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Impact of Onboarding and Initial Training Programs on the Success of Hires

Impact of Onboarding and Initial Training Programs on the Success of Hires.
By Vikki Ali, Barrett Rose & Lee, Inc.

Employee ‘onboarding’, a talent management term, is a rebirthing of the age-old concept of new hire orientation. Best defined as a systematic and comprehensive approach to orienting a new employee to help them get “on board,”[1] this process of obtaining the best results from employees quickly and efficiently has been adopted by a growing number of organizations as a critical part of the hiring process.

While the goal remains to make new employees feel welcome and comfortable in their new surroundings, and minimize the time before they are productive, proponents have described the process of onboarding as more about retaining talent than simply orienting the new hire.[2] An investment in effective, well-designed and engaging onboarding processes during the ‘honeymoon’ phase has a significant impact on employee satisfaction, retention, morale and their overall performance.[3] These findings, also revealed in research conducted by Hewitt Associates, found that companies who invested the most time and resources in onboarding enjoyed the highest levels of employee engagement.[4]

Exploiting the process to its full potential will ensure businesses get the most out of the onboarding experience. In unfamiliar territory, new hires tend to grasp for an understanding of their environment, including making meaning out of the actions and inactions of their new employer. Greater significance is placed on any displays of slipshod or poorly thought out onboarding, and can be taken as indicators of the company as a whole.[5] A disorganized and impersonal orientation program would leave a less than favorable impression and can have negative consequences on the productivity and retention of the new hire. However, research indicates, that employees who attended a structured orientation program were considerably more likely to remain with the company after three years than those who did not go through such a program.[6] Comparison benchmarking found that best-in-class organizations experienced an increase in retention rates and time to productivity of over 20%.[7]

Other key aspects of the initial process are:

Communication: Miscommunication can lead to employee performance contrary to company best practices. Reinforcing consistent messages during the initial training program is crucial to avoiding mistakes later on. 90% of companies believe their employees make the decision to stay with the company within the first 6 months, thus extending the onboarding process for that period can prove beneficial.[8]

The onboarding process should be kept simple. While information that equips the new hire to become a full team player should be divulged, he or she should not be overloaded with available intelligence.[9] Information overload during the initial training session sends an ineffective message and can lead to the material being forgotten.
Best performing companies distinguish themselves by leveraging technology, such as portals, to assist with delivering messages and integrating employees. Offering the information on the company’s intranet as a self-serve option for instance, would be easier to manage and disseminate, can save time, money and increase productivity. Employees will also feel confident that the answers to their questions are readily available and do not require them to remember everything on the first day.
Employees need to know specifically how their jobs, and doing them well, makes the vision and mission possible.[10] By understanding corporate or departmental objectives, the employee should be able to recognize how their job contributes to the company’s success. [11] Educating new employees on the culture of the organization, including time with leaders who best embody the culture can also prove to be beneficial. This can be imparted through social gatherings, as it will encourage openness and informality.[12]

Interesting Approach: An orientation program that is interesting and interactive not only communicates a positive outlook about the high quality of the organization, but helps employees retain information more effectively. Onboarding should be broken down into a manageable size to make it more effective. Organizations have found that breaking training down and even extending it into two days formats or four half-day modules would likely communicate an impressive message.[13] By nature, initial training sessions will always require new employees to fill out forms and watch orientation videos but the process can be less tedious by alternating rote tasks with more engaging activities, such as touring facilities and meeting colleagues. Orientation programs that create inspiring experiences reassure new hires they made the right choice and lay the foundation for high employee engagement.

Mentoring: Rather than delegating the job of training to a co-worker, or having the employee watch a video presentation, or learn on his or her own, advocators believe in assigning the process to a person designated as an “onboarding manager”, with specific responsibility for new hires. Mentoring programs should not be a replacement for orientation and training and can be as simple as assigning a new employee a “go-to” person or having a team of mentors for any questions that might arise. Assigning an experienced mentor, preferably someone in the same general business area will give the newcomer a reliable contact source.[14] Mentor’s can also be responsible for making internal introductions and informing the new employee on available resources . Published reports state that best-in-class organizations are nearly 2.5 times more likely than laggard organizations to assign a mentor or coach during the onboarding process.[16] Relying on any old employee to conduct training, including those with negative attitudes or mediocre work standards, hinders the new hire’s learning process and integration, and sends the message that the employer lacks discernment and high standards. An effective mentoring program provide recognition and provide mentors with coaching skills training and professional development opportunities for current employees, keeping them motivated and productive.[17] Onboarding is a two-way process: the mentor provides facts and support, and the new hire asks crucial questions about his or her job.[18]

