Some organizations have outmoded ideas about onboarding – specifically about how important it is. It’s not just about reading an employee manual and signing forms; effective onboarding introduces company culture and gives new workers a glimpse of what they’re in for. So, it’s not something to skip or hurry through. Rather, onboarding must be included in a comprehensive strategy for employee success. This is possible with the right tools and processes.
A running start for the transient workforce
Today’s digital-savvy workforce has the opportunity to work within the “gig economy,” using new technologies and new opportunities to move from one gig to the next. There are innumerable blogs and Instagram accounts that tout a work-from-anywhere lifestyle of coding while travelling the world, for instance, or becoming your own boss by choosing which and how many freelance writing or graphic design gigs to take on. This comfort among Millennials with switching jobs has led to the creation of yet another label for them: the “job-hopping generation.”
It’s no longer an expectation, either for the employer or the employee, that a person will join a company after college and then staying for 20+ years. The reality is that employees may only stay with your company for a short time, which makes it even more important to be able to hit the ground running from day one. The sooner this happens, the sooner your new hire will be an effective employee who feels like a valuable contributor.
Why isn’t onboarding more effective?
Because some organizations have antiquated ideas about what the onboarding process, they don’t actually have one. New hires come on and are handed a binder of information to read – that’s the extent of it. Other companies don’t approach onboarding in an agile way with continuously updated sets of collateral, documents and procedure aids. Instead, it’s treated as a one-and-done, point-in-time activity as if things don’t change – even as the world around us does.
If an organization does make the effort to onboard, HR takes new employees through a sea of documents: time sheets, travel policy, non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and so forth. But then they are thrown into the business function pool and expected to swim. Perhaps they will find a mentor or “work buddy” who can show them the tricks and tips of the company, but as an employer, you can’t always be sure that person will explain things the correct way. Or maybe the person you partner the new employee up with isn’t happy with how certain things are done or they’re only explaining the things they want the new hire to know. That leads to a whole crop of new challenges – such as having to later re-teach employees things they were taught incorrectly from the get-go, which is harder than doing it right the first time.
Anatomy of a successful onboard process
Now that we’ve seen examples of what not to do, here’s a different approach to use. A successful onboarding program starts with creating a checklist of everything a new employee needs to know about the business (culture, key meetings, code of conduct and so on). Also, identify who needs to be involved with each step/segment and how to ensure new employees get the information and training they need. The progress of new hires should be monitored from day one – an onboarding checklist for the employee will help here. This maximizes the probability of an aligned and complete onboarding.
This is not a one- or two-week proposition. The first week should focus on fundamentals, certainly. But after a month or so, start adding to that basic knowledge. You must spread out onboarding to ensure the information sticks with the trainee. People can only absorb so much at once, so spreading training out and chunking information helps with knowledge retention.
Make sure that contract workers and new hires have easy, on-demand access to communications with the other members of your team as necessary to complete their jobs. Offering freelancers access to online chat and file sharing systems ensures that not only do employees have the information where and when they need it, but they can also feel a part of the overall organization. This can go a long way toward boosting engagement and collaboration.
If important company information is available when and where employees need it, they will be better able to receive and digest it. Making it easy for new hires, freelancers and short-term employees to access and interact with important onboarding information is imperative to the overall effectiveness of your onboarding and your employees moving forward.
Create business goals that determine when an employee is fully onboarded and how to measure that. This is how you can determine whether your program is successful – otherwise, you risk losing people that you’ve hired. It’s very expensive and difficult to re-find the right talent.
When evaluating your onboarding process, it’s also important to examine when senior management last went through the process and to ensure all essential stakeholders are involved in reviewing and approving the content. This helps with alignment throughout the organization.
Onboarding for today
This new world of the gig economy is good for workers in search of greater flexibility and for employers who wanted a greater variety of aptitudes. However, it can make onboarding tricky. Employers need to get value from new hires from Day One since there’s no telling how long they will stay, and contract workers also need to get up to speed for immediate productivity.
New hires need more than a manual. Instead, create an onboarding process that is relevant, interactive, ongoing and strategic. Use the best practices noted above to develop a process that conveys company culture and encourages collaboration, communication and informal mentoring. Whether employees stay two weeks or 20 years, both you and they will benefit from this approach.
Flemming Goldbach, VP of Product, LMS365