These are the thoughts and takeaways from the latest Resourcing Think Tank (RTT) held on Thursday 24th April 2014 hosted by Corrett Restaurant’s Jenny Parry (Head of HR) titled ‘Harnessing the Business to Deliver Outstanding On-boarding within Outlets at a Local Level’.
The following summary has been prepared to reflect a segment of the discussion held amongst senior HR and Resourcing professionals from leading national and international businesses. Specific company details, experiences and examples have been omitted from this summary as all discussions are held under ‘Chatham House Rules’.
One critical and complex, yet often poorly executed, part of the employee engagement process is on-boarding. Where it becomes particularly challenging is when staff are being inducted at a local / site level without the presence of HR from a training and compliance perspective. Getting this process right helps drive the right behaviours from new joiners, sets expectations with regards to your EVP and builds a strong sense of employer engagement.
What’s more, firming up an effective process will help with ensuring all candidates receive a consistently positive experience. On-boarding should be as much about demonstrating and communicating the organisational culture, as it is about educating new joiners on health and safety, legalities and role skills etc. Therefore it’s essential to get this balance right. Ultimately, the aim of successfully on-boarding employees is to ensure an efficient ‘time to competency’ window and importantly get staff to establish an emotional connection with this business as quickly as possible!
Who owns on-boarding?
One of the common on-boarding related dilemmas concerns ownership and who actually takes responsibility for its effectiveness and success. For some businesses it’s owned by HR but sits within Resourcing and L&D; for others Resourcing shapes the strategy, L&D manages the programme and it’s delivered by the business; in other cases it’s owned by local HR teams or it’s simply down to the individual line-manager to induct new joiners. Undoubtedly, the size and age of a company will determine the level of sophistication required from an on-boarding process, however what’s key is that it is owned by ‘someone’ and that ‘someone’ is accountable for the strategy, delivery and success.
Some businesses take more of a self-service approach, whereby HR own the process but the onus is actually put back on the employee to ‘tick off’ the varying stages of the induction journey. However, this model is often difficult to embed as generally even people with the best intentions leave non-business critical tasks to the last minute; potentially creating a logistical nightmare from an induction standpoint. Whatever model you choose, it needs to be reflective of your overriding culture – if it’s not already a ‘self-service’ type of environment, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to operate such a model with your on-boarding.
In addition to involving Resourcing, L&D and line-management, often an induction champion system can work well; particularly when implemented in a dispirit workforce. Employees tend to trust and identify better with champions as they’re viewed as regular employees, as opposed to having a wider agenda like HR or line-managers. When establishing an induction champion community, existing employees need to volunteer, rather than feeling like it’s something that’s being imposed on them from above. Often it’s people that have a generous nature and like to be seen as a bit of a ‘know it all’ who put their hand up for the job! Whilst champion programmes work well for on-boarding the company values and culture, a ‘buddy scheme’ can be really effective from a role and professional development perspective.
Clarity around on-boarding messages
Within many businesses, senior level members of staff often have a blinkered view of how effective on-boarding actually as; potentially because their position is so far removed from day-to-day induction. What’s crucial is for everyone to be on the same page when it comes to the message that’s being communicated, to ensure that what’s being said is consistent with the EVP that’s already being promoted internally. What’s more, this messaging needs to reflect the reality of working for the business, so it’s paramount not to set yourself up for a fall. When embedding the culture and values of a business, often it’s wise to describe the values as ‘aspirational’ (rather than always being delivered consistently) to encourage employees to strive to achieve them whilst slightly softening their expectations should they not always see them being met.
