The experience a new employee has during the onboarding period can make or break how they feel about the organization, how excited they are about the work, and whether or not they plan to stick around past the first year. Yet 36% of companies lack a structured onboarding program, according to research by CareerBuilder.
Orientation is not onboarding
It typically takes a new hire about eight months to reach full productivity, yet many organizations expect employees to be ramped-up within a matter of weeks… and don’t provide any ongoing support to help them succeed.
Some leaders assume taking a new hire to lunch, explaining benefits, and handing them an employee handbook is onboarding. In fact, “While orientation might be necessary — paperwork and other routine tasks must be completed — onboarding is a comprehensive process involving management and other employees that can last up to 12 months,” according to SHRM.
Is your organization providing new employees with an engaging onboarding experience? If you feel like your program could use a little work, here are six tips you may find helpful:
1. Put culture front-and-center.
Company culture is so important to employees today that many will relocate or even take a smaller salary just to join an organization with a culture they believe in. When a new employee joins your team, they’ll be expecting to be immersed in your culture right off the bat.
When managers and leaders are onboarding new hires, it’s easy to get caught up in the details of work tasks, reporting structures, and company policies. But keep in mind, your new employee will also be wondering about what to expect at company events, how they’ll fit in with their team, and how they’ll navigate social interactions at work.
Is there someone (who isn’t the new employee’s boss) that they can go to with company culture questions? At 15Five, we have an internal culture team, made up of individuals from every department. The team meets with each new hire during their first week to fill them in on all things company culture, share upcoming events and “what to expects,” and becomes the employee’s go-to resource for questions or ideas.
2. Set clear expectations and goals.
Role clarity is one of the top drivers of employee engagement, yet it’s often overlooked or undervalued by business leaders and managers. Employees who are set up for success have a clear understanding of precisely what is expected of them, what their individual and team goals are, and how their work will be evaluated and measured.
Working with a new employee to develop a 1-month, 2-month, and 90-day onboarding plan — complete with specific tasks and goals — is a great way to help new hires get off on the right foot. It also empowers them to take ownership of their work (which is another boost to engagement in and of itself). This goal-setting and onboarding plan documentation should continue throughout the employee’s first year… and beyond.
3. Connect employees’ work to the company mission and vision.
Shockingly, nearly 33% of new hires are already looking for a new job within their first six months, according to HBR — and that percentage is even higher among millennial workers.
Considering one of the most impactful drivers of employee engagement (particularly for millennials) is purpose, it’s critical that the onboarding experience deliver a clear understanding of why the organization exists, what its mission is, and how the employee’s work will impact the company vision.
Connecting employees to the organization’s mission is not only good for retention, but also for productivity. In his book Give and Take, Wharton researcher Adam Grant tells the story of a university fundraising call center where revenues increased 400% after workers started hearing stories about students whose lives were being changed by school scholarships.
4. Create opportunities for new hires to make connections outside their department.
Whether your company has 50 people or 5,000, it’s common for employee interactions to be limited to individuals in the same department or project team. These silos can make it difficult for employees to branch out and meet people in other areas of the company.
Leaders can help solve this by intentionally creating opportunities for employees in different parts of the company to interact. (Otherwise, Paul in accounting might never learn that Andre in customer service also really loves Michael Bay movies, and they might miss out on a very meaningful friendship with highly-intelligent conversation.)
Cloud-based accounting company FreshBooks has tackled this by adding “Newbie Nights” to their onboarding program, during which new hires can meet other new hires in a social setting. They also offer a “Blind Date” program to match up employees who may have similar interests but don’t work together regularly.
5. Foster a strong start to employee-manager relationships.
The relationship an employee has with their manager is another one of the top drivers of employee engagement, so it’s critical that new employees get off on the right foot with their new manager. Executives play a central role in helping managers thrive, so that they, in turn, can lead effectively.
Rather than merely delegating tasks, managers can set new hires up for success by encouraging autonomy. They should bring their new employee into the fold and allow them to make informed decisions about how to most effectively spend their time. (It just so happens that autonomy is also a driver of employee engagement, so it’s a win-win.)
6. Get regular feedback on your onboarding program and make improvements.
Reviews aren’t just reserved for movies and that instant pot you bought on Amazon. After an employee goes through the onboarding program, do a retrospective and ask them for feedback. What did they like best? What was most helpful? What could be improved?
Just like with any area of your business, measuring employee feedback helps you better understand what’s working and what’s not, and allows you to make incremental improvements over time.
If you don’t yet have a formal onboarding program in place — or just want to make yours a little better — here are seven questions you should think about (from SHRM):
- When will onboarding start?
- How long will it last?
- What impression do you want new hires to walk away with at the end of the first day/week/month?
- What do new employees need to know about the culture and work environment?
- What role will HR play in the process? What about direct managers? Co-workers?
- What kind of goals do you want to set for new employees (or have them set for themselves)?
- How will you gather feedback on the program and measure its success?
Everyone loves a workbook
An engaging onboarding strategy is just the beginning. Get the 7 Steps to Engaging and Retaining Top Talent workbook and learn how to build the foundation for a culture of engagement in your organization.