Onboarding is a hot topic. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, delivering a great experience is not easy. We all face the same challenges, and the pandemic has added a whole new digital layer to the mix. With so many teams involved across HR and the business a clear strategy, strong processes, true collaboration and effective governance are essential to deliver the best results for our organizations.
Complexity, legacy, manual processes, piles of paperwork and outdated ways of working can cause real confusion for new joiners. This can drive significant waste into our teams, slowing down the whole joining process and impacting the productivity of our new employee’s and businesses. We invest so much time, resources and budget in finding the right talent, yet often our onboarding lets us down. In so many cases new joiners don’t have the tools or support they need, we’re not setting them up for success. A poor onboarding experience can be brand damaging, resulting in early loss of new hires. However, with such significant challenge comes huge opportunity.
The business case for successful onboarding is compelling. Research shows a great experience can improve productivity, drive higher engagement and increase retention. Yet with so much at stake and the business case so clear, why is transforming our onboarding practices and providing a great experience often low on the list of HR priorities?
For businesses the race is on to continually do more with less. We have multiple competing priorities, lower budgets and tighter resources which we often need to reduce even further. Stretched HR teams are working to manage our people priorities whilst trying to innovate and simultaneously drive transformation. One lens to view successful onboarding through is purely about simplicity – removing legacy complexity, streamlining and re designing our practices through an employee centric lens. This approach produces faster, leaner processes with less waste, enabling our HR teams to function more effectively and deliver a better employee experience. The benefits include providing much needed time savings for our teams to re invest in value add activities, positively impacting our business and employer brand.
What does outstanding onboarding look like?
Whether you’re simply looking to streamline what’s in place currently and include some engaging new content, or you’re looking to deliver a full scale global transformation and implement a digital solution integrated with your applicant tracking system, the definition of a great onboarding experience is simple. It should be clear and easy for people to understand, efficient, inspiring and informing, ultimately setting your new talent up for success, enabling faster time to productivity and increased engagement. With HR collaborating with other key functions to provide the framework & tools the hiring manager needs to understand the importance and own the onboarding experience, which should positively reinforce the decision to join your organization.
If you’re convinced by the business case and ready to overhaul your current onboarding processes – what now?
If you’re convinced by the business case and ready to overhaul your current onboarding processes – what now? It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the task ahead, often we’re dealing with years if not decades of poor processes. Breaking your transformation down into key stages is critical, will enable you to think strategically, and build your plan.
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You need to know exactly where you’re starting to successfully shape a path to your vision. Ask your people – they’ll tell you! Survey new employees and hiring managers. Ask them what works, what doesn’t, what would they like to see? Designing your questions carefully will enable you to continue using these same questions going forward, to track back against your baseline and provide you with great data. Consider your different populations across all geographies such as Early Careers and Executives, what are their different needs? Focus groups can be useful in starting these conversations. And ask your HR teams which processes drive the most waste – our own people are the experts here.
Also look outside your organization for your benchmark, what does outstanding onboarding look like? Research best practice, speak to businesses that have successfully transformed their experiences, hear their stories and take on board their learnings.
Now you can take all your findings and do some analysis, this stage is critical. What is the data telling you, what do you need to remove, to change, to add? From here you can shape the way ahead.
Shape your business case and vision, get buy in from the business in collaboration with your HR Leadership team. Use your data and insights to inform these discussions. Don’t be afraid to think big, remember the bigger the challenge the greater the opportunity. Consider your employer brand and shape a compelling vision to align with your wider business vision & strategy. Your vision should inspire and excite you and your teams as you start to imagine just how amazing the experience could be and the business efficiencies you could realise. Checking back against your vision as you continue on your journey will make sure every step aligns with your end goal, and keep you on track.
Design & build
A successful transformation can be as much about removing what you don’t need, as creating what you do need
Collaboration is critical, we can’t afford to make assumptions. Mobilise a cross functional team aligned with your vision to design with your people, not for them. One team working together using your data and insights to shape an experience that fits across your business, tailored locally where required to fit legal, compliance or cultural variances.
A successful transformation can be as much about removing what you don’t need, as creating what you do need. Often this can be a huge piece of simplification removing legacy complexity on a global scale. Work in collaboration to understand with each process or form how best to ensure compliance and the right outcome, whilst shaping a streamlined, automated process with the employee experience at the core. It’s not easy, but the end result feels completely different once you realise this goal. And remember, you only need to do this once, then maintain the new solution.
Test, learn & refine
Your people are your greatest advantage as you finalise your new solution. Testing it out with frequent users such as hiring managers, employees and other stakeholders will provide you with the opportunity to tweak and refine, ensuring your new processes tick all the box’s well in advance of launching.
Communication & launch
Behind every successful change initiative is the communication strategy
Behind every successful change initiative is the communication strategy. This is critical, it’s the differentiator. We need to get our businesses onboard – they need to understand what’s in it for them, for their employee’s and teams – if we get this right. Visual, punchy messaging can make the difference between your new solution landing and embedding, or passing your business by.
Review and drive continuous improvement
Once you’ve launched your new solution take a regular temperature check using your data and feedback to assess the results, constantly comparing against your business case and vision. Refine and adjust based on your findings and consider where you may have to tailor to particular populations to ensure the best possible solution. Getting the right balance between global consistency and local requirements is key. Share your success across HR and the business to drive further engagement and support a continuous improvement agenda. This approach will ensure you have a fit for purpose solution delivering great results that works across your business as it evolves and changes.
What are the secrets to delivering a successful onboarding transformation?
Following these six steps will set you off on the path to success and help you deliver an outstanding result for your people and business.
1. Data is critical.
Take the time at the outset to build strong foundations, to gather the data you’ll need from the start and in the future, this will pay dividends.
2. Shape a compelling vision.
Aim for the best, get your teams engaged and inspired with a strong leader to drive forwards. Ignore anyone who says it can’t be done, this is more a reflection of their own limitations, not yours.
3. Collaboration is key.
Remember as businesses and HR functions we are greater than the sum of our parts.
4. Challenge everything!
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Review all those forms & processes that have been in place forever, that teams will tell you are critical for legal, compliance or policy reasons. If you take the time to truly collaborate and review these one by one, often you’ll find this is perception versus reality built up over time, and there is a better way.
5. Keep the faith.
Delivering a successful onboarding transformation is not easy. If it was easy everyone would do it. At some point you are likely to find yourself in the middle of what might feel like complete carnage asking yourself, why are we doing this? Keep your teams engaged and focused on that end goal, keep going and remember it will all be worth it in the end.
6. Never stop.
Once you’ve launched your amazing new solution remember this isn’t a project you can simply put down and forget about. If you do, over time you’ll find yourself right back at the beginning as everything you’ve carefully stripped out creeps back in. For all of us, delivering a great onboarding experience needs to become simply how we do things around here. Measure your success continually against the data, keep content refreshed and updated, keep driving continuous improvement and ensure you have the right governance to protect what you’ve worked so hard to build.
Delivering outstanding onboarding isn’t rocket science but it does require particular ingredients to get it right. Strong leadership, collaboration, creative thinking and a lot of tenacity combines to deliver exceptional business results.
And finally, if you’re feeling inspired and have decided to kick off your own onboarding transformation journey remember; dream big, be bold, and never let anyone tell you it cannot be done.
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Global HR Leader and Consultant
I’m the Founder of Sonia Mooney Signature Solutions. I'm a Consultant, an Agile HR practitioner and former Global Head of Talent Excellence at Rolls-Royce.
My passion is helping HR Functions to supercharge their effectiveness - creating efficiencies, excellent employee experiences & better business outcomes. Ultimately delivering more value for their people, business and customers whilst freeing up teams to focus on more strategic, creative, value add activities.
I have over 20 years HR experience leading collaboration to deliver creative, transformative change, award winning solutions and outstanding business results on a global scale.