It’s Time to Start Thinking Differently About Onboarding

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Oct 3, 2019

Onboarding needs rebranding. In a new survey 94% of the participating HR decision-makers agreed onboarding is key to employee development beyond the new hire period. As well, many HR decision-makers  felt that onboarding wasn’t just for new employees but for multiple different employee segments: employees transitioning to new roles, employees leaving for extended leave (maternity leave, health/sick leave, etc.) and employees leaving the organization whether for a new role or retirement.

Despite these findings, only 11% of respondents say onboarding is a continuous process at their organizations.

How can onboarding be reimagined? Maybe it starts with the name itself. “Onboarding” conveys the beginning of a period and thus, many companies only think of it in terms of the beginning. Naturally that falls to new employees only as well. A truly engaging experience for an employee – one that properly trains and acculturates an employee to their role and the organization at large – lasts much longer than a week, 30 days or even three months.

Rather than dumping information on an employee when they start and expecting them to reach peak productivity as soon as the onboarding is over, a strategic approach that modern companies are using is one that gives employees the right information at the right time, in a thoughtful way that makes sense for an individual. The same can be said for employees being promoted or whose role is changing.

When onboarding is considered a finite experience, organizations are missing out on crucial opportunities. In the face of massive change and disruption within how humans complete work, continuing outdated assumptions of onboarding only hurts the organization.

It’s time to reimagine onboarding and approach your company’s strategy in a way that’s employee-centric and engaging at all levels of an employee’s lifecycle.

Address the firsts of first year

Onboarding should not be treated as a one-size-fits-all, static event that’s tailored for new hires. Rather, it should be a continuous, ongoing process that supports talent along the whole employee journey. Strategic onboarding starts with the hiring stage and lasts through the time an employee leaves the company, while acknowledging key moments such as family leave, transitioning to a new team or role within an organization, promotions and so on.

There are a few key components that are important to consider when assessing and improving your onboarding program, including the culture of the organization and recognition of employees’ needs throughout their first year and beyond, with regular check-ins to ensure each employee is on the path to success. There are many firsts for  new employees and they don’t all happen during the first 30 days. Thinking through those firsts, such as first customer interaction, first time to receive feedback, first time to present an idea in a team meeting, and so on, can help guide a process that is engaging.

Connect to the culture and colleagues

With today’s changing workforce, defining and promoting the culture of your organization is paramount. Connecting employees to the culture can help them find their place in a company and feel comfortable to speak their mind and explore the things that they are passionate about. One way to create this connection is by training employees how to network within their organization properly. By finding those around them who share similar interests and values, employees will feel inspired to act on their passions and contribute to the organization in a meaningful way. Helping employees connect with colleagues who can be a mentor, friend or role model can create strong connections that keep employees engaged and empowered to be their authentic selves at work.

Managers must make time to meet

An important practice in creating a strong onboarding program is establishing one-on-one touchpoint meetings between managers and employees. The beginning of one’s stage in a company can be overwhelming with the amount of information they are expected to consume right from the start. Throughout these touchpoints, or “pulse checks,” managers can touch base with employees on the information they’ve received, and if they need more or less to be successful. This practice helps relieve the “information dumping” to make sure employees are properly onboarded. However, these touchpoints should go beyond the new hire period to create ongoing, strong relationships between employees and managers to keep employees on the right path for success.

Right information at the right time

Recognizing the importance of planning the delivery of content during onboarding is key to instilling a strong start to the onboarding process. Employees need to receive the right information at the right time in order to be successful, especially in the beginning of a role. Once they are in a role a certain period of time, layering on more information periodically after their initial learnings will be more meaningful because they have context to make sense of the new information. This also gives an employee the opportunity to think strategically about the information they’ve received, ask questions and even dive into a project where they can apply this new knowledge.

This method of layering information is key in the learning and development of employees, through the new hire phase and in transitions to new roles within the company.

Don’t stop training

HR decision-makers need to ensure their organizations are meeting the training needs of employees throughout the entirety of their careers and not just the first few days or weeks on the job. According to our Silkroad survey, while 78 % of HR decision-makers agree that onboarding isn’t just for new employees, 77% say their companies’ onboarding programs place greater emphasis on new hires than fostering positive transitions for existing employees. The disconnect here is that HR decision-makers understand the need for onboarding more than new hires, but many don’t have the tools or practices in place to create a strong, continuous program that meets the needs of all employees.

To current and legacy employees, the word “onboarding” may seem irrelevant, considering the definition of onboarding according to Marriam-Webster Dictionary is “the act or process of orienting and training a new employee.” In today’s workforce, the pace of change is faster than ever, and disruptions like AI and automation are entering the workplace, creating a new way of work both inside and outside the office. Rather than treating onboarding as a task to train a new employee, organizations should look at onboarding as an opportunity to train an employee with new skills, whether that is to orient them to the organization overall, or to help develop new skills to keep themselves relevant and in a position to grow and flourish at their company in a time of transformation.

Look to the future

As AI and automation enter the workforce, it’s important to recognize the opportunity to properly guide employees as they take on new skills and roles within the organization. Through these changes, soft skills such as adaptability, empathy and lifelong learning, are a few of the capabilities employees will need to succeed. The proper framework and approach to onboarding individuals is key to empowering employees to feel confident in their role and ready to take on change. These attributes are especially important when it comes time to reskill or upskill an employee – both of which are key pieces of a strong, continuous onboarding program.

To remain competitive in today’s ever-changing workforce, companies should approach onboarding as an opportunity to focus on the employee’s role – utilizing reskilling and upskilling as necessary, while also integrating the company culture and strategy through a process that’s intentional, employee-centric and designed with long-term objectives in mind. However, the survey reveals that more than half of HR decision-makers say onboarding is treated as a static event in their company, not a continuous process.

Both leaders and employees currently lack the ability to effectively manage workforce disruption and rapid technology advances. Leveraging a multi-pronged approach to onboarding, reskilling and upskilling makes it possible to keep pace with changing market requirements through a strong program that meets the needs of employees at each stage in their career.

Onboard returning workers

When an employee returns from personal, medical or parental leave, or after a boomerang from another organization, a proper transition is crucial in setting up that employee and the organization for success. It’s not uncommon for employees to come back to work after a long period away as different persons than when they left the organization. One way to help with these transitions is by connecting the returning worker to others who have gone through similar transitions, so they have people to go to for help navigating the changes they’re experiencing.

These transitions should also include multiple pulse checks to understand what an employee’s new normal will look like. Maybe a new parent won’t be able to work as late as before the leave, but they can complete work from home at night. Whatever it may be, communicating these changes early will help the employee, their manager and the organization manage this transition seamlessly.

Make onboarding strategic

As the workforce continues to change, and new disruptions are introduced, now is a great time to rethink your organization’s onboarding strategy. By starting with the employee and understanding the needs of both the organization and its people, your organization can begin to create a strong program that’s employee-centric, strategic and customized to address these needs and create a culture of success for everyone involved.