(Editor’s Note: Today’s article is brought to you by our friends at SilkRoad Technology, a provider of strategic onboarding solutions to drive workforce readiness and organizational transformation. Check out their research, “The Value of Employee Engagement in the Age of Digital Disruption” a valuable report for any HR leader who wants to see engagement and onboarding from the C-suite. It’s a must-read for any human resources professional. Enjoy the article!)
I’ve mentioned a few times a statistic from Korn Ferry saying 98 percent of executives feel that onboarding programs are a key factor in employee retention efforts. With unemployment at historic lows, organizations can’t afford turnover. It’s much too costly and it has an impact on employee morale and the customer experience.
However, in the SilkRoad Technology Report: U.S. Trends and Applications in Employee Onboarding, most companies do not plan to focus meaningfully on their onboarding programs despite views that they could do more with their existing programs. I had the chance to speak with Robert Dvorak, president and CEO of SilkRoad Technology, about the impact this could have on business. “These results paint a picture of a corporate environment that is not utilizing the full potential of its greatest assets – its people – through onboarding, learning and performance programs for employee development and training. Companies must adopt strategies to monitor change, prepare their entire workforce – not just new hires – with the skills they need, and continually ‘onboard’ them to new roles of business value and relevance.”
5 Key Elements of Strategic Onboarding
So how can organizations add some substance to their existing onboarding programs? The answer involves adding some strategic elements. Here are five I learned about during SilkRoad’s annual Connections Conference.
ELEMENT #1 – Customize the employee onboarding experience. Strategic onboarding is about defining the new hire experience to have more than the basics. In many companies, new hire onboarding is about administrative tasks such as filling out paperwork and learning how to operate equipment, etc.
Strategic onboarding is about customizing the onboarding experience for the employee. In the book, “Successful Onboarding: A Strategy to Unlock Hidden Value Within Your Organization”, co-author Lilith Christiansen talks about providing new hires with four state-of-the-art strategic topics.
- Cultural mastery helps new hires understand the company culture, traditions, and rituals.
- Interpersonal network development teaches employees how to build positive working relationships, including how to gain perspective from others.
- Early career support includes giving new hires the tools to evaluate their own skills and learning along with how to manage their own career development.
- Strategy immersion and direction gives new hires a stronger sense of purpose by sharing with them what the organization does, why it does it, and where it’s headed.
ELEMENT #2 – Adopt core preboarding. And a year of “firsts”. I’ve always said that while orientation programs can take hours or days, onboarding really takes a year. There are so many things that a new employee needs to experience to truly feel a part of the organization. A few examples include: completing your first expense report, going on your first sales call, doing your first presentation, completing your first goal or project, making it though “busy season” and maybe even “low season, celebrating your first professional success, and of course, meeting for your first performance review.
It’s time to add a strategic component to our preboarding efforts. Yes, it’s great to take care of some administrative tasks during preboarding, but don’t forget to talk about the ‘firsts’ and how the company will be there for support.
ELEMENT #3 – Design a “beyond onboarding” experience. Many of you might be saying, “I get it. Onboarding needs to be more comprehensive. It needs to be longer to support employees at a higher level.” And that’s true. But organizations can’t simply tell an employee on their first-year anniversary with the company, “Okey dokey, you’re done now.” Companies need to design a transition from onboarding to the employee experience. It should include the entire employee journey from recruiting to projects. Department transfers to acquisitions. Family leave to offboarding. And alumni to boomerang.
In the SilkRoad report, more than two-thirds of respondents (68%) say that onboarding is treated as a static event in their company, not a continuous process. Only 11% of HR decision-makers with new hire onboarding say their onboarding never ends and is continuous.
Global research and advisory firm Gartner considers onboarding to be the bridge between recruitment and the employee experience with it lasting at least through the end of the new hire’s first year. Analyst Jason Cerrato highlights in their report Overhauling Onboarding: Using Updated Capabilities and Design Thinking to Move Beyond Compliance to Care how to apply design thinking approach to reinvent the new hire experience by putting the employee at the center, applying empathy and moving beyond compliance to deliver an experience that improves the new hire engagement and time to productivity.
ELEMENT #4 – Measure and evaluate the program. Dvorak’s comment earlier in the article suggests that companies face significant challenges in adapting their onboarding programs to the coming business changes. Being able to measure the performance of onboarding and then use the results to take action is essential. In the report, one-third of HR decision-makers (33%) say measuring how well their onboarding program performs against key performance indicators (KPIs) is one of the top three biggest onboarding challenges they are facing, followed by personalization of the new hire experience (31%), improving new hire engagement (30%), and implementing changes quickly (29%).
HR departments can use Dr. Donald Kirkpatrick’s Levels of Training Evaluation to guide their measurement process. Level 1 evaluations could focus on administrative efficiencies. Level 2 evaluations would include metrics like time to productivity. Level 3 evaluations are focused on employee engagement and Level 4 evaluations are linked to employee retention. If you want to take it one step further, consider a Level 5 return-on-investment (ROI) evaluation (FYI – The Level 5 evaluation was introduced by Dr. Jack Phillips.)
ELEMENT #5 – Create onboarding content areas. Typically, these types of lists end with measurement and evaluation, but I thought this element was something organizations could do with the results they calculate. In the elements we’ve discussed so far, we’ve talked about content. I was surprised to read in the report that less than two in three respondents (65%) say their company’s onboarding program does a great job of upskilling or reskilling existing employees for the next step in their career.
Relevant content is essential for any onboarding program. In the case of strategic onboarding, think of content as not only helping employees be successful in their current role but also getting employees ready for the next opportunity. Onboarding content could drive career development programs and be the foundation for succession planning or talent pools.
Strategic Onboarding Prepares Organizations for Business Change
Organizations have the ability to use their onboarding programs for much more than simply getting new hires on the payroll and training them. Strategic onboarding programs allow organizations to align talent management with long-term business objectives. But it takes having a well-thought out strategy and executing it flawlessly.
If you want to learn more about where your organization is on the onboarding scale and how to get to the strategic level, check out this SilkRoad on-demand webinar “Onboarding Maturity: The Big Impact of a More Mature Onboarding Program” featuring Lilith Christiansen, vice president of onboarding solutions.15