By: Helios on January 31st, 2010

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Onboarding: The First Step in Retention and Productivity

Communication | Best Practices | Employee Relations | Talent Acquisition | TBU

An employee will remember their first day of work at a new job. They will remember if their new manager and team were eagerly awaiting their arrival with warm smiles. They will remember if their workspace was ready with an internet connection and ready phone line and even more so a welcome package on their desk; not just with typical HR paperwork, but maybe a company logo t-shirt, set of pens or coffee mug. The first day will set the tone for their new job. And the level of effort put forth by the employer to welcome their newest hire over the months to follow could possibly determine the length of their stay and their level of productivity. The area’s top employers recognize the trends associated with new hire orientation and employee retention and are adopting robust assimilation programs. These programs are targeted toward:

• Decreasing time for employees to become productive.
• Promoting behaviors aligned with organizational goals, values, and culture.
• Building loyalty by demonstrating commitment, which sets the foundation for employee    retention.
• Help to further the impression that the new hire chose the right organization.

The first day should be the beginning of employee engagement and retention initiatives and helping the employee to develop a sense of belonging.

Here are a few best practices in building a successful onboarding and assimilation program:

  1. Help the new hire further the belief that he/she chose the right organization: Many pieces of a “robust” orientation program will help to ensure that this happens. However, simply mapping out the new hire’s first week and ensuring that the “small things” are taken care of go a long way in reinforcing the new hire’s decision. Examples include: making sure their e-mail and phone are setup, cleaning their work space, having business cards ready, etc.
  2. Be Proactive with Pre-Orientation Initiatives: New hires who haven‘t yet reported to work and may be weeks away from their start date can use the organization’s intranet to learn about the organization‘s culture, policies and benefits. Some organizations have developed web portals where they will be able to fill out forms online so they wouldn‘t have to get an employee paper packet sent to them by mail. Technology or packet – either one will help to ensure that the new hire’s first day is not filled with too much paper pushing – concentrate on assimilation.
  3. Be Prepared: Have an Agenda or Slide Show Presentation: Slide show presentations help to ensure that all agenda items are covered with all new hires. The presentation should include organization history, products, services, direction, goals, vision, strategy, culture, policies, development opportunities, benefits, communication mechanisms, and the performance management system. Always provide employees with useful materials including but not limited to a list of contacts, an employee handbook, professional development information, and internet, email, and voicemail instructions. “Compliance” should be minimized as much as possible in order to focus on onboarding and assimilation.
  4. Clearly Define Roles and Responsibilities: Ensure that everyone understands their roles and the schedule in which their responsibilities are completed. While every organization is unique in how the onboarding responsibilities are shared throughout the organization, here are some general guidelines for splitting up onboarding duties:
    - HR department. Employee paperwork (forms, benefits, etc.); work hours; history and background of the organization; review of the organizational chart; tour of the facility.
    -Training department. Delivery of the onboarding program elements; lectures and discussions about organizational culture, goals and objectives; review of company videos.
    - Supervisor. Duties and responsibilities; work behaviors, standards and expectations; introductions to fellow team members and other members of the organization; tour of the department; review of other roles and relationships within the department.
    - Co-workers. How the group works as a team; how to get things done; how to find/requisition tools and equipment.
    - Executive team. Mission, vision and values; strategic goals and objectives of the organization; high-level review of roles and responsibilities; description of organizational culture.
    - Mentor/buddy. Introductions to fellow team members and others within the organization; review of informal rules and policies; answers to day-to-day questions.
  5. Get Senior Management Involved: Senior management interaction shows employees that the company cares and that the decision makers are not unknown entities throwing down orders from Mount Olympus. A member of Sr. Mgmt should also present the first part of the orientation slides focusing on the history, direction, goals, vision, strategy, etc….. This Sr. Mgr should be enthusiastic and a firm believer in the organization’s mission (Create a Shared Vision) – this will help the new hire buy into the organization’s mission/direction/strategy and become excited and engaged from the first day.
  6. Socialize and Integrate with the Team: Managers are generally busy but it is imperative that they make themselves available during the new hire’s first week. Also provide new hires the opportunity to meet their peers – this will help new hires feel comfortable and welcomed more quickly by becoming part of the team on their first day/week. This can be accomplished by team lunches, cross-departmental meetings and a mentor/buddy program.
  7. Tailor Onboarding to Different Audiences: The process may be modified to meet the differing needs of various groups of employees. For example, all supervisory and management employees will need a review of not only the employee handbook and company policies and programs, but also information on how to administer or lead these various programs and policies.
  8. Create a Formal Follow-Up System: Set up follow-up interviews by asking the employee about their experiences so they understand that they can make a difference AND so you gain invaluable feedback from new hires who can still see over the corporate fence. This may be connected to an onboarding survey or questions about the management team, organizational communication, etc. Continuous informal manager feedback and direction are also critical. The manager should ensure there are no roadblocks impeding the employee’s success. A more formal performance discussion should be held after 3-6 months and the employee should be encouraged to discuss problems and find ways to provide support. Also, these discussions provide critical opportunities to coach for improvement and ensure the employee feels his or her work is interesting.
  9. Evaluate the Program’s Effectiveness: HR professionals will want to evaluate their organization’s onboarding strategies using a variety of metrics.
    - Turnover/retention rates. Examine the turnover/retention rates for different “graduating classes” (for example, those who began their employment in 2007) and track the different rates of those classes.
    - Retention threshold. Track the point at which most new employees tend to exit the organization (for example, 50 percent of employees tend to quit the organization within the first 90 days of employment). If the organization tends to lose many employees during the first 90 days of employment. For example, the organization might want to conduct in-depth exit interviews to determine the cause (e.g., promises made but not kept, lack of thorough understanding of any negative working conditions).
    - Performance measures. For example, compare the performance of a group provided with only one week of onboarding experiences with that of a similar group provided a full month’s worth.
    - Formal/Informal feedback. Especially in smaller organizations, HR professionals may want to gather small focus groups consisting of recent new hires (or conduct this research one-on-one) and ask open-ended questions to determine their satisfaction not only with the onboarding process but with the organization as a whole.
  10. Be Open to Change: Robust orientation requires a large amount of organizational resources and a sincere leadership commitment. However, helping employees to become productive quicker and aligned with organizational goals also requires constant assessment, reevaluation and adaptability. Flexibility and the ability to make changes will allow your organization to provide your employees with a “best place to work” environment.

What is your company doing to show their employees that it is the best place to work? ~ Holly Davis, Manager of BD, Helios HR