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All aboard: how to improve your employee onboarding process
Illustration by Justin Alm

5 min read

All aboard: how to improve your employee onboarding process

The way in which your organization tackles employee onboarding is more important than ever. Here's how you can improve your onboarding process, cut turnover rates, and keep new hires engaged.

First impressions leave a lasting mark. That’s why it pays to have a plan in place for what happens when new talent comes through the front door of your company.

Welcoming and managing inbound employees is more pressing than it may seem at first. Workforce researchers have found that voluntary turnover is a big and growing problem across industries. This is especially true of millennial hires, who are more likely than ever to depart within the first six months of employment.

One 2018 study revealed that fully one-quarter of employees are leaving their jobs this year, with the yearly turnover rate on an upward trajectory. Companies will spend $600 billion to compensate through rehiring, retraining, and other measures to get back to baseline. Just as stunning is that, despite the fact that 77% of those expenses are preventable through better onboarding and talent management practices (more on that below), most businesses tell us they’re not seriously concerned about turnover.

The takeaway is that companies have every reason to be concerned. The good news is that, since workplace culture is one of the biggest factors driving voluntary turnover, totally apart from prospects of better pay elsewhere, there’s a lot your business can do to build the right foundation for prosperous, sustainable relationships with your incoming talent.

Let’s take a look at what you can do.

Set the right tone

Begin by offering new hires a deep, early dive into the mission, culture, and values of your company. Any program that encourages new team members to engage thoughtfully with what your organization is about, and that demonstrates your commitment to developing the potential of everyone aboard, is an investment in the future success of those relationships, and therefore in the company itself.

The numbers back this up. Onboarding programs alone, apart from talent management tools which we’ll discuss below, can increase retention by 25% and improve employee performance by 11%. The impact on turnover rates is even more impressive: workers who participate in a structured onboarding program are 69% more likely to remain aboard for three years.

Onboarding best practices

So what works? Before we get down to cases, here are some broad guidelines that lots of different types of organizations and businesses find useful:

  • Include key stakeholders in meetings and in the work of planning onboarding programs.
  • Define the who, what, when, and where of required programming clearly and well in advance.
  • Take full advantage of appropriate technology to facilitate the experience (more on that shortly).
  • Provide new hires with crucial orientation materials prior to their first day.
  • Make the first day on the job fun and memorable.
  • Organize formal orientation programs and activities that complement pre-arrival materials.
  • Make all onboarding experiences as personalized and participatory as possible given other constraints such as budget and scheduling.
  • Implement onboarding programs consistently and monitor progress carefully to see what works and what doesn’t.
  • Use milestones to underscore the fact that effective onboarding takes time. There are many ways to divide an employee’s first year post-entry: into 30 days, 60, 90, 120 days, and so on.
  • Above all, be flexible. Try more than one approach. Measure and learn from results. Use what works for your organization’s needs and circumstances.

When it comes to millennials, who grew up in a digital environment, video and social learning tools are a great fit. Another approach that resonates especially well with younger hires is to provide structured, immersive experiences. They provide an ideal vehicle for strongly communicating your company’s values to a workforce that’s likely to tune out, if not snooze through, outdated classroom-style lectures and presentations that don’t engage the crowd as participants.

Beyond onboarding

The key to carrying forward the benefits of effective onboarding is to dedicate your organization to fully developing the potential of those already on board.

Talent management (TM) refers to the tools, skills, and methods used by an organization to reinvest in its existing human resources, developing their potential and strengthening their connection to the larger enterprise. It’s easy to see the value of these measures in light of the turnover crisis that’s shaping the workforce of 2018 and beyond.

Recall that employees often leave the job for non-financial reasons, like not believing there’s room for them to grow along a preferred career path and finding management to be disengaged or unsupportive. These issues can be addressed through skill-building programs that invite workers to define their own roles and understand how what they’re doing connects with the company’s larger values. Hands-on training also provides management opportunities to stay engaged.

Top talent management tools

We’ll close with a brief look at some of the top user-rated talent management tools of 2018.

UltiPro is a TM system that works best for mid-size companies and enterprises, and is designed to facilitate onboarding, payroll, employee sentiment assessments, and more. (User Rating: 8.4/10)

Workday Human Capital Management is a cloud-based system offering reporting and analytics, HR management, compensation and benefits administration, and more. (User Rating: 8.1/10)

Oracle HCM tends to be used by larger-scale enterprises to support employees’ full HR lifecycles. (User Rating: 7.8/10)

Saba, a talent management suite for which TrustRadius only has reviews from mid-size companies and enterprises, offers cloud-based HR analytics powered by machine learning technology. (User Rating: 7.4/10)

PeopleFluent Mirror Suite provides cloud-based talent management tools for addressing performance issues, productivity loss, and turnover, in order to improve business outcomes through analytics, social technology, and tools for recruiting, compensation, and other operational applications. (User Rating: 7.4/10)

We’ve defined some big-picture issues and discussed broad and narrow tools for coming up with solutions to the problem of voluntary turnover among an increasingly mobile and disengaged workforce. Though no one tool will solve every problem in every setting, the right combination of onboarding, talent management, and digital tools can empower your HR team to meet the challenges of 2018 and beyond.

About the author

Christian Golden, Ph.D., writes about tips and trends in digital marketing and social media for TrustRadius. He is a philosopher by day who loves teaching and digging into the big questions. His extracurricular interests include making music, reading comics, watching (really old) movies, and being in the great outdoors.

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