Getting strategic about onboarding

Getting strategic about onboarding

Posted by Amy A. Titus and Josh Haims on March 27, 2014

I (Amy) remember my first day on a new job — it was 1999. I walked into my office, had a computer put in front me, and was promptly whisked off to take care of formalities like fingerprinting and drug testing. That was my onboarding. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way in the last 15 years. Today onboarding is recognized as a critically important talent strategy because it can dramatically affect both “hard” factors such as productivity, retention, and costs and those elusive “soft” factors such as employer reputation and referrals that can be a tremendous advantage in a tight talent market.

Let’s take a closer look at why onboarding has been evolving from the days of “none at all” (or at best, “friendly people helping you”) to the more recent practice of 1 to 2 days of orientation, to leading organizations now considering the entire first year as part of onboarding.

  • Brand Experience. What happens in the beginning of a new role has a long-lasting impact. It begins to mold how you think about the organization and how you talk about it to others. Will you describe it as stodgy and uncomfortable or friendly and “cool”? Will you feel confident about your decision to work there or start looking to move elsewhere? Will you recommend it as a desirable place to work?
  • Productivity. In our onboarding research with clients, we’ve found from anecdotal reporting that the average time for a new employee to reach full productivity is 20 weeks for professionals and 26+ weeks for executives. Onboarding can help speed that learning curve and make new employees productive faster. By assimilating new employees into the organization’s social networks, it can also assist in harnessing the ideas and energy new employees bring to the job and take advantage of their fresh perspectives.
  • Retention. When you consider that most employees (90%) make the decision to stay with a company within their first six months on the job,1 you begin to see how important it is to pay attention to the employee experience in that critical time. Fully one-third of the U.S. workforce has been at their current job less than two years — that points to a lot of turnover, which leads to…
  • Costs. Why do productivity and retention matter? Both are huge drivers of cost. Our research finds that productivity due to the initial learning curve of starting a new job is 1% to 2.5% of total revenue from reduced productivity.2 The cost of employee turnover is estimated at 150 percent of salary (and about one-third of new managers alone will fail at their job within 18 months).3

Using onboarding to make the most of the people you hire — integrating them into the organization, getting them up to speed quickly, and striving to keep them with you — simply makes business sense. The stakes are too high to treat onboarding casually or leave it to chance. Leading practice today is to consider it a three-part, yearlong process comprising orientation, adjustment or “settling in,” and strategic assimilation, which is accomplished through a combination of formal leading, formal learning, and structured informal activity to support socialization and robust network building. Technology supports the process throughout by providing newcomers easy access to information, allowing them to join and participate in social networks, and serving as a gateway to meet people and build relationships.

The Evolution of Onboarding

Evolution of Onboarding

Another aspect of the challenge to make onboarding more strategic is that organizations should look at it holistically. The process should be consistent across the organization, yet still allow for customization to accommodate the needs of specific business units. Many organizations struggle with this — one of our clients had 54 different onboarding programs in use across the organization; another had three onboarding programs in different business units all doing the same thing. Situations like this not only create inconsistencies and duplication of efforts but also typically add considerable cost.

Planning and implementing effective onboarding is a process — you don’t go from having no or limited onboarding to having a strategically sound program overnight. But for the companies we work with — as well as in our own experience here at Deloitte — the effort is both necessary and worthwhile. Considering the investment and effort required to recruit and hire talent, it’s to everyone’s benefit, employer and employee alike, to use onboarding to systematically and strategically increase the likelihood that new hires will become productive, beneficial team members.

Amy A. Titus is a director in Human Capital within the Talent, Performance and Rewards group of Deloitte Consulting LLP. She is responsible for bringing talent, learning, organization improvement, and change solutions to her clients.
Josh Haims is a principal in the Human Capital practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP, with more than 14 years of human capital consulting experience. He currently leads Deloitte’s learning and development practice and is the co-lead of the global learning services team.

1Lamoureux, Kim. Strategic Onboarding: Transforming New Hires into Dedicated Employees, Bersin & Associates, 2008.
2Rollag, Keith; Parise, Salvatore; Cross, Rob; “Getting New Hires Up to Speed Quickly” (MIT Sloan Management Review, Winter 2005, Vol. 46 N0.2).
3Lamoureux. Strategic Onboarding.

2 thoughts on “Getting strategic about onboarding

  1. Amy, Josh,

    Perhaps a 5th reason to increase focus on Onboarding is to improve customer-centricity.

    Data continue to prove that the more employees take an outside-in approach to their work through a clear understanding of how their day-to-day work impacts the customer experience, the greater the customer loyalty, and financial results.

    One particular company had new hires spend time with customers, and actually “work” for the customer for a period of time to gain a first-hand understanding of the customers’ environments.

    Are you seeing companies taking specific steps to make “customer-focus” part of the Onboarding process?

    Jim Watson
    Neocase Software

  2. Jim, great observation. We are seeing our clients taking more of that outside-in focus during on-boarding. There is an increasing understanding of the value of understanding what clients look for and wha tconstitutes the client experience.
    thank, Amy

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