Technology has the potential to make many processes more effective and efficient; however it’s key to get the balance right between tech products and personal / face to face engagement. Technology should really only be used to reinforce communication, rather than replace it altogether. See below a selection of technologies or creative examples that some businesses use whilst on-boarding new joiners:
Podcasts – break down key pieces of messaging into sound-bites that are digestible and will ultimately be more memorable in the long term
Online groups – using a bolt-on for your ATS or through other networking channels, group new joiners into communities to allow them to interact prior to starting
Line manager checklists – develop an automated online checklist that prompts managers to undertake certain tasks relative to inducting their new members of staff
Internal systems – grant new employees access to the company’s intranet prior to starting to allow them to read up on certain literature and policies
Online knowledge booster – drip-feed core induction messages to new starters to embed key messages and test the retention of learnt company info (Elephants don’t Forget)
Welcome gifts – send employees welcome packs with USBs or CDs housing all the relevant information they’ll need before and during their induction process
Ensuring a successful on-boarding process
Research has shown that people who receive a negative on-boarding process are more likely to pass on a negative experience to their colleagues and to people inducted under their care. Put yourself in the position of your new joiners… what elements of your induction process are going to make you turn to your loved ones and say “what a great company I’ve joined, they’ve done XY&Z for me”. Consider these ‘bragging rights’ and the small touches you can add to enhance the process (often at a relatively small expense). What’s more, a generally positive experience (where employees are engaged) is going to soften the impact of any mistakes made on the employer’s side such as late contracts or slip-ups with IT systems. See below some suggestions on how to ensure a positive on-boarding experience:
Good recruitment – It all starts with good recruitment and finding the right person for the job (with the right attitude)! During the recruitment process, be upfront with these individuals about what they’re entering into, to avoid losing them to any unexpected ‘surprises’.
Consistency – At a very basic level you need consistency, especially when it comes to the message you’re communicating. Ensure at all touch points your company history, mission and values are absolutely nailed down and accepted by all involved in the process.
Targeted processes – Whilst consistency is crucial from a cultural induction standpoint, recognise that on-boarding cannot and should not be the same for all positions. Factors such as seniority and discipline are clearly going to impact the structure and content of on-boarding programmes.
Reflective of the company – You want your on-boarding experience to pack the ‘wow factor’ and reinforce your new employee’s decision for joining the business. However, make sure that it’s relevant and in-keeping with what the company’s all about.
Keep it simple – People often assume that because elements of on-boarding have ‘always been there’ that they’re necessary. This is of course not always the case! Get under the skin of what you’re trying to achieve and strip out any tedious and unrequired elements of the process that aren’t adding any value.
Whilst striving to follow the guidelines above, ultimately a lot of the success of general induction will be dependent on the capability of the line-manager…
As mentioned above, the capability of the local line-manager is going to largely affect the success of an employee’s on-boarding experience. However, few businesses actually train and coach around the most effective way to induct new joiners. Most companies will have resources and policies available for managers to access, but whether these are utilised is probably a different story. On-boarding and the importance of it needs to be brought to life and explained to managers in a meaningful way. What works effectively for some companies, is having a general workshop (often run over a couple of days) whereby new people managers are provided with the tools to undertake the ‘people’ element of their job such as: case management, candidate interviewing, performance management, employee engagement, leadership style and of course, inducting new starters etc.
For line-managers operating in an off-site location, providing some sort of face-to-face ‘HR road show’ (held by the HRBPs) can be useful to ensure they’re not missing out on the vital skills to manage people effectively. Store managers are often really receptive to this type of training as generally people have a desire to better themselves and their capability. In this context, referring back to case-studies works far more effectively than relaying ‘text book’ HR policies and strategies which tend to turn off the audience. This type of training is considered more real and applicable to the line-managers’ business context.
Measuring the success and output of on-boarding
When it comes to the success of on-boarding, a lot of businesses don’t actually measure it. Obviously, you can receive a degree of anecdotal feedback from new starters and by looking more broadly at general people statistics but unless you’re looking at the two in correlation, how do you know what’s working? For businesses who do measure on-boarding, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive time to take feedback, however it seems sensible to capture data fairly early on and then again once the employee is a little more settled – once at six weeks and then again at six months seems to work well. Additionally, capturing the more anecdotal feedback through constructive two-way conversations is important for adding more substance to the data. So, what metrics should we be looking at when measuring on-boarding? The most common data points to report on seem to be: retention, time to competency, engagement, average transaction value, client feedback and delivery / output.
Some business have taken their on-boarding analysis a step further and actually map their high performers back to their induction experience to see whether there’s a correlation between their initial experience and their present day output. What’s essential is to use the data you obtain from measurement and actually do something with it! Use it to refine and make tweaks to the process to ensure it fulfils your initial objectives of running the programme in the first place.