Over the past several years companies have learnt a lot about competing for talent. Business and HR leaders have begun to realize the war for talent is no longer just about fighting aggressively for the “best” people. Instead they are now competing hard to going after the “best and right” talent for their organisation. This match-making arrangement seems perfect at first but a newbie’s “honeymoon period” is often cut short during her first 12 months into this tenuous relationship.
My work with numerous global leading firms on employee engagement point to employees generally feeling the most engaged in their early days of employment. This highly positive emotional state, which is metaphorically liken to the honeymoon period for newlyweds, is largely caused by the phenomenon of “newness” – new friendships, new environment, new skills, etc. However, this excitement starts to vanish pretty quickly right after employees start their new job. One study conducted by the Aberdeen Group suggested that a new hire’s decision to stay with a company long-term is mostly made within the first six months of employment.
This sudden change of heart by new talent is mostly caused by a lack of effective onboarding. Although most firms acknowledge the importance of onboarding, very little thought and effort has been invested so far into designing a formal orientation program. In most cases, newbies tend to go through an informal “swim or sink” process that grossly ill-prepares them in navigating their new work environment. This is particularly perplexing as extensive studies (as reported by SHRM Foundation) have shown so far that structured systematic onboarding can lead to improving job satisfaction, organisational commitment, staff loyalty, performance levels, work productivity, customer satisfaction and career effectiveness.
So what does a highly effective onboarding program look like? According to HR expert Professor Talya Bauer at Portland State University, it must incorporate all four building blocks of successful onboarding (often called the Four Cs) that systematically teaches new employees what their roles are, what the acceptable company norms are and what the correct behaviours are. The Four Cs consist the following:
- Compliance – refers to all the basic “dos and don’ts” that include legal and policy-related rules and regulations.
- Clarification – relates to understanding their new jobs (in terms of know-how, decision-making authority and accountability) and all related expectations.
- Culture – includes norms (both visible and tacit) that are informed by Edgar Schein’s three culture levels – artefacts, espoused values and underlying assumptions – that broadly define what it feels like working around here.
- Connection – points to the vital interpersonal relationships and information networks that new employees must establish.
After having the key content, which provides information regarding the what, when and why, embedded into your onboarding program it’s critical to think of the how next? I like to suggest that organisations effectively onboard their new employees by engaging them in the following manner:
- Earlier – As the marketplace for talent becomes increasingly competitive, it’s critical that companies start engaging their potential recruits early. This is why more and more businesses are now applying well-proven marketing techniques to developing employer branding in targeting their desired talent. According to a recent onboarding report by Top Employers Institute, most leading companies start onboarding their potential hires as soon as they are identified and often extends beyond the first three months of employment. Making the right first impressions goes a long way in ensuring that your new employees fully enculturate into the organisational culture.
- Deeper – For new employees to quickly gain an appreciation of what the firm’s brand truly stands for, it’s critical that they get to experience first-hand the “stuff that makes this place ticks” or sometimes known as the corporate DNA. Every firm has a distinct corporate DNA that is intertwined by a tapestry of numerous elements weaving together (e.g. history, philosophy, managerial style, etc.) to give it its unique identity in the marketplace. The sooner the newbies are imbued with the genetic code the deeper their relationships will be with their new employers at the emotional level. Take McDonald’s as an illustrative example. Several years ago when I was researching McDonald’s for my graduate study, I learnt that the global fast-food restaurant required all employees irrespective of job-levels to work at the stores for at a period of time to personally see and feel the action.
- Wider – Typically a new employee goes through a four-week staff orientation program that involves spending an hour the most speaking to various heads of departments or functions to understand how the organisation operates. Then she spends the rest of her employment with her manager and team members learning what is expected of her to perform at her work. This onboarding approach is grossly inadequate for newbies to acquire a systematic understanding and internal social networks to become innovative and productive respectively. Companies need to move beyond this short-term obsession of unrealistically expecting their new talent to hit the ground running straight away. Instead, the onboarding program needs to be more structured to last for at least 6 months to ensure that new recruits have a wide meaningful engagement with the entire organisation.
- Higher – One key onboarding trend identified by Top Employer Institute is more active involvement of senior management. I still remember fondly a company I used to work for in my 20s where the CEO unceremoniously visited me at my desk to introduce and welcome me on my first day at the office. This higher-touch approach certainly goes a long way to make a lasting impression in any new recruit. So it’s critical for senior leaders and line managers to play a highly visible active role in onboarding newbies. This can take many forms, both structured and unstructured, such as CEO breakfast, formal mentoring, after-work drinks, lunch dates and others.
Most companies these days are taking advantage of technology to onboard their new recruits digitally including providing an intranet portal with all relevant information, e-learning and private social networks (e.g. Tibbr, Jive, SocialCast and Yammer). As we look ahead big data and predictive analytics will undoubtedly play a major role in the future of onboarding. Companies can no longer afford to take a laisse-faire approach in throwing their talent into the deep end and hoping they will succeed. If business leaders take great care in carefully and meticulously managing their customers’ experiences from the moment they encounter their products or services to achieve brand loyalty why should employees be any different?