Onboarding – help employees in transition to ‘swim’ & not let them ‘sink’.


“To adapt an old saw, transitions are marathons and not sprints,” - Michael Watkins. [Tweet this]

Importance of onboarding is significantly increased in these days since the average turnover at work is less than four years & lifetime employment strategies are out of date. (“The Alliance” by Hoffman & Casnocha) It means that roughly one-fourth of our employees are in the process of transition or are affected by them since their peers (Boss-Subordinates) are going through transitions. It might be on account of appointment in new position or promotion or transfer at a different location.

Aberdeen research found that 90% of organizations believe that employees make the decision to stay at within the first year. Traditional orientation programs are completed on the first day or in some cases in a week.  However, such short-term strategies do not reflect in improving retention, productivity, and engagement.

There are some organizations where the onboarding process is taken more seriously considering their impact on turnover and bottom line. It goes on beyond the traditional orientation program; it begins with recruitment and continued till completion of a year. This is because according to Michael Watkins, it takes minimum 6 months for an employee to reach the “break-even point” as shown in the following image.   

The book that impressed me was ”The First 90 Days” by Michael Watkins, which was named “the onboarding bible” in 2006 by ‘The Economist’. I feel that every organization must give a copy of this book as part of onboarding material at least to their Managers, Hi-Potentials, and C-suite executives.

Video – Michael Watkins

Let us listen to Michael Watkins, Author of “The First 90 Days”, what he thinks about onboarding especially why employees fail to deliver or underperform, role of culture, & what we must do beyond orientation to help employees succeed. 




RECAP – Framework

Considering the view of Mr. Watkins, we may break the onboarding process into its five core aspects with RECAP framework. This framework would help us to simplify the process. And, it would also let us address employee performance issues attributed to inadequate onboarding programs. 


  
Now let us look at each aspect of this RECAP framework.

1. Relationship

The focal objective of an onboarding program is to fasten the speed of employees to reach the break-even point ASAP. And developing and strengthening of relationship networks becomes a key aspect in this process. The employee has to develop strategic relations with following:

Internal Relationships:
1. Boss, 2. Subordinates 3. Peers 4. Key Executives from other departments.
External Relationships:
1. Customers, 2. Suppliers, 3. Vendors, 4. Other stakeholders

According to Watkins, “alliances, both internal and external, are necessary if you are to achieve your goals.” [Tweet this] First and most important among all is a relationship with the boss and hence organizations must carefully plan to develop this relationship. As they say employees leave their bosses and not their companies.  However, on the part of an employee - make your boss look good. “If you make your boss look good, your boss will make you look good. That’s the quid pro quo of hierarchy.” - Ethan M. Rasiel. (The McKinsey Way) [Tweet this]

The second important relationship is with their subordinates especially for securing early wins. “…Silicon Valley’s success comes from the way its companies build alliances with their employees.” Hoffman & Casnocha. [Tweet this] Organizations must take appropriate actions to properly introduce the employee to his / her subordinates using most suitable communication channels.

Companies may opt for assigning buddies or mentors to facilitate this process. Microsoft, for example, assigns mentors to new employees at all levels of the organization as part of their New Employee Orientation (NEO) program.

Companies may organize events to let new employee socialize with their peers and other key stakeholders in the organization (Internal & External). It would also help us in their cultural indoctrination besides enhancing their understanding of formal as well as informal structures prevailing within the organization. Since they do tend to focus on their own department and neglect to develop strategic relations with important stakeholders in other functions.  Developing these relationships becomes more crucial for an employee to secure valuable resources as well as a buy-in for important initiatives. “Often, insufficient time is devoted to lateral relationship building with peers and key constituencies outside the new leader’s immediate organization,” -Michael Watkins.

Needless to say, developing strong networks beyond organizational boundaries are equally important for us since “In a highly networked era, who you know is often more valuable than what you’ve read.” - Hoffman & Casnocha. [Tweet this] They further say, “…who he knows in the industry can be just as valuable to the company as what he knows in terms of skills. Thus, the alliance at work: growing their professional networks helps employees transform their career; employee networking helps the company transform itself.”

