A warm welcome or full of empty promises?

Firms are wising up to the way they treat their new arrivals, particularly when they discover how much is lost in attrition costs. Sue Weekes reports

Workplace folklore has no shortage of tales concerning employees who turn up for work on their first day only to find no one is expecting them. While extreme examples, they serve to remind recruiters and resourcing professionals of the no-man’s land that can exist between job offer and day one, even in this enlightened era of talent management. Onboarding is designed to fill this potential void. It begins at the point of job offer by acclimatising the employee to the new company and can continue for three, six or even 12 months afterwards as the person gets up to speed in their new role. Research carried out by the Corporate Leadership Council showed that effective onboarding can have more than 20% impact on a person’s discretionary effort in their job by promoting employee engagement.

Onboarding activities that help bring about this change include clearly explaining job importance, responsibilities and performance objectives, as well as introducing new hires to other new employees.

Ian Creamer, vice-president international HR of global data integration software company Informatica, says it uses a simple “crawl, walk and run” analogy. “We’re trying to get people through the crawling stage very quickly; walking within a few months, and running and truly making a difference as quickly as possible,” he explains. “If we can reduce the time it takes to get sales people effective by three to six months, this could mean half a million or a million dollars’ worth of revenue coming into the business earlier.”

Crossing the induction line
Debate continues as to where onboarding finishes and induction begins within organisations and so there is a grey area over whose responsibility onboarding should be. Increasingly a case is being made for onboarding to be owned by the resourcing department to ensure a vital link is established between attraction and recruitment and employment. “With onboarding you are still selling to the candidate. They’ve kind of committed to you but there’s still a get-out clause,” says Lopa Gore, account director, resourcing communications, at recruitment process outsourcing company Alexander Mann Solutions. “The whole onboarding experience is part of attraction.” Gore adds that both the brand promise and the promises made to the candidate must be reinforced during the onboarding period. “If you say ’come and work for us because we’re so technologically advanced’ and then it takes them a month to get some forms through, that promise suddenly doesn’t feel so realistic.”

Paul Daley, director of HR consulting at recruitment process and HR outsourcing company Ochre House, says that resourcing must be accountable for onboarding even though it doesn’t necessarily control or deliver all the “touch points” in the process. “In those first six months you are building the psychological contract. An individual joins an organisation based on the beliefs and assumptions about how it’s going to pan out and these are either supported or not in this first period,” he says. “There is a big role in it for line managers but nonetheless the resourcing function needs to decide the policy and the strategy for the onboarding experience.”

Gore Lopa

Lopa Gore

Disconnects can prove fatal
Gore reports that there are still cases of those involved in the recruitment journey having no understanding of what happens to the new joiner afterwards and HR having no appreciation of what the resourcing team has promised them. Such a disconnect can prove fatal in the early weeks of the employee’s lifecycle. Ron Eldridge, director of employee engagement and retention specialist TalentDrain, says that employee feedback from its online diagnostic tool OnBoarder shows that if something goes wrong in the early days in terms of their pre-joining expectations, it’s very hard to “pull it back”. “And a person’s tenure almost always won’t be as long and performance won’t be as good,” he says, adding that the reason things go wrong most often is because the reality of the job doesn’t live up to the promise.

Proactive processes pay off…
Those firms which take a more proactive, end-to-end view are those which are likely to be most successful. Lorna Bryson, Tesco’s head of resource/diversity UK and Republic of Ireland, says the process needs to begin “the minute” a person receives their joining letter through the door. “It’s really important people feel part of a team from the beginning,” she says.

Bryson adds that its recent work on the design of the onboarding and induction process is paying off. While Tesco enjoys high levels of retention in people who have been at the company more than 12 months (percentage-wise it was in the high 90s last year), she says it was losing people who’d been with the company less than a year. Now, following a corporate induction day and four weeks working in their department, the new programme sees employees return to induction. “They are a lot more confident after four weeks’ training in their department. They know their store and they come back with many more questions than they had on the first induction day,” says Bryson. “That has been really successful.”

… such as buddying and mentoring
Among the onboarding activities that are helping to improve retention is to use some form of buddying as part of the process. Informatica assigns pre-hire buddies at peer level to new starters in India where previously the company had experienced a fall-out between people accepting job offers and joining. This has proved successful and Creamer says it is in the process of rolling out a global new hire buddy scheme.

Gillian Hibberd

Gillian Hibberd

Buddying is also used in the public sector. Gillian Hibberd, corporate director (people, policy and communications) at Buckinghamshire County Council, says new senior managers are allocated an ’organisational buddy’, a peer officer whose role it is to explain the nuances of how the organisation works, and a ’portfolio buddy’, “who is a colleague on their senior management team who will explain how their service works and who does what”, she explains.

Mentoring is a key part of recruitment firm Kelly Services’ onboarding programme. Gabriella Müller, director, EMEA Service, who is responsible for the programme, says the highly structured development path includes instructor-led and on-the-job training, practised with the mentor who is typically a senior consultant. Before they join, individuals are told what is expected of them in the early weeks and months, and who will mentor and coach them. She adds that the mentoring scheme also influences career development opportunities for its consultants. And involving several people in the onboarding process has another positive knock-on effect. “Having different stakeholders in the process means we have different touch-points and so we’re not just reliant on one person’s opinion about the new hire and their performance and fit in the company,” she says.

Technology tracking
Kelly Services’ programme is managed by its company-wide Cornerstone OnDemand learning and talent management system, and technology is playing an increasingly important part in delivering the onboarding process for many organisations. AMS and recruitment advertising and communications company TMP Worldwide are among those firms building onboarding microsites which can be especially useful for the transactional side of the process and disseminating information more efficiently and costeffectively. Gareth Edwards, general manager at TMP Worldwide, says technology and systems help to deliver a consistent message and experience to everyone. “With no technology in place you are relying on different individuals to mandate a consistent process,” he says. “We make sure candidates are consistently informed in a way that mirrors the brand values.”

Many applicant tracking and talent management systems offer onboarding modules and Jodie Holway, senior product manager for Taleo Onboarding, reports that clients are configuring its system to meet the needs of their particular processes. “Some clients are focusing on mentoring and relationship-building for their new hires, others on regulatory compliance and costeffective e-paperwork,” she says. “And quite a few are doing all of the above plus getting new hire equipment prepared so it’s all ready before they walk through the door on day one.”

No matter how successful an onboarding programme proves, it should be regularly reviewed and updated. Attrition rates remain one of the best indicators and Hibberd says tracking this across both the first and second year of joining helps the council to identify any areas of concern in the process. Kelly Services says it is too early to judge how effective its programme introduced last year is but doesn’t feel any onboarding programme is ever “fully finished” as it must always adapt to new circumstances and market conditions. “It is constant evolution but once you have a clear framework and clear processes it helps,” says Müller.

Powerpoints

  • Onboarding helps to establish the vital link between attraction and recruitment and employment
  • Resourcing departments should own the process even though they don’t deliver all aspects of it
  • A lack of, or poor onboarding practices, can lead to higher attrition rates in the early months
  • Studies show effective onboarding can increase employee engagement and drive a greater than 20 % change in discretionary effort
  • Technology helps impose a framework and deliver a consistent message
  • Onboarding processes should be regularly reviewed

 

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