By: Keith Kitani, CEO of GuideSpark
Business leaders have seen again and again that great onboarding is critical to long-term retention and productivity – which means that onboarding is mission-critical for any company. Organizations with an effective onboarding process improve new hire retention by up to 82% and productivity by over 70%, yet only 20% of companies indicate that they currently oversee a proactive onboarding journey, and more than 22% of companies have no formal onboarding process at all. If this tells us anything, it’s that there’s a massive amount of variation between businesses on how they approach onboarding – significantly impacting employee performance.
The “traditional” approach to onboarding has typically focused on paperwork, deadlines, and process, all delivered to new employees during a day-long or hours-long orientation session. But the world is changing, and so are employees who are more digital, distributed, and diverse than ever before. Onboarding must be reimagined as a people-centric experience to truly engage new employees and lead them along the path of high performance, productivity, and retention.
Onboarding Process vs. Onboarding Experience
So, what sets a great onboarding experience apart from a more traditional onboarding process? First, while process and paperwork will always be crucial pieces of onboarding, they shouldn’t be the drivers. A holistic, employee-centric experience is more complex, but ultimately much more rewarding for both the company and the new hire.
Many companies we work with at GuideSpark are showing more and more desire to evolve from a traditional onboarding meeting to onboarding experiences that are truly designed for today’s modern employees. At Delta Dental, for example, their onboarding team saw challenges around delivering the right amount of information – and at the right times – to their new employees post-pandemic. With GuideSpark, they implemented an automated onboarding campaign, delivering information in digestible pieces at a strategic cadence, with a much lighter lift for the internal team. And at Adobe, where experience is paramount, we’re seeing a similar move to make onboarding consistent, interactive, and scalable for a large, global workforce.
This shift to an onboarding experience is a great opportunity to introduce new hires to as many elements of the company as possible – without overwhelming them. There’s a lot to learn about a company when someone new joins the team – from people programs, to business strategy, to company culture – and communicating these elements requires a strategic, long-term approach to communication. And on top of all of this, your messaging needs to target new hires appropriately, according to their location, role, and the messaging channels that work best.
With this in mind, here are my 6 steps for building a great, engaging onboarding experience:
6 Steps to Creating A Great Onboarding Experience
1. Create 90-day+ Experiences
Condensing onboarding into an employee’s first day or first week may be the norm to cover the basic paperwork, but this short timeline is often not enough to truly integrate new employees with the company’s programs and culture. A longer onboarding experience allows new employees to more easily process and retain new information, and it also allows room to incorporate elements that may not have been included in a traditional process, like buddy check-ins or cross-functional department information. A multi-month campaign – 90 days, 180 days, or more – builds connection between new employees and the company, helps deliver the information they need without overwhelming, and sets them up for success at the company long term.
2. Don’t Let Paperwork Be the Driver
It’s a given that organizations will need to include processes and forms in their onboarding program, but these elements shouldn’t drive the experience. Keep the pace of the new employee’s experience with a full communication experience. A learning campaign that encourages feedback and two-way communication, for example, will immediately instill the sentiment that the new employee is already a deeply valued member of the company and its culture.
3. Focus on a Holistic Onboarding Experience
The goal of any onboarding experience should be to integrate new hires into the company as a whole – bring them into the community and culture, ensure they’re up to speed on business strategies and priorities, and make their role expectations clear and transparent. By integrating communication from many parts of the organization, you’ll be able to drive broader engagement and productivity.
4. Create a Customized, Relevant Experience
To get the right information to your new hires at the right time, your onboarding experience should adopt a personalized, targeted approach – which includes customizing your communications based on key employee demographics. For example, employees in different locations may need unique information that’s relevant to their office and function. New hires in one department may have an onboarding experience that includes consistent company information, but also incorporates unique information for their role and experience. The more relevant your onboarding communications, the more likely your new hires will engage and ultimately integrate into your organization.
5. Integrate People Managers and HR Business Partners
Both hiring managers and your people team are critical components of a new hire experience, so ensure that reminders and notifications to supporting team members are a key part of the onboarding program. According to our customers, including an international hotel chain and a major pharmaceutical manufacturer, the more dialed-in managers are to what new hires need and where they are in the onboarding process, the more involved they’re able to be; enhancing the employee experience and ultimately new hire productivity.
6. Automate the Communication Experience to Deliver Consistency and Scale
Managing weekly new hire groups with 90- or 180-day experiences – while incorporating the other steps I’ve included here – can be difficult, especially if teams are carrying out onboarding in a manual way. But, by leveraging digital tools and platforms, you can automate great onboarding experiences for all employees, no matter location or function. For example, you can automatically launch onboarding campaigns that begin on an employee’s first day, triggered by a new employee’s information added to your HRIS. Automation allows you to scale consistent new hire experiences.
Thinking about onboarding as an experience – rather than a process – sets the stage for you to positively impact your business with improved retention and productivity. Ultimately, the more successful your employee can become in their first 6 months, the better off your company and their engagement will be. But it takes a thoughtful, integrative, holistic strategy to accomplish these great results. Investing in an engaging, communication-centric onboarding experience can elevate you, your new employees, and the entire company.