Get Your Onboarding Act Together, Pronto

Jan 24, 2019

By Mark Vickers, Institute for Corporate Productivity

Admit it. Your organization has probably become complacent about recruitment and retention in recent years. Yes, you've had your reasons. It's been the worst job market in generations and compared to the go-go 1990s, it's been easy to attract good people or retain the ones you've got.

Get ready to say goodbye to all that. Despite the gloomy unemployment numbers in the U.S., there's a sea change underway. Consider the following:

  • Private-sector payroll employment rose by 159,000 in October. Since December 2009, employment in the private sector has risen by 1.1 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Temporary jobs, which are a leading economic indicator, are up. Temporary help services have added 451,000 jobs since September 2009.
  • Online job postings hit a two-year high in October. There were 4,409,800 vacancies advertised in October, according to The Conference Board.
  • Mass layoffs are down compared to a year ago. In the third quarter of 2009, for example, there were 2,034 mass layoff events, compared to 1,297 in the third quarter of 2010.

Okay, none of these factors alone suggests a private-sector hiring frenzy, but together they represent a trend well worth watching.  Add to that some of the findings from a soon-to-be published study i4cp conducted on employee learning and career development. We found that a scant 6.5% of respondents said they were highly confident that the knowledge and skills of their current employees would meet the needs of future business initiatives.

In other words, watch out! You've got some critical talent acquisition decisions to make, and it's not too soon to start planning for them. The U.S. labor market is still a buyer's market, but it won't last.

This is especially true for managerial jobs. Our research shows that high-performing organizations are actually more likely than low-performing organizations to say they have a very difficult time hiring people capable of filling managerial positions. Why? Because high-performing organizations tend to have higher expectations for managers and leaders than do other organizations.

Given these trends, it makes sense that i4cp is seeing an uptick in member interest in certain staffing practices, such as competitive recruitment strategies, competencies, assessments, job shadowing, and onboarding. Let's focus on onboarding, a particularly relevant function for this stage of an economic recovery.

While onboarding has always been considered an instrumental practice in the recruitment continuum, its role in the careful, cautious hiring of new talent in a recovering economy is downright critical. Organizations are highly selective right now, choosing only the very best people they can find. These are investments they want to protect, and onboarding is one way to accomplish that.

Onboarding is a term that was originally geared toward the orientation and acculturation of high-level leaders. These days, the term is increasingly aimed at most new employees, not just managers. I think of it as “orientation on steroids” because it tends to last a lot longer than that first day or week and is tracked in much more rigorous ways. It's about speeding up and increasing the quality of the assimilation and accommodation of new recruits—or of employees taking on new positions.

There's considerable information out there about the advantages associated with onboarding. In a recent Webinar titled Accelerating Employee Productivity Through Onboarding, Claire St. Louis, VP of HR at i4cp member-company United Water, noted that turnover costs are 120%-200% of an employee's salary. Onboarding can take a bite out of these costs because new employees who complete a structured onboarding program are 58% more likely to be with the organization after three years.

To take advantage of such benefits, United Water has created a program that includes a number of features, including a Web-based onboarding tour, a standard orientation script, a mentor or buddy system, and connection-creation events such as the United Water Discovery Day.

Referring to United Water's Web-based onboarding tour, St. Louis states, “What it enables new hires to do is to take a virtual tour of our company before the first day of work and accomplish three main things.” Those include forms management (such as new-hire paperwork), task management (including the introduction to key employee policies) and socialization (which helps new employees to better understand organizational missions, values and culture).

Partly through a combination of onboarding and engagement programs, United Water was able to boost the favorable ratings of orientation by new employees by 21% as well as boost overall job satisfaction.

i4cp's four-part recommendation

1. Implement or improve your onboarding program, starting with a well laid-out plan. Map out your onboarding process so you have a feel for how well it can handle a larger pipeline of new recruits. Look for bottlenecks and for ways to improve efficiency without losing quality. For example, one way to increase bandwidth is by featuring a Web-based onboarding tour, sometimes combined with automated systems that encompass items ranging from task management to socialization. Although this is no substitute for personal guidance from a knowledgeable coworker, Web-based systems can be a terrific complement to such guidance.

2. Use mentoring, job shadowing, peer coaching or other person-to-person components. These can be key not only to helping new employees understand the job more quickly but to understanding the all-important corporate culture. It is often other employees who can best help employees develop and excel within the organization.

3. Train your managers to onboard more effectively. Not all managers fully understand the need for high-quality onboarding or the costs of turnover. Therefore, it makes sense to train managers not only in how to onboard employees but in understanding the goals of the program, the expected benefits, and the current costs they're trying to limit. It may also make sense to rate managers' performance in terms of how well they onboard new employees.

4. Measure the impact. Tracking retention rates is key, of course, to determining the success of these programs. However, other metrics are also important, including feedback on and satisfaction with the onboarding program itself, time-to-full-productivity and quality-of-hire. Other possible metrics include time to training completion, time to receiving equipment, and completion rates for checklists and tasks. This information should help the organization gauge the success of onboarding and allow it to make further improvements as needed.

About the Author(s)

Mark Vickers, Institute for Corporate Productivity Mark Vickers is vice president of research at the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp).