Owning your onboarding strategy: why you need a holistic approach

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A holistic pre-boarding and onboarding strategy is key to increasing employee loyalty – and it’s a long-term project, not a quick fix.

As an employee, there’s nothing more nerve-wracking than starting the first day at a new job. It’s wrought with anxiety.

Will your fellow colleagues like you? Will you get a clear sense of your role and responsibilities? Will you align with the company’s culture and values? How does the company enforce its cultural values across all levels of the organisation? Does the company provide ongoing learning and development opportunities?

These are just a few of the questions a new employee might have before their first day and are essentially the reason onboarding exists – to eliminate confusion, provide clarity, help new hires transition into the company smoothly, and ultimately, increase employee satisfaction and loyalty.  

More often than not, however, onboarding is built as a rigid process within organisations and tends to be limited in both its scope and time frame for execution.

One important tactic that not many companies currently do, but that we advise to our customers, is to create a holistic pre-boarding and onboarding programme.

All too often, the pre-boarding phase is completely forgotten or ignored because many HR professionals assume an employee’s connection to culture and engagement only start from their first day - but that’s just not true.

Here are some helpful pointers for how organisations can get started with a holistic pre-boarding and onboarding strategy (and effectively help new hires feel connected to the company’s culture and future colleagues).

Use digital tools to socially engage new hires – and do it early on

Remember how nerve-wracking the first day at a new job can be? Well, it’s true - and this is usually because employees care and want to make a good first impression with their future colleagues, team members and managers. That’s where digital tools can be a great asset.

We live in a digitally driven, mobile-first world these days. No matter where you look, people are glued to their mobile devices and are posting content to social channels at every chance they get. Employees are no different.

As we’ve seen in our own internal communications platform usage data, employees can’t help themselves when it comes to posting on enterprise social networks, with social updates garnering 77% of the total likes and comments accounting for 14% of the total likes on the platform.

The need to ‘like’ and comment on social posts is hard to resist, even for employees.

Onboarding will be even more impactful if direct/line managers get involved and set up individualised training sessions for new hires that are specific to their roles.

As an employer, this data provides a valuable insight and lesson – invite new hires to join the company’s dedicated employee communications app so they can start seeing what their new colleagues are posting/sharing and begin interacting with those colleagues.

This is a good first step in helping new employees connect with the company, better understand its culture and eventually become a long-term, loyal partner (and champion) of the organisation.

Additionally, employers should also set up a buddy system that pairs an existing employee with a new hire and connects the two before the new first day.

The goal should be for the buddies to act as a mentor to welcome new hires and answer any questions they might have about the company’s culture, required attire/uniforms, scheduling protocols and anything else they want to know.

It not only helps new hires understand the company’s vision and priorities better, but it also gives them a head start in forging digital connections and bonds with their colleagues.

Set the stage for the first 90 days on the job

Onboarding should consist of more than a single session with HR on the first day of work.

For example, HR teams should encourage new hires to send a company-wide ‘hello, I’ve arrived’ type of message introducing themselves, their background, their role and even personal interests.

This opens the door to digital interactions and engagement with fellow colleagues across the entire organisation.

Another strategy that works well is to invite new hires to attend multiple onboarding sessions over the course of their first three to six months.

If companies and their HR teams think of onboarding as a long-term strategy (rather than a quick fix or project), they will see the rewards in multiple ways.

These can include topics such as company mission/business goals, organisational culture and values, organisational and team structure, payroll/benefits, data management/security best practices, etc.

The onboarding process shouldn’t stop there. It’s important to set up individualised meetings between new hires and their team/different departments to understand what their roles are, how they execute their roles, if and how collaboration may be required.

Onboarding will be even more impactful if direct/line managers get involved and set up individualised training sessions for new hires that are specific to their roles.

For example, a new retail associate may need to attend training on how to use the store’s POS system.

Finally, none of the previously mentioned steps in the 90-day onboarding programme will be effective if you don’t gather feedback.

That’s why I recommend setting up 30, 60 and 90-day HR check-ins to gauge the different stages of the new employee’s experience – inclusive of their observations, challenges, feedback, areas for improvement, questions and more.

It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon - focus on the long-haul

All too often, companies and their HR teams (even if they follow of my recommendations) tackle onboarding as a project with a defined end date.

Sadly, that’s the wrong approach. I like to think of onboarding in the same context as running – it should be more like a marathon, not a sprint.

Make sure team leaders/managers are providing regular feedback, both digitally and in-person.

Set up a half-yearly HR check-in to provide constructive feedback to employees on their performance.

Conduct annual performance review and allow employees the chance to participate and share their own insights/feedback.

If companies and their HR teams think of onboarding as a long-term strategy (rather than a quick fix or project), they will see the rewards in multiple ways, such as increased employee happiness, increased job satisfaction, improved performance and long-term loyalty.

If these benefits are derived, it will ultimately lead to a lower turnover of staff, which is high on most organisations’ list of priorities.

Interested in this topic? Read Do you see onboarding as a two-way street?

About Guy Chiswick

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