To conclude this point, if we nurture strong and healthy relationships at work it would foster an environment of cooperation & collaboration that would boost employee morale.  

2. Expectations

Another important aspect of RECAP framework is setting expectations right in the first place. If done properly it would certainly result in helping the employees to reach the break-even point quickly. "The cause of almost all relationship difficulties is rooted in conflicting or ambiguous expectations around roles and goals." - Stephen Covey. The company should provide an opportunity for the boss and the employee to have a conversation (preferably during the first week) to clarify and align their expectations about the roles and goals.

They both must agree on short- and medium-term goals and on time-frame. It is equally important to convey the employee, how the progress would be measured. (i.e. specific type of appraisal method & tools). The measure of success must be communicated clearly to employees and ensure that he / she had understood it properly. Because "Ambiguity about goals and expectations is dangerous." - Michael Watkins. [Tweet this] This discussion must be structured and explicit, rather than vague and implied. Such discussion must take place at regular intervals during the onboarding process.  

The company must also communicate effectively to the employee about kind of support being provided (i.e. coaching & mentoring) during this period. Especially in terms of Learning & Development initiatives provided through LMS or other platforms.  

The period for review must be discussed with the employee, which normally should be 30-60-90 days, after 6 months and finally a yearly appraisal. The company must provide specific feedback, guidance and needed support to the employee during this period. As stated by Michael Bergdahl, Wal-Mart “Deal with problem employees, preferably during the orientation period”. [Tweet this] He further says, “Wal-Mart deals with its non-performing employees each and every day and thoroughly orients its new hires. You should, too.”

LinkedIn adopted a concept of “Tour of Duty” for setting expectations. (Hoffman & Casnocha) They have Rotational Tour: for the beginners, Transformational Tour: More personalized, for a specific mission & Foundational Tour: For C-suite Executives.

3. Culture

As we look at the RECAP framework, Culture appears at the center, which highlights its significance in the onboarding process. No matter how great your strategy is it won’t succeed unless you have the right culture. This becomes even more important if you have the responsibility to shape the culture.  

So what is culture anyways? And why it is so important for onboarding process?

“Culture is a product of the collective attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors of the people who work within an organization.”- Michael Bergdahl, Wal-Mart. According to Michael Watkins, “…these elements of the culture are often invisible and can take time to become clear…  Leaders who are onboarding into new organizations must, therefore, focus on learning and adapting to the new culture.” The above video clearly describes his views about the importance of culture during the transition.

He further says, “a deep understanding of the culture and politics is a prerequisite for leadership success—and even survival… If the company hires people who aren’t likely to fit with the culture, then little can be done to reduce the risk of derailment through onboarding.” Hence, it is important to hire people with an appropriate set of values, beliefs and background. Recruitment process must address this issue in the first place. There are various assessment tests available to find out the right cultural alignment. Even Jim Collins advocates having “right people” in the first place. (First who then what) And Tom Peters suggest, “Hire for attitude and train for skills.” [Tweet this]

Hence, companies must strive to provide cultural indoctrination to their new employees so that it would help them not only to survive but also to thrive in the new environment. According to Michael Bergdahl, (What I learned from Sam Walton, 2004) Wal-Mart provides to their managers a week-long cultural orientation and indoctrination session at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Cultural training is considered a positive investment in the business and is looked at as a necessary expense of doing business.  

Imagine someone taking international assignment or dealing with virtual teams. Informing employees about cultures and sub-cultures prevailing within an organization can certainly assist them in proving their metal. Hence, cultural orientation must provide enough knowledge to the employees about the norms, values, and beliefs (stated as well as implied). It would help the new employees to quickly learn them and adapt to new environment and start contributing towards the attainment of agreed expectations.  

