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. Often, the connection between onboarding and strategy isn’t clear 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. So what’s that got to do with onboarding? 

  • 33% of new hires look for a new job within the first 6 months (more among millennials).
  • The costs of employee turnover are estimated to range between 100% and 300% of the replaced employee’s salary.
  • It typically takes eight months for a new hire to reach full productivity. Help!

So let’s say your turnover is 20%. What will it mean to your organization if 20% of your population isn’t able to contribute to your strategic goals? 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 have your CEO purring  (disclaimer: not guaranteed to be literal) because (s)he will have a more productive, tenured and engaged workforce that is able to drive their change agenda.

Creating a World-Class Onboarding Program

The best onboarding programs share these 7 traits:

  1. Design the onboarding experience from the new-hire backwards. Organizations are often only focused on content (because we have a bunch of stuff we need our people to understand) and don’t spend enough time focusing on how to successfully transfer that knowledge. We have 5 generations in the workforce, a rise in workplace flexibility, and people glued to their cell phones – all reasons to think a little harder about how we meet our employees ‘where they’re at.’
  2. 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 in to rushing your new hires through heavy content in only a few days – onboarding is not a race. Also, if we know the first 6 months to 1 year are critical retention timelines, why on earth would we only focus onboarding in the first 30-60 days?
  3. Give them the puzzle box top. Context is king. Many new hires join a function and have no clue what is going on outside of that. It is becoming more and more important for employees to collaborate and communicate across silos help the organization innovate and adapt quicker. So before asking them to own their piece of the puzzle, immerse them in the big picture – the box top view.
  4. 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 house cleaning crew or a senior executive, each one of your employees plays a part in bringing your strategy to life. Yet, in the majority of cases, the connection is fuzziest at best … or non-existent at worst. How can you expect your people to execute on 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 likely to get your strategy than your executives give them credit for. Great onboarding programs acknowledge this and instead focus on how to engage new hires in the strategy. But remember, one way tells do not work and PowerPoints kill! Work on simplifying the complex and storytelling to engage your new hires in what your organization wants to achieve.
  5. Immerse them in your culture. Yes it’s clichéd, 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 the culture of their old company with them. Take time to immerse your new hires in your purpose and desired culture and be honest (shock, horror!) about where you are on that journey. There’s nothing worse than being promised one thing and experiencing something completely different.
  6. Tool up your managers. Ooh, another cliché (sorry, last one I promise) – people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. Consistently, this is the number one reason people quit and move on to pastures new. 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. But in that case, maybe we have them focused on the wrong thing??? The number 1 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.
  7. Show them their development road map. 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 (and I hate how we label our young talent like a swear word sometimes) wanting promotions before they have proven themselves. Maybe if we are 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. 7 steps to move your onboarding program from being ‘tick the box’ to a strategic enabler, creating a meaningful business impact. In posts to come we’ll take more of a deep dive into these steps to give you practical tips. For the time being, if you have any questions just holler!

January 5, 2017


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