onboarding - HRD CR.

A happy employee is one who feels they belong, who’s engaged and motivated. This all starts with a strong onboarding process, says Kim Boyd of Frontier Software. 

In the age of the pivot, of continual flux and flexible working, one truth remains unchanged in the business world: your biggest asset is your people. 

Attracting the right people in the first place is a no-brainer, but keeping them engaged, productive and mentally and physically well – in fact, just keeping them – is a whole other challenge. 

“On average, turnover costs in Australia are estimated to be around $3.8bn, not including the cost of recruitment, which adds another $385m,” says Kim Boyd, national sales and marketing manager at Frontier Software, provider of HR and payroll solutions.

Having the appropriate tools is becoming increasingly critical to engaging and retaining your workforce. Onboarding is the first such tool – and a lot is riding on the quality of the experience. Get it right, and it will be a process that keeps on giving.

“Effective onboarding can improve employee retention by up to 82%. That means you could save up to 82% of your share of $3.8bn by developing an onboarding process that works,” says Boyd.

“Throwing the pandemic in the mix, we are seeing a rise in hybrid and remote working. A focus on onboarding programs that support this emerging way of working is critical to ongoing retention and staff satisfaction.”

In addition, an effective onboarding process can boost employee productivity. “All of which makes for valued employees.”

There are several components to enabling you – and your employee – to get the most out of the onboarding experience.

Don’t make it a form-filling exercise

Tasks and experiences that are directly related to the new hire’s role and responsibilities will help them feel valued and part of the company, Boyd explains. And if inclusivity is front of mind – which it increasingly is – this kind of tailored onboarding can’t fail to meet that criterion.

Admin is easily done via automation, so instead focus on aspects that will make the new employee feel engaged – now and into the future.

“Onboarding that is about forms, compliance and box-checking will have the equal and opposite effect – you need to balance the administrative requirements with the developmental and engagement needs of your new team member.”

Boyd says common mistakes at the onboarding stage include failing to include training on culture, the role, the responsibilities, and where the employee fits in; and overlooking the social aspect – their team and perhaps the key executives in their area.

“With the advent of remote work or hybrid arrangements, engagement activities for new hires are crucial to help them feel like part of the team.”

Choosing onboarding tools 

Frontier Software’s Kim Boyd says there are seven factors to consider when selecting onboarding tools.

  1. Personalisation: Can I configure a different onboarding journey for an admin manager than for an IT manager or salesperson?

  2. Automation: Can I automate admin tasks so forms can be completed and data gathered easily?

  3. Integration: Can I exchange gathered data with my payroll system without needing to employ integration programmers? Can I integrate my induction courses, policies and training?

  4. Deployment: Can my new hire complete onboarding tasks on the go via a mobile phone?

  5. Communication: Can my new hire contact their employer at any time via the solution?

  6. Reporting: Can I report on onboarding stats to track progress and identify potential bottlenecks?

  7. Analysis: Can I actively engage my new hires during and after the onboarding process to get their feedback?

A sense of belonging

Facilitating social and cultural connection early on maximises the likelihood of retaining an employee and the employee becoming an advocate for your organisation, says Boyd.

“A great many organisations onboard for a month, but thought leaders and successful organisations see this as a longer process; it could be up to seven months or more” Kim Boyd, Frontier Software

Even pre-pandemic, there was a steady rise in remote and flexible working, creating greater demand for social tools to be built into the onboarding process.

“It’s about bonding a new employee to a team and the organisation’s culture. They need to feel they belong – and quickly, even if they are working from their home office several hundred kilometres away. Whether that is via social media links, pre-day-one social webinars where we meet and casually introduce ourselves, or a formal buddy system – albeit online – organisations need to include these hygiene factors into their onboarding planning.

“Every company is different, so the execution will be unique, but the requirement is universal.”

Younger workers especially will be wanting and expecting an experience that makes them feel connected from the get-go.

“The combination of remote location and millennial employees makes the point about social connection very important,” says Boyd. “These are a generation who grew up with social media and connectivity. They are sophisticated consumers of this technology and have high expectations from their employers in this regard.”

While the demand for effective onboarding software has always been there, the rise of hybrid work environments puts pressure on this need.

“As the future of work continues to evolve, efficient, elegant onboarding has become an essential part of staff attraction and retention,” says Boyd.

For all new employees, but particularly this younger demographic, she says onboarding should be tech-based and provide a great UX (user experience).

“Mobility enables ease, and the use of tech and mobile platforms lends itself to the integration with other people-centric tech, such as video and social media.”

However, you can have all the whiz-bang tech in the world, but it won’t be effective unless you are sending the right messages.

“Your program had also better offer a very clear picture of employee benefits and development opportunities, and it has to facilitate a pathway to connect and create a sense of belonging, or the employee will soon disengage,” says Boyd.

Onboarding input equals great output

Apart from high retention and engagement levels, good evidence is emerging about the impact onboarding has on productivity.

Research by Glassdoor has shown that a strong onboarding experience boosts productivity by up to 70%. And according to the Human Capital Institute, organisations that assign a buddy to new employees at the onboarding stage have found it a fast, efficient way to boost the new hire’s proficiency.

Without appropriate onboarding, a new hire will struggle to become productive quickly, says Boyd.

A great culture is a two-way thing

Should the initial hiring and training program reflect the company culture, or is it a two-way process in that the onboarding experience helps shape that culture? 

“Your program had better offer a very clear picture of employee benefits, development opportunities, and facilitate a pathway to ... a sense of belonging, or the employee will soon disengage” Kim Boyd, Frontier Software

“Good proponents of onboarding would say both,” says Boyd. “Gathering feedback through internal mechanisms says to a new hire ‘we’re invested in this, we want it to work, we don’t assume we have all the answers all of the time, and we’re prepared to change if you’ll help us.’

“The program itself should be reflective of your culture just by way of its design, but therein lies the cautionary tale. If your program is about box-ticking and resource allocation, you’re sending a message right there. And I suspect you’ll be re-advertising too.”

Onboarding takes time

Another common error is thinking that onboarding is a pre-employment and week one activity. Great onboarding stretches over months, says Boyd. 

However, there is no magic figure for how long onboarding should last, she says, as every organisation and role is different. “The important piece to keep in mind is that the onboarding doesn’t just happen organically; it needs to be planned over a period of time.

“A great many organisations onboard for a month, but thought leaders and successful organisations see this as a longer process; it could be up to seven months or more.

“As turnover occurs in the first few months in many cases, it makes sense to invest the time and effort in a new hire to ensure they are settled, happy, productive and an advocate for your organisation.”

Originally published in HRD Magazine in July 2021