Strategic Onboarding: Scale for Success

Onboarding a group of new employees can be a challenge. With employees spread across departments, locations, and competencies, managing this process efficiently takes work. Not to mention onboarding programs have multiple stakeholders – each with their own goals.

If employees aren’t engaged and don’t feel that they’re making meaningful contributions, they may be tempted to seek a position elsewhere. Over 20 percent of staff turnover occurs in the first 45 days of employment (Aberdeen Group). HR can avoid those attrition rates by implementing strategic onboarding programs.

It’s a lot to accomplish, but success is within reach. According to the Aberdeen Group, organizations with a standardized onboarding program in place saw 13 percent higher rates of new hire performance goals met, 19 percent higher new hire engagement and 19 percent higher new hire retention.

If you want to orchestrate an onboarding program that meets everyone’s needs, you’ll need these key components:

  • Long-term strategy – not short-term reactions
  • Built-in scalability for a wide reach
  • Flexibility for customized onboarding

What is Strategic Onboarding?

Let’s start by defining what strategic onboarding isn’t. Setting aside a day for new employees to learn the company’s mission and vision, review benefits, and make a few introductions is not strategic.

From the new employee’s point of view, they’ve been thrown into the deep end and it’s time to sink or swim. This likely isn’t the welcoming party they were hoping for  which doesn’t bode well for retention. A full third of external hires are no longer with the organization after two years (Stein and Christiansen). To improve retention, you want new hires to feel engaged, well-prepared, and productive.

Mark Stein defines strategic onboarding as a program that allows employees to learn through an extended time frame and apply what they learn on the job.

You might be thinking, this sounds great in theory, but what does strategic onboarding actually look like? Two popular types of strategic onboarding programs are Buddy Programs and Extended Onboarding.

Buddy Programs pair new hires with a seasoned employee to share knowledge in an informal setting. The “buddy” helps new hires navigate their first days, months and beyond at your organization. This strategy helps to ensure new employees have a fantastic start and that they’re happy with the organization, making them more likely to feel engaged and less likely to leave. Buddy Programs are also an excellent strategy during mergers and acquisitions – pair an employee from the acquired company with a buddy from the acquiring company to make new additions to the team feel at welcome and plugged into their new employer’s culture.

Extended Onboarding focuses on giving new employees an extended window for learning. During this window, learning over time is integrated with on-the-job experience to ensure maximum learning impact. The combination of traditional learning material with informally learning from others varies the types of learning taking place, enabling faster learning. In a program like this, new employees gain deeper job-related knowledge which speeds up their time-to-productivity. Successful extended onboarding programs make new hires feel more engaged, which increases retention rates.

Why Scalability is Key for Strategic Onboarding

Scalability is paramount for three main reasons: to free up time for program administrators, to efficiently onboard employees in different departments, roles, and locations, and to create a consistent, reliable process across the organization.

If the program doesn’t scale, program administrators are left scrambling to keep up. Onboarding experiences will be inconsistent, putting goals like retention, engagement, and productivity at risk.

How to Scale Your Strategic Onboarding

The solution isn’t simply to roll out rigid onboarding programs for all new employees. You need balance – scalability with the flexibility to customize when needed.

How do you get started? First, create a framework that can be replicated across your organization. There’s likely some overlap in what all new employees need to learn. Establish these items first, then you can move on to customization.

From there, consider other overlapping tasks that may apply to certain employee subgroups. If you have offices in multiple countries, what will employees at each location need to know and learn? Add those steps to the guided process.

Now move on to department and seniority. What skills does each department require? Be on the lookout for competencies that make scaling easier – do all managers across departments need to hit similar milestones? Include those organizational and departmental goals in their guided experience.

Next: role-specific customization. By this point, you will have established a template based on location, department, and seniority. This is great for scalability, but now it’s time to make sure you’re not dropping the ball on flexibility.

Identify different employee roles you’ll be filling on a regular basis. What unique on-the-job skills will those roles require? Customize the guided experience to reflect that. This part is easier said than done, but when you already have a good template build on, a little extra attention here and there can make a big difference

Once you’ve created this framework, your strategic onboarding program should be like a living machine, becoming more efficient with each new employee trained.

For more information on strategic onboarding, download our full guide, “How to Make Your Employee Onboarding Program Strategic & Effective.”


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