Onboarding has been a hot topic for years. But the truth is – and our latest research shows, yet again - lots of businesses are talking about onboarding but far fewer are truly capitalizing on this mammoth opportunity.
(That’s how come 76% of HR managers think onboarding is underused.)
Too often, onboarding programs are dull, box-checking exercises that inform but do little to excite. They’re employer-centric, not employee-centric. Forgettable.
Keep reading because in this article we’ll explore how onboarding best practices have evolved and share a blueprint for unforgettable onboarding.
From then to now: an onboarding journey
Onboarding sprung up to solve a problem.
Recruitment and talent acquisition teams pour effort and investment into hiring great people – and then those people leave. Or they stay but take forever to find their feet. Which means the whole team is thrown off track, shouldering extra workload. Or perhaps other people leave, because they’re burned out from the extra workload.
In other words, businesses found their investment into recruitment wasn’t paying off as it should. Look at the stats:
- 20% of turnover happens within the first 45-days
- 16% of HR managers think poor onboarding hampers team productivity
- New hire learning curves cost 1% to 2.5% of business revenue in lost productivity
Onboarding is the answer. Right?
Well, yes and no.
Yes – good onboarding solves these problems. Good onboarding decreases turnover, accelerates time-to-proficiency, increases productivity and drives employee engagement.
Organizations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%, for example.
But no, because many companies still use ‘onboarding’ as a synonym for ‘orientation’.
They over emphasize operational tasks – like showing new hires how to access resources – over strategic tasks that would move the needle longer-term. Like helping new hires integrate into company culture.
For example, HCI and Kronos’ comprehensive study into onboarding found people and culture make up less than 30% of the focus in onboarding programs.
Instead, HR professionals ranked the following tasks as most important to onboarding:
- Reviewing rules and regulations – 75%
- Company overview – 73%
- Resource orientation – 62%
- Empowering employees to self-service new hire forms – 62%
Thrilling stuff, that. Rules and regulations. Resources. Forms. All the stuff new hires care most about 🙄.
Little wonder that in 2016, only 40% of HR professionals said their onboarding program was effective at retaining new hires. Only 50% said their onboarding delivered on the promises made by their recruitment.
Think about that for a moment.
The excitement of getting stuck into something new. The trust, to sacrifice a safe, established role.
And somehow, 40% of businesses are managing to completely turn the tables on those strong positive emotions. Enough that new hires are willing to slink back to the job market – now unemployed – because they feel they’ve made such a grave mistake.
That’s why traditional onboarding is broken.
Because it’s dull, underwhelming and bland. And it’s doing the opposite of what it should.
Here's what unforgettable onboarding looks like. Onboarding fit for 2021, not 1991...
👎🏻 Traditional onboarding: Lasts a few weeks or less
⚡ Onboarding in 2021: Lasts seven months or more
An HCI report found 37% of onboarding programs last a few hours to a week. 24% last a month. That’s simply not long enough.
Onboarding should last at least seven months. One month before new hires start – preboarding - and continue for at least six months afterwards, to get your new starters past the attrition danger zone.
Modern onboarding is a journey, not a checklist.
👎🏻 Traditional onboarding: HR’s responsibility
⚡ Onboarding in 2021: Everyone’s responsibility
Traditionally onboarding has been lumped in with, say, managing employee forms. It’s HR’s job, and that’s that. Which makes sense, if your onboarding program is just… managing forms.
But modern onboarding focusses on engagement. And seeing as managers account for 70% in variance in engagement, manager involvement is mission-critical. Which means leadership engagement is too, to drive manager engagement.
👎🏻 Traditional onboarding: Focuses on employer
⚡ Onboarding in 2021: Focuses on employee
If you look at the tasks traditional onboarding emphasizes, they’re mostly about meeting the business’ needs.
Collecting the right paperwork to manage compliance. Making sure new hires understand your rules and processes. Finding ways to make HR’s life easier. Equipping new hires with the resources to complete immediate tasks effectively.
Modern onboarding ticks those boxes – they’re important, of course – but secondary to focusing on the employee. It shifts perspective, and asks questions like…
- How can we deliver information in the most engaging way?
- How can we make employees’ lives easier?
- How can we help new hires develop their career?
- What unique challenges are they facing?
- How can we better support them?
- How can we help them make friends at work?
👎🏻 Traditional onboarding: Informative
⚡ Onboarding in 2021: Inspiring
Traditional onboarding focusses on sharing information to familiarize new hires with your company, values, processes, rules, culture. Often in a super dry, formal way – like endless policy documents.
It’s not engaging. It’s one-sided and one-dimensional. Like learning times tables by rote at school.
Modern onboarding, on the other hand, emphasizes the need to inspire. For new hires not just to understand but engage with. That might mean… setting up informal lunches instead of sending across a hierarchy document, for example. Or sending a welcome video alongside the company handbook.
👎🏻 Traditional onboarding: Standardized
⚡ Onboarding in 2021: Personalized
Traditional onboarding is one size fits all. But in reality, one size fits no one.
Our recent research showed personalization is the biggest thing employees want during onboarding. Time and again, people say they want to be treated like a person. Shocking, huh?
As Robert Hicks, Group HR Director at Reward Gateway said during our recent onboarding panel discussion: “An employee wants to feel special; not that they’re just receiving generic messages. They’re going to have different elements that’ll be important to them. […] You want consistency. You want flexibility. But you also want the employee to feel it’s special for them”. (Catch the key takeaways from the panel here).
That means an onboarding program that acknowledges different people need different support. That carves out plenty of time for one-on-one feedback. That allows employees space to bring their authentic selves to work.
👎🏻 Traditional onboarding: Limited
⚡ Onboarding in 2021: Scalable
Traditional onboarding programs are limited by HR’s bandwidth. Businesses might have big ideas to level-up their onboarding but there’s simply no capacity to execute.
Modern onboarding relies on onboarding tech to automate manual processes and drive smart efficiencies. And they spread the responsibility for onboarding across the business. So HR have more time to add value on higher-impact tasks.
👎🏻 Traditional onboarding: Unchanging
⚡ Onboarding in 2021: Continually improving
55% of businesses don’t measure the effectiveness of their onboarding program. That means it’s near-impossible to maintain accountability, nor spot opportunities to improve. What you have now is what you’re stuck with – and you can’t even see how bad things are, so getting buy-in to change can be difficult.
Modern onboarding, on the other hand, is radically transparent. Everyone involved knows where they stand against key KPIs, and – crucially – knows how to improve. HR have birds’ eye oversight that demystifies the new hire experience.
👎🏻 Traditional onboarding: Meh
⚡ Onboarding in 2021: WOW
This is the real difference all these factors add up to. The fact is, traditional onboarding is bland, boring and forgettable. But modern onboarding creates personal, engaging, exciting experiences that genuinely WOW new hires.
They build on – over-deliver against – the promises your recruiters made. To turn new hires into long-term champions.