How to Craft a Killer Onboarding Strategy to Retain Great Employees

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Whether we like it or not, the good old days of having a “job for life” are long gone.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 25 percent of the working population make a career transition each year, and the average person will hold 11 jobs in their lifetime. But, what does this mean for business owners?

If you’re taking the momentous leap from solopreneur to the manager of one or more employees, it may seem like a scary proposition to invest significant time, money, and effort in hiring, inducting, and training new staff, only to have them leave shortly after their first day.

In this article, I’ll take you through how an employee’s onboarding experience affects retention rates, and how you can avoid the hire-rehire cycle.

Why is onboarding important?

A study completed by the Academy of Management Journal found that an employee’s first 90 days lay the foundation for future work outcomes. In other words, the first few months of a new job represent a critical period in which businesses must focus on providing adequate support and direction to new hires, in order to avoid high staff turnover rates.

To ensure that those first days, weeks, and months are a positive experience for your new employee, onboarding is essential. Onboarding aims to facilitate and accelerate the process of a new employee feeling welcome, prepared, and ready to do their job. This doesn’t just benefit the employee; it benefits you too—the sooner your new hire feels comfortable and ready to work, the sooner they can carry out their role to the fullest capacity.

This involves learning and adopting the attitudes, skills, behaviors, and routines required to fit into the workplace. Experts refer to this as “recruiting for cultural fit” and it’s vital to an employee’s job satisfaction and the likelihood of remaining with the organization.

Another key element of onboarding is ensuring that new hires know what is expected of them. This may seem like a basic concept, but in the U.S. and the U.K., companies lose an astonishing $37 billion dollars each year because employees don’t fully understand their job.

Now you have an insight into the impact onboarding has on employee tenure and a business’s bottom line, here are my top tips for success.

Tips for excellent onboarding:

Create a written onboarding plan

Having a formal document that outlines onboarding activities and associated timeframes is essential for formalizing the responsibilities and expectations of all people involved.

TINYPulse has put together a handy employee onboarding checklist to help you create an efficient onboarding plan that you can easily customize to suit your organization and your employees’ specific roles.

Develop a personalized plan

Having an effective onboarding plan that is applied company-wide is essential for consistency and uniformity, but there also need to be aspects that can be personalized for each new hire. Each individual plan should encompass a role description and expectations, and a training program with specific learning outcomes.

Be mindful that not everyone in your team will have the same learning style, so it’s best to offer a few options, including face-to-face training, e-learning, and on-the-job training.

Provide a starter pack

To avoid any confusion during those first tentative days and weeks, provide the new employee with a starter pack. Include information such as organizational terminology, dress code, employee benefits, late policies, and any other essential information that may need to be referenced on a regular basis.

It’s also a good idea to include a staff contact list, so new hires can get to know their teammates as quickly as possible.

Prepare the rest of your team

To speed up the process of integrating the new hire into the team, give everyone who will be working with them plenty of notice of the impending arrival.

On the first day, encourage team members to take the time to introduce themselves, and if you decide to assign a buddy or mentor to the new hire, ensure they understand what is expected of them. There’s nothing more unwelcoming for a new employee than team members who are unprepared and who haven’t even heard of them.

Give detailed information about the organization

Explaining the company’s structure, values, and culture will help to make employees feel like an important part of the organization.

Online shoe and clothing store Zappos incorporates this into their intensive onboarding and offers employees a cash sum to leave if they don’t feel that they’re a good fit for the company. Only one percent of people have taken the cash, and—perhaps unsurprisingly—Zappos consistently ranks highly on Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list.

Make induction invaluable and unmissable

The words “induction training” strike boredom into the heart of almost anyone who hears them. Making your induction interactive, engaging, and entertaining not only makes it worthwhile—because new employees will be listening rather than snoozing—but also gives it credibility.

Use a variety of resources to hold attendees’ interest, like video clips, leadership Q&A sessions, and quizzes. Jazzing up your induction will leave new employees feeling excited about working for your company, and they’ll be happy to attend and actively participate, rather than dread it.

Check in often and ask for feedback

Regularly checking in with your new employees over the first few months allows them the opportunity to resolve issues, ask questions, and provide feedback. Understanding how the onboarding process is received from an employee’s perspective will enable you to amend aspects that may not be working as well as you had hoped.

It is a good idea to set definite points at which to check in, such as day 30, day 60, and day 90. Remember to put these dates in the onboarding plan.

Streamline housekeeping

It can be extremely frustrating for new hires if on their first day they have no access to emails, internet, and intranet sites due to the correct forms having not been completed. Worse still, onboarding is often held up by unfinished paperwork.

Avoid the stress and loss of productivity by sending out relevant forms and access information to new hires ahead of their inaugural work day. That way, they can hit the ground running instead of twiddling their thumbs and reading through the Gifts & Benefits Policy for the umpteenth time.

Start way before day one

You can probably see a pattern emerging in that onboarding should not be something that only begins once a new hire steps foot in the workplace. It should start with the recruitment process, and many of the tips, including the development of onboarding plans and induction sessions, will not be effective if completed at the eleventh hour.

Also, connecting with employees before their first day will help them to feel excited—not anxious—about starting in a new environment.

Paperless onboarding: An emerging trend

Have you considered just how much paperwork and hard-copy documentation a single new hire would receive? Many forward-thinking companies are incorporating software into their onboarding process to alleviate the problem. Not only is going paperless better for the environment, but it is much more efficient than providing a stack of documents for a new hire to lose, tear, or spill coffee all over.

Streamlining the onboarding process with paperless technology has also been shown to improve compliance rates. The ability for employees to receive, sign, and return documents quickly and in their own time, and the fact that there’s an electronic trail, means that there is a shorter turnaround time between employees receiving and then returning signed documents.

Onboarding software can facilitate the settling-in process, too. Software company Fog Creek uses online task boards to document their onboarding program and to help employees figure out what they need to do and when they need to do it. They also provide an FAQ section with a “Who’s who” for their new colleagues, a “History behind…” to detail the company and its values, and a “Who can I ask about…” section. This system doubles as a formal, written onboarding plan as well as supporting integration into the new team.

If you would like to explore paperless onboarding as a potential option for your organization, companies such as HR Cloud, Chronus, and Namely offer onboarding software solutions aimed at streamlining the process.

Onboarding: Setting the stage for employee success

So, there you have it. Onboarding is key to ensuring new employees are engaged and have a positive experience during a time that can be anxiety-filled.

Putting the effort in early—starting with the recruitment process—will provide benefits in the way of individual and team productivity, staff retention, and organizational growth. Even the way you carry out your onboarding can have an impact on the environment, compliance rates, and onboarding timeframes.

Regardless of how you implement your onboarding program, remember you only have a short window of opportunity to consolidate your employee’s commitment, so make the most of it and reap the rewards going forward.

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Harriet Genever
Harriet Genever
Harriet Genever is a freelance writer and copyeditor, specializing in blog posts, research articles and customer case studies. As the founder of her Australian-based business, Write Beyond, she works with B2B companies and small business, developing compelling content to attract customers and keep them engaged. With a background in Human Resource Management, Harriet enjoys the personal interaction with clients and their customers when working on writing projects. She is also a true believer that the key to success in any business is its people.
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