4. Administration

Onboarding administration is also an important aspect of the process which deals with providing necessary supplies and completing documentation formalities. As stated earlier the onboarding process should start with recruitment, some consultancies call this part as pre-boarding. Several administrative formalities can be completed even before employee’s first day at work.

Many HR Professionals suggest having an ‘Employee Portal' that would give employees access to company information and forms & documentation. It also becomes crucial in the era of Social Networking and the arrival of millennials especially as part of “employment branding” initiative. Issues that can be handled through portal include: Job Descriptions, Contract, Policy and Employee Handbook, Company History, Welcome message by top management (Video), Offer, Forms etc.

Onboarding administrations also involve preparing in advance and making necessary arrangements before employee walk into the office.  It includes providing Office space, Desk, Laptop, Official E-mail address, Passwords, Access Cards, Business Cards, Stationary, List of important telephone numbers, etc.  HR representative must formally introduce him / her to the team members and accompany for a tour of the office premises. The whole point of these efforts should be to make the employee feel comfortable and at ease on his first day.  

HR representative also need to ensure proper documentation of the employee review while coordinating with the reporting senior during completion of 30-60-90 days, 6 months and annual appraisal.     

5. Process

The final aspect in the RECAP framework is developing structured “onboarding process”. We must have more strategic onboarding process for employees, which is unique throughout the organization. It must have appropriate alignment with overall business objectives as well as other functions of talent management such as recruitment, performance, and learning & development.

The company can have different process depending upon the type of the employees. For example, we may have three different processes for (1) Staff, (2) Managers & Hi-Potentials and (3) C-Suite Executives. While the first process may go on for at least six months the other two must go on till completion of a year.

Following image clearly outlines the onboarding process (designed based on the White Paper ‘Onboarding & Orientation’ by Drake International NA.)  




The onboarding process must be integrated with recruitment at pre-boarding and with Learning & Development post-orientation. According to Aberdeen research 77%, Best-in-Class organizations had a process in place to ensure clear accountability given to all stakeholders involved in ensuring that the employee is set up and ready to go on day one.

According to 'The Rise of HR' (2015) Microsoft strives to engage new employees across the globe with their state-of-the-art online program called "The Welcome Experience". It's a virtual campus that allows participants to view executive messages and access learning content customized to their needs.

The Aberdeen report (Welcome to the 21st Century Onboarding, 2014) states that onboarding and Learning & Development, both processes share similar results, including increased productivity and stronger engagement. Hence, they must be linked together, through this connection; companies can effectively manage to drive productivity and organizational growth. If we integrate onboarding with learning, especially with self-service tools like employee portals new hires begin training, building skill sets, acquire competencies, well in advance especially with the help of pre-boarding process.

It further states that another way to maximize the effectiveness of onboarding is to track the progress of currently onboarding employees to determine if changes need to be made to their own socialization, as well as for future employees. With the help of HR analytics, we can track employee progress. (White Paper- ON24’s Virtual Onboarding Solutions) For example, ON24 Virtual Learning Environment provides real-time reports.

These reports include summary activity and detailed learner information. It includes metrics such as the number of learners, learners by locations, and number of chat discussions. Detailed reports include employees profile, the number of training content and webcasts viewed, and whether or not the learner visited a particular training center. With such integration, we can monitor performance review information (30-60-90 days, 6 months) along with employee learning reports and help employees to improve performance by providing appropriate feedback, coaching & mentoring.    


In conclusion, I would say if we manage to take care of these five core aspects (RECAP) which are pillars of onboarding it would certainly result in improving productivity, retention, and engagement. An important message would be conveyed to the employees that the company does care for their employees. It would also help the employees reach the break-even point quickly and without any hassle. They can easily grasp the dynamics of the organization and immediately start contributing towards the achievement of strategic objectives of the company. Helping our employees to succeed would ultimately result in achieving our own strategic objectives. Because - “If you take care of your people, your people will take care of the customer and the business will take care of itself.” - Sam Walton, Wal-Mart. [Tweet this]

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