08 Apr 2019

YOUR GREAT EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE STARTS WITH ONBOARDING

A top-notch employee experience is critical for engaging and retaining talent in today’s competitive labor market. By creating a more holistic, ongoing, and employee-centric  “onboarding experience,” measuring it against key business me­trics, and iterating over time, businesses can move the needle on reducing expensive and costly turnover—and at the same time create a better employee experience that benefits the entire organization.

Employee experience is a hot topic for me and my fellow CEOs. It’s just as much of a strategic priority as customer retention and market leadership. And it’s not just another synonym for “engagement” or perks. Just last month, Gallup dedicated an entire article to defining employee experience and outlining how it differs from employee engagement.

While employee engagement refers to “the basic psychological needs that must be met in order to perform your work well,” employee experience “constitutes the entire journey an employee takes with your organization.” And a great experience is critical for attracting, engaging, and retaining top talent.

With unemployment at an all-time low and job hopping at an all-time high, creating an enviable employee experience has become a strategic imperative for many organizations. In a recent survey by Deloitte, nearly 80 percent of executives rated employee experience very important (42 percent) or important (38 percent).

With all the focus on employee experience, one would assume that companies have developed comprehensive plans to ensure that the employee experience is embedded in every aspect of their HR playbook. Yet, many companies are still missing the mark. In the same Deloitte study, only 22 percent of executives reported that their companies were excellent at building a differentiated employee experience.

Many company programs assume the employee experience starts on the employee’s first day of work but in fact it starts a lot earlier, at the offer stage. It then continues through onboarding and lasts for the entire employee lifecycle, through offboarding. Data suggests that the beginning of the employee experience is an especially vulnerable time. In a recent survey by Jobvite, a staggering 30% of respondents indicated that they had left a job within the first 90 days. This turnover, and the increasing difficulty of attracting great talent, has a significant impact on productivity and business success.

Retaining the best and brightest talent requires designing a holistic employee experience, starting with onboarding. And there’s work to be done. Somewhere between 22 and 30 percent of organizations don’t even have a formal onboarding program.

Brandon Hall Group research shows that most organizations are prioritizing onboarding and making strides. But only about 10% are realizing the full business impact of onboarding that’s strategic and fully linked with learning; utilizes technology and assessments; optimizes engagement and assimilation practices; and provides new hires with coaches and mentors to reinforce what they have learned.

Given its importance to the company’s continued success, teams need to develop processes and best practices to make the most of their onboarding program. Here are some strategies to improve its impact:

1. Start Early and Keep it Going

The length of formal onboarding programs varies by organization, but it’s often between one and four weeks. And although it’s traditionally begun on the employee’s first day of work, organizations are increasingly rolling out strategic “preboarding”communications before the employee’s first day, to help maintain excitement, begin connecting new employees to the brand and values, and answer common questions.

Smart organizations also realize that “onboarding” never really ends, because today’s companies are constantly changing and evolving, requiring continuous communication and learning throughout the employee lifecycle.

2. Personalize the Experience with Tailored Communications

The employee experience should never feel like a one-size-fits-all journey, and this is especially true during onboarding. The end of the candidate experience, including the offer and negotiation, is a personalized experience. So when the next wave of communications around start dates, benefits, and checklists has a copy-and-paste feel, it can be a jarring experience for new hires.

That process may be efficient, but it’s hardly engaging.

Think about your employee’s personal life outside of work. It’s likely filled with digital experiences, all of which—from Netflix to Instagram—leverage data to ensure relevancy. These personalized experiences are what cut through the noise.

Consider what John Deere India does to create a personalized onboarding experience and connect employees on a global basis:

“On the first day, a new employee is met by a friend they had been corresponding with who shows up with a favorite beverage, and they walk to their cubicle. It’s already set up. In fact, the first email is from the CEO of John Deere, who talks about the legacy that we have—175 years of innovation. The fact that we’re making products that make people food and give people shelter, so we’re doing important things for the world. He welcomes people to their first day. On the desk is a model of the first file that John Deere ever patented. It was a plow that you could pull behind your oxen or your horses that didn’t get caught up in root systems when you were plowing a field.”

        ̶  Chip Heath, Co-author of The Power of Moments, excerpt from Knowledge@Wharton.

The goal is to merge “what makes this new hire unique” with “what makes your brand unique” so that they employee incorporates the brand into their life.  And that type of relationship should continue throughout the employee journey, which—in the era of online reviews—extends beyond the day the employee leaves your organization.

3. Create KPIs to Measure Success

A great onboarding program is judged against success metrics and improved over time through continual iteration. Here are some example KPIs that organizations have used:

  1. Less than 10 percent voluntary turnover at six months
  2. Employee retention averaging more than four years (U.S. average is currently at ~3.6 years)
  3. Scores of 9 to 10 on NPS surveys about the onboarding process
  4. Communications that are consistently opened and read

It’s important to tie success around onboarding and new hire communications to actual numbers. Business is becoming increasingly data-driven, and contextualizing any work process—or proposed plans for improvement—through quantifiable metrics is preferable for executives.

If you can connect your program to revenue or profits, that’s even better. For example, if you currently have high turnover between three and six months in certain roles, that’s a great place to start. High three-month turnover ostensibly means you’re relaunching a recruiting process three or four times a year. That becomes very expensive. If that cost can be reduced with better onboarding and more personalized communications, you’ve created a business case to prioritize more resources.

A Final Note

A top-notch employee experience is critical for engaging and retaining talent in today’s competitive labor market. By creating a more holistic, ongoing, and employee-centric  “onboarding experience,” measuring it against key business me­trics, and iterating over time, businesses can move the needle on reducing expensive and costly turnover—and at the same time create a better employee experience that benefits the entire organization.

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