Feedback: Determining the success of the program and measuring results can be gained from feedback. During the initial training program, communicating the need for employee input is important to ensuring a consistent high-level delivery experience. Successful organizations have collected feedback after the orientation program and then at various milestones over the course of the first 90 days to gain rating on aspects of the process. Making alternative communication methods available also invites feedback, especially from those not comfortable, or reluctant to contribute. A wider selection including anonymous surveys and suggestion boxes will work and will continue to garner input if employees see their suggestions being put into actionable changes.[19] Sitting down with each new hire to find out how they are doing, addressing potential obstacles, and surfacing suggestions will improve the process. The easier it is for new hires to give honest feedback, the better job the organization can do retaining them.[20] Information gleaned from feedback can be used for continual process improvement. Constructive feedback should also be offered within the first few weeks to ensure proper integration.[21] This communicates the essential messages that the company cares about its employees and about excellence. In fact, while the specific details of the process may elapse from memory over time, the cumulative ‘Emotional and Perceptual Take Aways’, or what employees felt, tend to be remembered, thereby increasing employee engagement.[22]

Engaging: Studies have shown that the more engaged new employees are, the longer they will stay.[23] The onboarding process should warrant pride, inclusion and motivation to help the company succeed. Starting employees off right solidifies positive messages conveyed in the recruiting process.[24] Studies conducted by the Corporate Leadership Council indicate that it is important for new employees to quickly acclimatize to their new work environment and start building rapport with colleagues so they can begin to assimilate into existing workgroups. By doing so, new employees experience a sense of purpose within their new organization and the transition into the organization is less disruptive.[25] Following this is a necessary support system.
To avoid a stand-alone system of onboarding, without appropriate support and coaching, the process should be viewed as just the first step in an ongoing employee-support program. As well, employees should be introduced to the company’s full range of career-advancement, recreation and other programs, and be encouraged to continually seek information and other assistance.[26] In fact, the Human Resources Corporate Leadership Council found that increasing an employee’s level of engagement could potentially improve performance by 20% and reduce the employee’s probability of departure by 87%.[27] In order to achieve Best-in-Class status, managers should meet with new employees to set performance expectations and related development plans.[28] This initial meeting should set clear job expectations for the employee, and will create a sense of ownership, reduce confusion and give an idea of what it takes to be successful.[29]

Onboarding is a strategic personnel and management process designed to improve bottom line results. It is important to streamline its efficiency, consistency and flexibility to reap the benefits of improved company brand, increased employee engagement, retention and productivity as well as building shared corporate culture. An onboarding program executed effectively with proper management support is well worth the investment and can be one of the most significant contributions made towards achieving long-term organizational success. A well formatted procedure that designs an employee-centric experience, welcomes new hires and steers them through the onboarding process will reinforce their value on the team.

Endnotes
[1] Employee Onboarding. 2007. Money-Zine.com

[2] Steps to a Successful Onboarding Process. 2009. SilkRoad.com

[3] How to Avoid the Four Deadliest Onboarding Mistakes. 2005. David Lee.

[4] All Aboard! Does Your Onboarding Process Lead to Employee Engagement or Buyer’s Remorse? 2006. David Lee.

[5] How to Avoid the Four Deadliest Onboarding Mistakes. 2005. David Lee

[6] How to Avoid the Four Deadliest Onboarding Mistakes. 2005. David Lee.

[7] Onboarding Benchmark Report. 2006. Aberdeen Group.

[8] Onboarding Benchmarking Report. 2006. Aberdeen Group.

[9] A Checklist for Successful Onboarding. 2008. HR World. John Edwards.

[10] All Aboard! Does Your Onboarding Process Lead to Employee Engagement or Buyer’s Remorse? 2006. David Lee.

[11] Employee Onboarding. 2007. Money-Zine.com

[12] Employment Relations Today. 2005 Victoria Reese.

[13] All Aboard! Does Your Onboarding Process Lead to Employee Engagement or Buyer’s Remorse? 2006. David Lee.

[14] A Checklist for Successful Onboarding. 2008. HR World. John Edwards

[15] Assimilating Your New Employee. 2006. HR Group International. Bryon Peterson.

[16] Steps to a Successful Onboarding Process. 2009. SilkRoad.com

[17] All Aboard! Does Your Onboarding Process Lead to Employee Engagement or Buyer’s Remorse? 2006. David Lee.

[18] All Aboard! Does Your Onboarding Process Lead to Employee Engagement or Buyer’s Remorse? 2006. David Lee.

[19] Checklist for Successful Onboarding. 2008. HR World. John Edwards.

[20] All Aboard! Does Your Onboarding Process Lead to Employee Engagement or Buyer’s Remorse? 2006. David Lee.

[21] Maximizing Your Retention and Productivity with On-Boarding. 2005. Employment Relations Today. Victoria Reese.

[22] Does Your Onboarding Program Need A Fresh Pair of Eyes? 2008. ERE.net. David Lee.

[23] Taleo Onboarding. 2006. Taleo.com

[24] Taleo Onboarding. 2006. Taleo.com

[25] All Aboard! Does Your Onboarding Process Lead to Employee Engagement or Buyer’s Remorse? 2006. David Lee.

[26] The Importance of On-boarding New Employees. 2009. Daily HR Tips.

[27] Steps to a Successful Onboarding Process. 2009. SilkRoad.com

[28] How to Create an Onboarding Process. 2010. Jaclyn Branch. SilkRoad Technology.

[29] How to Create an Onboarding Process. 2010. Jaclyn Branch. SilkRoad Technology.

Copyright Barrett Rose and Lee, 2010. All rights reserved.

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