By Mette Søs Gottlieb, Learning Expert
It stands to reason that new employees need to be oriented to their new environment – that’s what onboarding is at its core. Some organisations do it well; some all but ignore it. But if employees aren’t oriented to the ways and expectations of the company, how can they be expected to succeed? Onboarding must be understood as a critical factor in individual and organizational success, and this requires appropriate tools and guidance.
The “gig economy,” supported by cloud apps and mobile devices, supports a workforce segment that thrives on moving from one gig to the next. There are innumerable blogs and Instagram accounts that model a work-from-anywhere lifestyle of coding while traveling the world, for instance, or building a robust freelance business by choosing which and how many writing or graphic design assignments to take on. This comfort among millennials with switching jobs has led to the creation of yet another label for them: the “job-hopping generation.”
It’s no longer normative to work for the same organisation for decades. The reality is that employees may only stay with your company for a short time, which makes it even more important to be able to hit the ground running from Day One. The sooner this happens, the sooner your new hire will be an effective employee who feels like a valuable contributor.
There’s a correlation between how much effort you put into onboarding and how successful it is. Sadly, many companies don’t have an onboarding process to begin with. New hires come on and are handed a binder of information to read – that’s it. Other companies don’t approach onboarding in an agile way with continuously updated sets of collateral, documents and procedure aids. Instead, it’s treated as a one-and-done, point-in-time activity as if things don’t change – even as the world around us does.
If there is an onboarding process in place, it’s all about human resources-related procedures: time sheets, non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), codes of conduct, compliance and so forth. Then new hires are thrown into the business function pool and expected to swim. Perhaps they will find a mentor or “work buddy” who can show them the tricks and tips of the company, but as an employer, you can’t always be sure that person will explain things the correct way. Or maybe the person you partner the new employee up with isn’t happy with how certain things are done, or they’re only explaining what they want the new hire to know. That leads to a whole crop of new challenges – such as having to later re-teach employees things they were taught incorrectly, which is harder than doing it right the first time.
What does a new employee need to know about the business – culture, key meetings, code of conduct and so on? Establishing a successful onboarding program starts with creating a checklist of all these needs. That list also should include information about who needs to be involved with each step/segment, and how to ensure new employees get the information and training they need. The progress of new hires should be monitored from their very first day– an onboarding checklist for the employee would allow for any hiccups in the project to be caught early. This maximizes the probability of a successful project completion.
As noted earlier, onboarding isn’t a one-and-done proposition. The onboarding process needs to extend well beyond just a week or two. The first week should focus on fundamentals, certainly. But after a month or so, start adding to that basic knowledge. You must spread out onboarding to ensure the information sticks with the trainee. People can only absorb so much at once, so spreading out training and chunking information is key for knowledge retention.
Another strategy for success is to provide new hires and contract workers with easy, on-demand access to communications with the other members of their team as necessary to complete their jobs. Offering freelancers access to online chat and file sharing systems ensures that not only do employees have the information where and when they need it, but they can also feel integrated into the organisation. This can go a long way toward boosting engagement and collaboration.
Onboarding should be tied to business goals in a quantifiable way so that you can answer questions like, “When would you consider any employee fully onboarded?” and “How can you actually measure that?” That way, you can determine whether your program is successful – otherwise, you risk losing people you hired.
The first thing organizations must do is assess skills and identify gaps. Business and HR leaders need to ask, “What skills do my employees need to be able to do their jobs, and how many of those skills do they have today?” That provides a baseline so you can ensure you’re providing the right training at the right time.
Provide training in a way that’s accessible to employees and that isn’t just putting resources out there without structure – like sending a link to a wiki or a video. That is less organized and targeted; it’s not measurable or trackable. This ad hoc approach lacks the planning and centralization needed to make training effective.
A learning platform offers a central resource for training that is organized and intentional, accessible to all employees. This enables you to track progress and measure the success of your training initiatives. In addition, employees will have the opportunity to engage, be social and collaborate during their learning process. In this way, training helps build a learning culture.
The gig economy scenario is good for workers in search of greater flexibility and for employers who wanted a greater variety of aptitudes. However, it can make onboarding tricky. Employers are seeking Day One value from new hires since there’s no telling how long they will stay, and contract workers also need to get up to speed to produce immediate results.
Handing new hires an oversized binder of static and outdated information is not appropriate in our digitized world. Instead, onboarding should be a sustained strategy that is interactive and relevant to specific workers’ needs. The recommendations noted above will help you develop an onboarding process that all have access to and that fosters collaboration, communication and informal mentoring for employees no matter how long they stay with you.