Engaging Employees Through Your Onboarding Process: Part 2

In part 2 of this series, we will explore how to plan, conduct and evaluate an effective onboarding program.

Think of your onboarding programs as a means to set employees up for success in their new roles and to build a foundation for positive, long-term impact on the organization. It is less expensive and time-consuming to retain employees than to recruit, hire and train new ones, so if you take the time to properly onboard and educate, you are helping create a collaborative and supportive culture.

In Engaging Employees Through Your Onboarding Process: Part 1, we reviewed the extensive research phase necessary for developing an onboarding program. After analyzing your findings for gaps and opportunities (consider using a SWOT analysis to organize your information), it is time to move into planning.

Your research has been conducted, you know which resources are available to you and most importantly, everyone is on the same page as to what the goals of your onboarding program are. The questions you answered in the research phase should have helped you determine the content you will cover in onboarding, how you will cover it, who will meet with new employees and when and which organizational resources will be available to you (or whomever will run the program) in terms of time, space, funding, technology, supplies, snacks and budget.

Consider developing a written onboarding plan. Similar to a communications plan, list your problem (i.e. turnover, lack of employee engagement, lack of internal knowledge, lack of buy-in, etc.), goals (both formal and informal), target audiences, key messages, measurable objectives, strategies, tactics, budget, timeline and evaluation methods. This will help everyone in the organization understand the purpose of the program, while keeping trainers aligned.

In addition to more formal documents and polices such as org charts and standard work hours, don’t forget to include information pertaining to the more informal cultural settings and models such as where to park, where to store lunches, typical times people take their lunch breaks and for how long, where the restrooms are, how to order supplies and whatever other information your current employees indicated would have been helpful for them to have known during their first days or weeks. View your onboarding program as your opportunity to develop new brand champions.

Also consider that people learn differently, so use multiple training methods to ensure retention: a physical handbook, intranet walk-through, links to training videos and screencasts and so on. Don’t just include typical instructions such as how to set up your voicemail or how to access your pay stubs (although those are important). Give new employees a few of your recent employee newsletters; a list of upcoming events; the cafeteria lunch menu; a poster or infographic depicting your mission, vision and values; an updated org chart and extensions list. Go a step further and include a “Who to Contact for What” cheat sheet because different organizations have different structures. Perhaps at their last job, HR handled payroll issues, but at your company, Finance is the department to contact. Make them feel like they are already part of the team.

Additionally, determine how current employees can be included in the onboarding process. Research shows that by utilizing your current staff as trainers, not only will new employees recognize a friendly face or two around the office, but your current employees will feel a sense of pride in themselves, their work and the organization, further increasing their engagement, satisfaction and performance. And when newbies see the tenured staff happy to be at work, they’re more likely to adopt the same attitude.

I once worked at an organization that held Monday morning orientations for new employees. It was great starting my first day with another 20 or so people, learning the ins and the outs of the organization, building my internal network and increasing my excitement for my new role and opportunity. I was also given facetime with some of the company’s big wigs and current employees, further solidifying, in my mind, that I had made the right decision in leaving my previous post.

Obviously, larger companies are more apt to offer group onboarding on a frequent basis, but smaller organizations should consider when and where their onboarding sessions will take place. I’m a firm believer that a new employee must be welcomed on their first day with a formal program and plan for their first week or two on the job. We don’t want them thinking they made a big mistake by leaving a job and colleagues they were familiar and comfortable with for a company that doesn’t seem to care they even showed up for work.

Have you ever started a job that made you want to go back to your former boss and beg for your job back? I did.

At one company, during my final interview, the executives showed me where my office would be if I were to accept the position. It was a beautiful office with soaring ceilings and waterfront views. However, on my first day, the receptionist (no new boss in sight), led me down a dark corridor at the back of the building. She said, “Here you go!” and pointed into a poorly lit, tiny office that was stacked floor to ceiling with boxes; I literally had to move several to get to my desk. Picture the basement office in “Office Space”…except I didn’t even get a red stapler. About an hour later, my new boss sauntered in and said, “Oh good, you’re here. Sorry about the minor switch, but we decided to give that office to the new IT director…hope you don’t mind. Oh, and the last communications director relied on paper files, so we figured we shouldn’t toss anything until you had a chance to look through these boxes. I’ll check back in after lunch.”

Things didn’t get much better after that first day, indicating to me that there was a big culture problem within the organization, and I had made the wrong decision; I left that job after a year.

So, think about this: how are employees going to become engaged brand ambassadors when they are treated as just a number? Yes, we want to think that they are lucky we offered them the job, but we also need to realize that we are lucky to have found great talent. Don’t let the wooing period end with the job offer.

Good communicators know we must evaluate our programs to determine if we’ve reached our goals, and it’s especially important to evaluate the effectiveness of the onboarding process. Use a short survey to seek immediate feedback from participants on everything from the facilities where the program took place to the materials, topics and speakers. Follow up with employees in one, three and six months to gauge transfer of knowledge, to determine if the program had any gaps and whether or not they felt adequately prepared for and supported in their new roles. Take that feedback and tweak your program as necessary.

Finally, be sure to constantly measure the results against your stated goals and objectives. Report out on your findings. Publicly thank those employees who willingly gave of their time to help onboard new employees. Gather testimonials from new employees to share with the rest of the organization. Leverage that new employee excitement to help boost morale, engagement and performance.

Onboarding is just one step in creating an engaged culture, so make sure you take it seriously and do it right.

If you are interested in learning more, attend Amanda’s conference session, How Communicators Can Increase Employee Engagement Through Onboarding and Training, on Tuesday, November 13th at 9am, or contact her via her website or at amanda@communicated.ca.

Dr. Amanda Holdsworth, APR
Founder, CommunicatED
Assistant Professor, Cleary University



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