Understand what it takes to create an onboarding process that maximizes the new employee experience for success.
I began studying onboarding over 25 years ago. In fact, my dissertation included a study of new college graduates entering a variety of jobs. My prediction was that what happened during the recruitment process, what the manager and onboarding did while the new employee was being onboarded, as well as what the new employee did themselves were all going to be related to important outcomes such as new employee performance, job satisfaction, and retention. Luckily, after spending a year of my life following new employees into their new jobs and studying their onboarding successes and failures, many of these predictions turned out to be true. In fact, over the past decades, I have been amazed at how powerful the onboarding process is in terms of these important outcomes.
When onboarding goes well, individuals and organizations thrive. When onboarding goes poorly, the negative outcomes can be equally powerful with high levels of dissatisfaction, low engagement, poor performance, and high turnover. The statistics are sobering with half of all hourly workers leaving their new jobs within the first 120 days and half of all senior outside hires failing within 18 months in a new position.
All it takes is understanding which tools, or levers, are available to the organization to help new employees thrive. As I conducted research and reviewed what worked and what didn’t, I realized that the key levers could be identified and broken down into core components.
In 2010, I wrote a professional practices white paper for the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) where I laid out a number of onboarding levers based on years and years of research, consulting, and observation of onboarding. These have since evolved into the 5 “C’s” of Onboarding: Compliance, Clarification, Confidence, Connection, and Culture. While each of the 5 C’s is an important component of onboarding, the higher up the scale from compliance to connection and culture that your organization is able to go, the more effective your onboarding program becomes.
The 5 “C’s” of Effective Onboarding include a focus on compliance, clarification, confidence, connection, and culture. Organizations that focus on the 5 “C’s” demonstrate more successful onboarding and business outcomes than those that do not.
Comply with Legal Rules and Obligations. Compliance refers to things that must be done when new employees start things like getting paperwork completed, the badging process, and provisioning tasks like equipping new employees with computers and phones as well as a workspace. Organizations, even those who claim they do not have a formal onboarding program, have to get compliance right to stay in business. Because of this, many employees spend their first day on the job filling out forms. This is a missed opportunity for organizations. Organizations spend millions of hours and billions of dollars working through the recruitment funnel of attracting candidates, identifying qualified candidates, assessing candidates, and then finally hiring them and hoping they join the organization. But, they spend much less time thinking about ways to help make the employee experience better.
The Recruitment Funnel in Relation to the Stages of Recruitment
The recruitment funnel decreases the number of candidates considered from the time of recruitment through hire, leaving the very best candidates to hire.
A first step in helping create a unique and powerful employee experience is to spend the valuable first day on the job working them up the onboarding funnel to generate the biggest onboarding ROI on their first hours You can’t do that if all they experience is a stack of papers or online forms and waiting in long lines to get their badges. This is a huge wasted opportunity to move down the onboarding funnel toward the high-value activities with big ROIs.
Clarify Roles and Expectations for New Employees. Clarification refers to how well new employees understand their roles and performance expectations. Of course, organizations hire new employees to do specific jobs so clarifying what they need to be doing, how to do it, and how the organization functions in terms of rules and policies is important. And, we know that structure and clarity are important for individual and team success. But, spending time learning the basics certainly isn’t the most exciting way to spend your time when you’re new. So, build in ways to help new employees understand what is expected of them but the goal in doing this should be squarely focused on helping them feel equipped and confident in their choice to join your organization and their own ability to do a good job.
Build Up New Employee Confidence. Confidence refers to how much new employees feel like they can do the job well and tackle new challenges. It is a state of mind. While an organization cannot directly help new employees feel better about themselves, they can design onboarding experiences that help build up employees rather than tearing them down. When employees feel more confident, they are more likely to feel good about those around them as well as the choice to join your organization. Research conducted by Dan Cable and his colleagues found that onboarding, when done right to focus on the value of the new employee and encouraging them to share themselves at work, can immediately increase performance and retention.
Help New Employees Build Meaningful Connections at Work. Connection refers to how accepted and valued new employees feel. When new employees feel connected to their colleagues, they feel safe. Research has consistently shown that leads to all sorts of good individual and organizational outcomes. When new employees feel connected and safe, they ask questions. They try new things. And, they engage more fully with their coworkers, role, and the organization. And, they appreciate it. It is a factor which help new employees feel that they made the right choice to join the organization. Gallup has consistently found that having a close friend at work is related to a 50% boost in job satisfaction and that those employees with a best friend at work were seven times more likely to fully engage with their work. This starts with onboarding. If new employees feel alone and isolated on their first day, it can be challenging to recover as researchers found at Microsoft.
They Share Your Culture, But Remember That Cultures are Always Evolving. Culture refers to how well new employees understand the norms, values, stories, and symbols of their new organization. Onboarding is one of the key ways that organizational culture is formed, maintained, and changed. When I was working at Google and we focused on onboarding as a key KPI in People Operations, it was because the number of new employees at Google was anticipated to double within 18 months. That turned out to be true and the work done to identify what the Google culture was and how it would be impacted by such a huge influx of new employees was top of mind. One important thing for us to keep in mind was that while the stories of how the company was founded, its norms, missions, and its goals were evolving all the time. Onboarding is a great way to teach about what matters within your organization. It is also a great way to learn about how your organization could evolve for the better over time because new employees are the organization’s future.
Understanding what the 5 C’s of Onboarding on is the first important step toward ensuring that you have a robust onboarding program and that your onboarding program is best in class. No matter where your organization is in terms of its onboarding program, there is always room to make it stronger. With the technology available now that wasn’t available when I first started studying onboarding, it has never been easier or more rewarding to maximize onboarding success.