Author Archives: Sarah Burke

Welcome Onboard. Tips for Staff Recruitment by Dr. Sarah Burke

I estimate there will be a lot of ‘first days’ for staff in January 2014, if the volume of assessment testing for recruitment that we did leading up to Christmas is anything to go by.  But consider these facts:

•       Half of all senior external hires fail within 18 months in a new position;

•       Almost 1/3 of all new hires employed for less than 6 months are already job searching;

•       According to the US Dept of Labour, a total of 25% of the working population undergoes a career transition each year.

This level of churn comes at a cost. Estimates of direct and indirect costs for a failed executive-level hire can be as high as $2.7 million (Watkins, 2003).  And for each employee who moves on, there is many others in the extended network – peers, bosses, and direct reports whose performance is also influenced.  One of the important ways that HR can positively impact on this level of churn is through the strategic use of a process known as onboarding.

What is Onboarding?

Employee onboarding is the process of getting new hires positively adjusted to the role, social, and cultural aspects of their new jobs as quickly and smoothly as possible. It is a process through which new hires learn the knowledge, skills, and behaviours required to function effectively within an organisation. The bottom line is that the sooner we can bring people up to speed in their roles and wider organisation, the more expediently they will contribute.

Conventional wisdom is that a new hire will take approximately 6 months before they can meaningfully contribute (Watkins, 2003).  I suspect that for most organisations, a 6 month lag time before seeing a return on a new hire is untenable, particularly in the NZ economy when 97.2% of us employ less than 20 staff (MBIE Fact Sheet, 2013).  One of the important ways that HR can accelerate the adjustment process for new hires is by having an onboarding programme that is given a profile inside the business, and supported by key staff.

While the specifics of an onboarding programme can vary organisation to organisation, the below is offered as a guide for HR managers to proactively manage their onboarding efforts.  Please review my presentation Welcome Onboard for more direction in terms of supporting staff in the initial days, weeks, and months of their employment.

 Top Tips for Supporting Staff Onboarding:

  • Make good use of the pre-start to get the workspace organised, to schedule key meetings, and for sharing useful organisational and team information (i.e., team bio’s, blogs, key organisational reading).
  • Give your onboarding programme a brand/logo/tagline that communicates the experience and gives it importance/profile.
  • Customise your onboarding programme to reflect individual need; onboarding is not a one-size fits all.
  • Personalise the first day, including a formal announcement of entry
  • Create an onboarding plan detailing key projects, firsts, objectives, and deliverables that are expected by your new hire.
  • Monitor progress over time using milestones; 30 – 60 – 90 – 120 days up to 1 year post-entry.
  • Identify 2-3 quick wins that your new hire can take responsibility for in order to build credibility and establish momentum (note: a quick win must be a meaningful win, not necessarily a big win).
  • Involve your new hire in projects that will require working cross-functionally.
  • Include organisational role models as mentors and coaches.  Remember a relatively small set of connections is far better than a lot of superficial acquaintances.
  • Be prepared to provide initial structure and direction to your new hire.  Remember, most people if thrown in the deep end to ‘sink or swim’ will sink.
  • Use technology to facilitate the onboarding process, including the flow of information.
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Welcome On Board: A Strategic Approach to Onboarding New Staff

Organisations need to take a serious look at how they onboard new staff.  Although a topic of interest inside human resource circles, the typical onboarding programme is little more than a dressed up orientation that involves pulling new hires through a range of sessions covering corporate policy, history, compliance, as well as basic job directions, and staff introductions.  These programmes typically offer new hires little inspiration, or early career support, strategic insight, or guidance towards building meaningful relationships.   But consider these facts:

  • Half of all senior external hires fail within 18 months in a new position;
  • Almost 1/3 of all new hires employed for less than 6 months are already job searching;
  • According to the US Department of Labour, the average person holds 10.2 jobs in their lifetime.

This level of churn comes at a cost. Estimates of direct and indirect costs for a failed executive-level hire can be as high as $2.7 million (Watkins, 2003).  And for each employee who moves on, there is many others in the extended network – peers, bosses, and direct reports whose performance is also influenced.

Employees who have gone through an onboarding process that is more than just paper-processing report feeling better connected to the organisation and with a stronger feeling of belonging.  These programmes typically incorporate a range of content including early career support and feedback, are customised according to role and level, facilitate newcomer networking, and are tied to specific goals, which are routinely measured and revised.

When well developed, an onboarding programme can assist new hires appreciate their contribution to the wider organisation and help them feel connected to something bigger than themselves.  Second, a well developed programme can help convey the culture of the organisation so that decisions are made more in line with accepted practices and are organisationally relevant.  Third, they help new employees get up to speed more quickly.  

In his book “The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at all Levels”, Michael Watkins (2003) estimates that it takes on average 6.2 months for a new employee to contribute as much value to a new organisation as they have consumed from it.  It is then sometimes between 90 days and 1 year that a new hire is expected to reach maximum productivity.

Organisations would therefore be wise to cast a critical eye over their own onboarding programmes.  If new hires aren’t expected to contribute meaningfully to an organisation until at least 6 months, and one third of all hires employed are already job searching by this stage, we would be ill-advised to leave the employee experience to chance.  If we fail in those first weeks and months to excite our new hires the results are clear.  Lost productivity.  Lost commitment. Lost creativity.  Lost ideas.  And lost retention.

Employee Onboarding – The Total Picture

In recent years there has been a proliferation of software on the market all claiming to assist in the employee on-boarding process, and in doing so, deliver various organisational returns such as increased employee engagement, commitment, productivity, as well as reduce intentions to leave and turnover.

On-boarding refers to the process by which a new employee acquires the attitudes, behaviour, and knowledge to become a productive, contributing member of the team and is a process measured by months and years not days and weeks.  From what I have seen, much of the onboarding software being touted in the market relies heavily on electronic portals filled with document libraries, forms, and links to various corporate branded content.  Much of this material usefully fills the pre-start and initial-entry phase of onboarding, yet is a very small part of the total onboarding process.

Unfortunately, no amount of organisational hand-holding and support will assist the adjustment process of a new employee if they don’t have the initiative, and self-starting intent to make use of available information!  To facilitate the success of an onboarding process, a better place to start might be the selection of proactive employees, since this group are more inclined to ask questions, seek feedback, socialise, and build the networks necessary to facilitate a speedy adjustment into an organisation.

Electronic forms do not negate the hands-on role of the manager and team in supporting an employee’s integration into an organisation.  Indeed, a wealth of research highlights the importance of carefully selecting (and training) in-house staff to assume the role of buddies, role models, and mentors for your new employee.  It would seem the more that a new employee feels they are informed, listened to, and encouraged – be it via one’s manager or colleague, the more likely they are to develop the confidence required to carry out the role that is being asked of them.

To ensure the long-term success of an onboarding programme, the process must extend beyond week 1. Long-term onboarding options might include job rotations, E-learning courses, targeted assignments, regionally based learning forums, 360 degree feedback, and refresher training.  Be prepared to measure the success of an onboarding programme as well and track the indicators that are most predictive of success at regular intervals.