Reinvent Your Onboarding Process

At Cirrus Logic, ranked eighth on the 2015 Great Place to Work® Best Medium Workplaces list, new hires are immersed in a culture camp called the School of Cirrus Rocks. At the camp, participants first learn about company values through storytelling. They then break into groups and create a story in the form of a song about working at the company. Later, they meet at a local bar with local musicians to perform their songs and get cheered on by their teams and supervisors.

While many organizations prefer more structure to onboarding programs, others follow a sink-or-swim approach, where new employees must figure out on their own what the team and the organization expects from them. Whatever form onboarding takes in your workplace, it is one of the most important contributions a hiring manager or HR professional can make to talent retention, employee engagement and organizational performance.

What Is Onboarding and Why Does It Matter?

Onboarding is the process of getting new hires adjusted, quickly and smoothly, to the social and performance aspects of their new jobs. The more prepared new hires are, the faster they'll be able to connect and contribute to an organization's mission and values. While most organizations do some type of onboarding, few do it well. For example, studies show that:

  • Nearly 1-in-3 of new hires leave the company, voluntarily or involuntarily, before the end of their first year. And this number has been increasing steadily for the last four years, finds PwC Saratoga.
  • Bradford D. Smart, Ph.D., estimates that 50 percent of all senior outside hires fail within 18 months on the job.
  • 22 percent of staff turnover occurs in the first 45 days of employment, finds the Wynhurst Group.

The cost of new-hire turnover is significant, with PwC Saratoga estimating that costs can be 50-to-150 percent of the annual salary for the job.

Onboarding Best Practices

There are several things organizations can do to improve onboarding and reduce the risks of turnover:

Commit to a formal orientation plan. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for onboarding, but best-in-class organizations often have formal programs that are strategic, consistent and integrated. Of course, not all organizations can commit to a culture camp like the one at Cirrus Logic. But it’s essential for an organization to be "all in" with an onboarding program when it comes to time and resources.

Make the first day special. It may be just another day for you as an established employee, but for the new employee, the first day on the job is special. In some companies, the CEO takes every employee to lunch within the first month. At Cirrus Logic, participants are given a special memento to remember their experience ― a miniature guitar. Since the trajectory of a new hire’s success is set as early as the first two weeks, it pays to make the first day a special one.

Foster connections. The New Flyer Orientation & Assimilation program at Radio Flyer is a six-month onboarding process with a distinct connections phase. This is where new hires meet with their team and various groups within the organization to learn about products and customers, and the company’s mission, vision and values. Employees act as coaches and the CEO facilitates two courses in the series.

Involving management and peers in onboarding is particularly important. A major reason why newly hired employees struggle and ultimately leave employers is because they fail to build key connections and strong interpersonal relationships within the company.

Leverage technology. Many organizations use technology to complement the social aspect of onboarding. This includes streaming videos of employees that explain what a typical day at the company is like, talking about what their first days and months on the job were like, and offering up words of advice for the new employees. Online social networks for employees ― like Facebook ― can link new workers with veterans. Many companies use technology to post welcoming messages from the CEO and other members of the senior leadership team.         

The Importance of Follow Up

It’s important to recognize that effective onboarding take place over time. Best practices include using milestones such as 30, 60, 90 and 120 days to follow-up and check in on progress, concerns and suggestions. Radio Flyer’s onboarding process incorporates five yearly check-ins. Sample follow-up questions are:

  • Was it clear to you what to do once you received your offer letter?
  • Is your job as it was described to you during the hiring process?
  • Did you feel welcome on your first day?
  • Did your managers take the time to coach you?
  • Were you provided the tools to do your job effectively?

Other leading companies survey hiring managers monthly or quarterly to gauge their satisfaction with the hiring and onboarding process.

Benefits of Effective Onboarding

At Radio Flyer, turnover rates have decreased and employee satisfaction with the organization has significantly increased since the inception of the program. In general, companies with well-designed and well-integrated onboarding processes can improve organizational performance. Specific benefits include:

• Increased time to new-hire productivity and proficiency.
• Improved retention rates through better employee assimilation.
• Reduced turnover costs.
• Increased efficiencies.
• Improved service levels for hiring managers.

Finally, research from the Wynhurst Group shows that new employees who go through a structured onboarding process are 58 percent more likely to stay with the company for more than three years. So, what are you waiting for? Take some of these examples and best practices and pledge to rock your new hires’ experience by reinventing and reinvigorating your own onboarding process.

Holly Burkett, Ph.D., SPHR, is an accomplished talent builder, strategic change agent, HRD consultant, speaker, coach, trainer and award-winning author of Learning for the Long Run. Her Twitter handle is @evalworks. Portions of this article are excerpted from her book.