Competition among the most innovative companies is growing ever more heated for one of the most highly coveted resources on the market: talented employees.  Unfortunately, a significant number of new hires slip away because of a poor initial experience with their new companies.

Managers are often so driven to recruit talented people that they neglect to think about what will happen once the new hire arrives ready to work. This is a crucial mistake.

Research findings published as The 2012 Allied Workforce Mobility Survey: Onboarding and Retention underline the following worrying statistics:

  • Nearly 33% of new hires look for a new job within their first six months on the job. Among Millennials, that percentage is even higher and it happens earlier.
  • Twenty-three percent of new hires turn over before their first anniversary.
  • The organisational costs of employee turnover are estimated to range between 100% and 300% of the replaced employee’s salary.
  • It typically takes eight months for a newly hired employee to reach full productivity.

The benefits of onboarding

The latest research suggests that onboarding may be the most critical period in an employee’s experience at a company – one that has a long-lasting impact on engagement, performance and retention. Onboarding new employees will encourage them to apply their personal strengths to the job, says Daniel Cable, professor of organisational behaviour at London Business School. “Companies can help their new hires become more connected with their colleagues, more engaged in their work and more likely to stay.”

Entering an organisation offers the employee a rare chance to make a fresh start in a new social setting, Cable explains.  One of the chief features of being human is our longing for opportunities to be valued as our authentic selves – being valued for who we truly are makes us feel alive. “It’s an extraordinary opportunity to negotiate one’s identity with new colleagues.  Research shows that it can be powerful, motivating and even addictive to become known by others as the person you are when you are at your authentic best.”

Companies realise that there’s a high payoff in this unique early ‘honeymoon period’ by making the new employee feel welcome and comfortable in her new surroundings, says management consultant Dick Grote. “A good job of onboarding can take weeks off the learning curve and get the newbie up to fully-productive fast.”

Onboarding starts when they sign on the dotted line

The first phase of onboarding begins as soon as you get authority to hire, says John Reh, senior business executive and contributing author to Business: The Ultimate Resource.  Start by making sure the physical environment is ready:

  • Designate a workspace and provide a nameplate on his or her desk or office door as a tangible sign that you’ve prepared the space.
  • Set up the computer and configure the new employee’s e-mail accounts. Provide guides for any necessary software he or she will be using.
  • Provide an organisational chart of your department that spells out who’s responsible for what. Include your boss and her boss, too, along with any other people your newcomer is likely to run into.
  • Notify the support departments. Inform Human Resources, Payroll, Facilities, Information Technology (IT) and anyone else who need to know of the new employees name, title, reporting supervisor and start date. Follow up with them to make sure they prepare ahead of time for the arrival and onboarding.

“It’s wise to assign a sponsor as a go-to person for the newbie”, says Grote. “But make sure that the sponsor is a person that you want the new employee to emulate. Too often the assimilation process is shuffled off to the first available employee, including the most cynical, burned-out, turned-off, and disengaged members of the staff.”

Let’s get digital

For the onboarding process to be successful, it should be a healthy mix of training, performance management, mentoring, coaching, goals setting and getting to know the people, processes, and culture of the workplace.  A great solution to the unwieldy onboarding process is going digital.

“Plain and simple, digital onboarding is less work,” says Andre Lavoie, specialist contributor to HR Gazette.  “With the right platform, companies can avoid lots of paperwork that kills a new employee’s spirit on their first day. Instead, those that go digital can distribute electronic forms that take less time and effort for both parties to prepare.”

Dan Schawbel is the founder of Workplace Trends, a research and advisory membership service for HR professionals.  He explains that the best and most cost effective method of onboarding is “to have one place where employees can access the latest company resources, including training material, a list of products and services offered, a background on the company and an employee directory.”  Ideally, employees should be able to access to this information on a smart device or mobile phone.

Digital onboarding allows both new employees and their managers to track onboarding progress, communicate openly about expectations, develop productivity goals and, in doing so, reduces the all-important time-to-productivity metric.

Janko A. Kotzé
Organisational Psychologist
M: +27 (0)83 233 7147

About the author

Janko is an Industrial and Organisational (IO) Psychologist and holds a Master’s Degree in IO Psychology at Unisa (Cum Laude). He has extensive consulting experience and has designed and delivered Talent Management solutions to over 30 clients across various industries.

He is the Founder and Director of Human Interest Consulting. A boutique talent management consulting firm that partners with organisations to create high-performing, integrated Talent Ecosystems that allow people to prosper. He is a skilled people strategist and facilitator and likes to embed new strategies through individual and group coaching engagements.

Janko has written numerous articles and is a sought after conference speaker. He has represented South Africa in the 110m hurdles at Youth, Junior and Senior National level and has aided international athletes and sport teams in the art of Mental Excellence.

Janko’s qualifications include a BCom Sport Management, BCom Hons Industrial Psychology, Certificate in Marketing & Customer Centricity (Cum Laude) and an Intensive Coaching Training Accreditation (Cum Laude). He is a member of Coaches and Mentors of South Africa (COMENSA), Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychologists of South Africa (SIOPSA), Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and the South African Board for People Practices (SABPP).

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