies still underway, so the ‘culture’ was very self-protective and highly unionised.

The new employee literally hit the ground running. Their first week was filled with meetings with peers, stakeholders and managers and it quickly became apparent that there was an enormous amount of assumed knowledge and requirement to be fully-functioning very quickly if they were to succeed.

Overlaying this was the complexity of several whole of company projects, into which the new employee was drafted due to their specialist experience. With a large team to manage, the employee struggled to connect with their own team whilst managing a raft of business-as-usual priorities along with new strategic initiatives that supported the changing structure and business strategy. Each time the employee thought they had reached a better level of understanding of the role in context of the business, a meeting with a different stakeholder group demonstrated their knowledge was less than expected and consequently, stress levels increased to the point at the end of week one they were questioning their acceptance of the role.

The following weeks rolled out similarly, but with small wins along the way, with work being recognised at the group level, an evolving understanding and appreciation of their peers, the environment and the complexities in which they were all operating and the promise of increased resource on the way. As the employee went to great lengths to challenge how they were being onboarded, asking for more information and context, seeking out other employees who could assist them, whilst working long hours to ensure the day-to-day functions of their role were managed to the best of their ability, the levels of stress slowly began to decline, positive feelings returned and both satisfaction and commitment increased.

Now in this example, I know the employee personally and can say the only reason she stayed and made it to the end of her first 6 weeks was that she was curious, had high levels of energy and engagement, was tenacious and adaptable, could deal with ambiguity and was driven to do a great job and succeed.

It was certainly an unnecessarily unpleasant start for someone who had just travelled to the other side of the world with her family to take on a new role. The uncertainty, stress and ‘grey’ around her first 6 weeks could have been managed in a more highly organised, structured, supportive and information-rich way to mitigate the loss the company nearly suffered. Imagine the cost involved in having to re-recruit this executive into the business. The disruption to the team. The risk that the existing program of works would stall and have a direct negative impact on the company’s revenue.

I can’t stress enough the importance of a thorough induction and onboarding for new employees, whether they are an administrator or the CEO. Finding the right person and recruiting them into your company isn’t easy. Don’t waste the opportunity to give them the very best chance to succeed because that’s where the greatest alignment between employee and employer lies.

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(3) Readers Comments

  1. Onboarding is the birthplace of Employer Branding. New recruits come in fresh, with an open mind and a clean slate. Hungry for intellectual stimulation, they are at their most receptive to corporate culture. Best time to communicate company values.

    In fact, I’d say “Brand the on-boarding process (eg. Warm Welcome, Handshake, Embrace, First Kiss:) Package it into an object of desire. This also helps streamline and structure the process.

    Nice one, Matthew. Good work, Blog FBT. This flows on well from the post on Employer Branding.

    • Nice comment but I’m going to note employer branding begins before you ever hire an applicant. Your job posts, application process, & realistic job previews should all reflect your brand.

      The birthplace of branding should be the first opportunity you have to project to potential candidates or clients.

      • So true. The brand experience often begins before you even have a company in your consideration set!

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