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5 ways to improve employee onboarding today

We could write an entire book on the importance of an effective onboarding process and great onboarding software, referencing the multitude of studies that have been conducted and papers published. After all, the evidence is undeniably compelling. One survey of 350 HR leaders in the U.S. reported by the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) found that only 47% of respondents believed their onboarding program successfully retained new hires, and nearly a quarter didn’t have an onboarding program at all!

It’s common sense that good onboarding works – it helps retain great talent, sets employees up for success, improves culture and increases the productivity of new hires. However, while research and evidence can motivate and support businesses in their quest to improve their onboarding, they can’t do much on their own. So, we’ve put together a list of five practical things you can do right now to improve your onboarding and become a role model for success in your industry.

  • Talk to your existing employees about their onboarding experience.

Doing some research on best practice for your industry is great and will give you a fine foundation to create an effective onboarding program. But, if you really want to know how to improve, then talk to your existing employees. Those who have recently come on board (perhaps in the last six months) will be able to give you a fresh and honest perspective on what worked, what didn’t, and what they felt was lacking. 

Sit down with a coffee and ask them what could be done to ensure employees feel part of the culture from day one. It may be a simple as giving each new hire a welcome cupcake. A great onboarding process will set and strengthen your organizational culture, so pay attention to the feedback you get, there might be some quick wins you can implement today.

  • Make a solid plan and stick to it.

A lack of consistency is a sure-fire way to confuse new hires and the employees tasked with onboarding them.

In a worst-case scenario, employee one is treated to lunch on their first day and their calendar is booked with meetings and training, while employee two is left in an office on their own to fill-out paperwork and then has to ask, “What’s next?”. These two people would have a very different experience and as a result a different view of the company culture. This isn’t just bad in the short-term (employee number two will probably leave early on), but it reflects negatively on the employer brand and will make it difficult to attract good talent in the future.  

Create a plan that incorporates a checklist of all the actions that need to be completed in the onboarding process, and who should complete them. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but this plan should apply to ALL new hires, even Christmas casuals. This basic plan can then be expanded on depending on the role you are onboarding.

You’ll need to consider the following.

  1. Use the feedback you gained from talking to existing employees together with information from HR, payroll and managers on essential onboarding tasks to develop a list of activities to be included in the new onboarding process.
  2. Split activities into administrative and cultural tasks. Administrative tasks like filling out banking, personal and payroll information can be automated (see point 3). Cultural tasks including issuing uniforms, general workplace training (e.g. health and safety), job-specific training, hand-over meetings (if applicable), get-to-know-you activities with the team, orienting the employee to the physical workspace, task and goal-setting, and progress meetings need to be handled on-to-one, but not necessarily by the same person.
  3. Look at timing so that you can spread out the activities and lighten the initial information overload. Feeling overwhelmed has been reported as one the top things employees hate about onboarding. They receive so much information, often they don’t know where to start. Do your employees need to know everything on day one, or can some things wait?
  4. Think beyond day one. Having a great day one plan in place is crucial, and we’ve put together a list of tips in this blog on how to make it great and capitalize on your new hire’s enthusiasm, but onboarding doesn’t end there. Employees can feel isolated and confused if they have a great day one experience but are then left on their own. Onboarding can, and should, take weeks or even months so ensure your new hires are supported and guided up until their probation sign-off meeting.
  5. Think outside the box about what would put a new employee at ease on their first day. Is it asking them for their favourite coffee or drink order? Giving them a ‘buddy’ for orientation? Giving them a company t-shirt? Or perhaps even a tongue-in-cheek learner’s badge? Get creative.

We’ve got great suggestions of what to include in your onboarding process in this blog post.

It sounds like a lot of work but it helps to keep it simple, use a spreadsheet, get the basics covered and then improve it over time. Consistency and consideration of how the onboarding experience feels is your goal here.

  • Get great onboarding software in place and automate!

That same SHRM article we mentioned earlier also revealed that more than one-third of organisations blame insufficient technology for poor onboarding.

“But it’s expensive!” “I don’t know what to look for!” “That’s not a quick solution.”

In some circumstances these are valid excuses, however, automating the administrative side of onboarding will instantly improve the experience for new hires and the staff who process the information. If you start looking today, you can be up and running with a new system in a few weeks.

When looking at onboarding software, it’s imperative that you consider how the administrative side of onboarding connects with other workforce management tasks like payroll, rostering and e-learning. A complete workforce management system that takes new hires from recruiting straight into onboarding, via a smartphone Employee Self-Service app to cut out the paperwork, is the most efficient option and offers the best user experience.  We’ve put together a free guide to help you find the right software package. Download it for free here.

New employees want to feel like they’ve achieved something quickly, even on day one. Using a paperless onboarding system that allows employees to get the forms filled out and compulsory reading (such as employee handbooks, manuals, and policies) out of the way before they start means that their first day can be spent with their new teammates learning the job and making a contribution.

  • Make employee onboarding everyone’s responsibility.

If onboarding is just left to one person, HR or the line manager, for example, new hires will miss out on valuable experiences that set them up for success early on, particularly learning the new culture. Everyone that the person will interact with during their career with your company should be involved in onboarding from the start.

To make this happen, ensure everyone involved has a copy of the standard onboarding checklist that you created in step two and understands the tasks they are responsible for.

Secondly, tell your team that a new person will be starting well before the date. There is nothing worse than arriving at a new job and being greeted by someone who had no idea you were starting. Give your team time to prepare equipment, uniforms, training or hand-over notes and plan first day activities (like that cupcake we mentioned earlier…). 

Thirdly, impress upon all staff that they have a responsibility to make new employees feel welcome. Encourage them to chat with new hires to get to know them, offer tips and check-in regularly. After all, the more they put into the relationship at the start, the more it will flourish.

  • Start measuring the effectiveness of your onboarding process.

“More than half (55 per cent) of organizations say they don’t measure the effectiveness of onboarding programs, hindering accountability and opportunities for improvement.”

You can measure success in a few simple ways:

  1. Measuring the process itself: Create a quick survey in a free tool like SurveyMonkey and ask new hires about their experience. Use both scale/rating and open-ended questions to find out how satisfied they were with the experience, what they liked, what they didn’t like and what they would improve. We recommend issuing the survey around one to two months after starting or at their end of probation meeting while the experience is still fresh in their minds.
  2. Measuring staff retention and productivity: Use the business intelligence tools at your disposal to look at what your current retention rate is and your productivity levels. These will be the benchmarks by which you monitor the success of the new onboarding process you are using. Review your results regularly (at least quarterly). Onboarding is only one piece of the workforce management puzzle, but if you see results improving after you implement your new process, you’ll know it’s working!
  3. Measuring the impact on current staff: Informal chats with line managers, payroll staff and team members will give you an indication of how well the new process is working. If possible, ask for their feedback after each team member starts (or at the end of a major hiring round) so you can make incremental improvements.

The great thing about these tips is you can make a start on them today. You may also be surprised at how eager your staff are to formalize and improve onboarding

Andrew Northcott
Andrew Northcott created Roubler as a true all-in-one workforce management solution, and as the CEO he has steadily grown the business around the globe. No stranger to the workforce management field, Andrew previously founded and built one of Australia’s largest and fastest growing workforce businesses, which was recognised five times as one of Australia’s Fastest Growing Companies by Business Review Magazine, before being sold in 2013. Andrew is a Harvard Business School and QUT Alumni.
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