Amidst the Great Resignation and ensuing Great Reshuffle, finding and keeping good employees has become one of the top challenges facing organizations. According to a 2021 survey by Willis Towers Watson, 73 percent of employers reported having a hard time attracting employees, and 61 percent said they have difficulty keeping the employees they have. This is an expensive and potentially business-crippling problem.
Retention is a complex, ongoing effort. But it starts from day one of onboarding. The way you welcome employees with your new hire onboarding program can help you start out strong, giving employees what they need to feel supported, motivated and connected.
In fact, Brandon Hall Group found organizations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82 percent and productivity by over 70 percent.
How to Assess Your Existing New Hire Onboarding Program
As a first step toward improving your onboarding program, take a good look at your current program’s effectiveness. Signs that your new hire onboarding isn’t working include:
- High employee attrition, especially within the first six months
- Frustration among hiring managers because new employee productivity takes longer than expected
- Employees lack knowledge about institutional knowledge and processes
- Your program lacks measurable results
From here, you can take note of the strengths and weaknesses in your existing program and set up a plan for how to make changes for the better. This starts with better understanding what format your new hire onboarding should take.
Choosing the Right Format for New Hire Onboarding
You might be thinking what does strategic onboarding actually look like? Two popular types of 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 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.
Once you’ve decided on the right onboarding format, it’s time to update your program to keep up with current best practices, while meeting employees where they are.
Best Practices for New Hire Onboarding
When looking to improve your program or add new aspects to it, here are some of the top updates you can make in order to set every employee up for success.
Align Onboarding Program with Strategic Business Objectives
Your new hire onboarding program should include measurable goals and outcomes that are aligned to business outcomes and can be tracked throughout the employee lifecycle. These can include results such as:
- How many employees leave before the one-year mark
- How long it takes for new hires to become fully productive
- Engagements rates based on factors such as turnover, absenteeism, and ratings on employer review sites
Recognize the Hybrid Workplace
The new normal of the hybrid workplace creates both challenges and opportunities for successful onboarding. On the one hand, online tools, including onboarding program software, can make onboarding more automated and easier than ever for organizations to administer and new hires to complete. On the other hand, relationships require more intention to establish in a remote or hybrid environment. Enterprises need to make sure there is a structure and level of accountability in their onboarding program so new hires have the chance to connect and get the personal help or interaction they need.
Microsoft, for example, encourages strong management involvement with new hires, as well as an onboarding buddy system that pairs new employees with more experienced peers. This approach has resulted in increased satisfaction among new employees.
Elevate Diversity, Equity And Inclusion
Feeling excluded is a major cause of employee dissatisfaction — and a key catalyst for leaving a job. Highlighting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in onboarding demonstrates that the organization is there for employees to support them with these issues, as well as establishing inclusion as a non-negotiable, core organizational value. Organizations should make sure that new hires know about their existing DEI efforts and how to access resources in this area.
Customize Learning and Application
Each new employee is unique, with individual backgrounds and learning styles. Onboarding should not be one-size-fits-all. Tailoring learning to each employee offers a much more personal—and effective—way to help employees learn and engage. Whether it’s self-guided resources, quizzes or worksheets, make sure the learning and training component meets the needs and culture of your organization.
Once you have clear goals defined for your onboarding program, you can measure performance against those objectives with defined metrics. Here are a few examples of end goals and their metrics you could use to measure them:
Examples of New Hire Onboarding Outcomes
Goal: Improving time to competency for new hires
Metric: 100% of employees scored 80% or higher on post-assessment tests
Goal: Improve familiarity with needed skills
Metric: Time to productivity increased by 15%
Using an automated system or software with progress tracking for program effectiveness makes it easy to calculate your onboarding ROI. But however you’re calculating your new hire onboarding outcomes, it’s important to make sure your program is easily scalable across your entire organization.
Why Scalability is Key for 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. While your efforts only serve a portion of your company. Inconsistent onboarding experiences put goals like retention, engagement, and productivity at risk.
How to Strategically Scale Your New Hire Onboarding Program
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Move 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.
Onboarding should be more than just orientation; it’s a chance to start building a positive relationship with new hires by giving them the knowledge, support and resources they need to be successful. Updating your onboarding program is key to meeting today’s hiring and retention challenges.
For more information on strategic onboarding, download our full guide, “How to Make Your Employee Onboarding Program Strategic & Effective.”