7 Keys to Building a World Class Onboarding Experience.

Your CEO probably doesn’t wake up in a cold sweat thinking about your organization’s onboarding program, but maybe (s)he should. It shocks me that onboarding doesn’t have a more elevated importance in many organizations and isn’t more carefully created to support an organization’s culture. Often, the connection between onboarding and strategy isn’t clear, and details about what makes that organization unique aren’t discussed in detail, if at all, and onboarding is deemed ‘just’ training … a necessary evil.

Here’s why your CEO should care about creating a world-class onboarding program: to bring strategy to life, you need to engage the hearts and minds of all your employees quickly and consistently. You need them to understand your business and their individual place in it, to feel a part of the culture and to be motivated to put forth the discretionary effort to propel your organization to success. Despite the importance of a strong onboarding program, current stats tell us that great onboarding programs are hard to find:

Help! Let’s say your turnover is 20% and you re-hire to make up for that lost workforce. What will it mean to your organization if your onboarding program is sub-par, leaving these new hires — 20% of your population — unable to contribute to your strategic goals from the get-go? Can you wait a year while they get up to speed? I didn’t think so. And that’s assuming you are lucky enough to retain your newly recruited talent in the first place.

Fear not. Below are tips on how to engage, mobilize and ultimately retain your sparkly new, often expensively recruited talent. More importantly, you’ll get your CEO’s attention because (s)he’ll have a more productive, tenured, and engaged workforce who is able to drive their change agenda.

Best in class onboarding

1. Immerse them in your culture

Yes, it’s cliché, but culture eats strategy for lunch. Many talented new hires struggle to assimilate into new cultures and never feel a part of the team. Potentially even worse, new hires arriving in management and leadership roles often bring their old corporate cultures with them. Take the time to immerse your new hires in your purpose and desired culture and be honest about where you are on that journey. There’s nothing worse than being promised one thing and experiencing something completely different.

2. Design the onboarding experience backwards

Organizations often build their onboarding initiatives to only focus on content and don’t spend enough time focusing on how to successfully transfer that knowledge. We have five generations in the workforce, a rise in workplace flexibility, and people glued to their cell phones — all reasons to think harder about how we meet our employees “where they’re at” so we can develop programs that successfully resonate with the interests, tech habits and workplace behaviors of today’s employee.

3. Pace and sequence onboarding over time

We have an awful habit of making new hires drink through the fire hose, yet we know getting people up to speed quicker does NOT mean giving them more information to consume in a shorter period of time. Don’t get sucked into rushing your new hires through heavy content in only a few days—onboarding is not a race. Also, if we know the first six months to one year are critical retention timelines, why on earth would we only focus onboarding in the first 30-60 days?

4. Give them the puzzle box top

Context is king. Many new hires join a function and are only given information related to their specific department, leaving them with little to no clue as to what is going on with the rest of the business. It is becoming more and more important for employees to collaborate and communicate across silos to help the organization innovate and adapt quicker. So before asking them to own their piece of the puzzle, immerse them in the big picture by giving them the box top view.

5. Show them how they connect to your strategy

If you are hiring someone, it means they are a critical part of your strategic plan — or at least they should be, otherwise what’s the point? Whether they are part of the cleaning crew or a senior executive, each employee plays a part in bringing your strategy to life. Yet, in the majority of cases, the connection is fuzzy at best, or non-existent at worst. How can you expect your people to execute on your strategy if they don’t even know what that strategy is or how they connect to it? Your new hires at all levels are more capable of “getting” your strategy than your executives give them credit for. Great onboarding programs acknowledge this and focus on how to engage new hires in the big picture strategy from the start. But remember, one-way “tells” do not work and PowerPoints kill! Work on simplifying the complex and use storytelling to engage your new hires in what your organization wants to achieve.

6. Tool up your managers

One more cliché – people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. (But see “Surprise! Most People Leave Companies, Not Managers.”) Consistently, this is the number one reason people quit and move on to new pastures. So it seems crazy that front-line managers are also the most undervalued and underinvested group within the workforce today. Most managers will tell you they don’t have time to get sucked into nurturing new employees under their watch because they’re too focused on executing tasks. But in that case, maybe we have them focused on the wrong thing? The number one job of your front-line managers is to develop and build high performing teams. We need to make it easier for them to focus on this as their first priority and if they’re struggling, we need to train our managers so they have the right skills and tools to be the best team leaders possible.

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7. Show them their development roadmap

More and more, employees are leaving organizations because they don’t see the development opportunities available to them. The majority of graduates are looking for career advancement over anything else, yet instead of a clear development path, the journey feels more like a dirt track with a bunch of conflicting and poorly designed signs. I keep hearing complaints about millennials wanting promotions before they’ve proven themselves. Maybe if we’re more upfront about what their journey looks like, how long it takes, and how they’ll get there we’ll nip that argument in the bud?

And there you go. Seven steps to move your onboarding program from being “tick the box” to a strategic enabler, creating a meaningful business impact.

This article originally appeared on Culture University.

Chris Williams

Chris Williams is a strategic change expert, with a particular passion for culture transformation and strategic onboarding. He has worked with a large range of global and local organizations on initiatives such as enterprise strategy deployment, operational excellence, IT transformation, and culture change.

Chris speaks regularly at human resources, learning and development, change management, and onboarding conferences and is considered an energy amplifier in group facilitation environments.