The first step to a successful onboarding strategy is just that… having a strategy. There are more than enough blog posts and articles out there explaining what should happen when, and how to set up the process. A simple Google Search for “employee onboarding programs” turns up nearly 10 million results. So then all that’s left is to sift through the links, check the box and expect smooth sailing, right? Wrong.
It takes more than a great plan, for two important reasons. First, there’s nothing static about your business. Your goals shift, your customer base grows and even your own employees come and go. It’s like trying to hit a moving target. Devising a plan and expecting it to seamlessly work as everything about your organization changes over time is unrealistic.
And second, in our data-driven world, you have access to data right at your fingertips. Leaning on industry research and best practices helps you to establish an initial onboarding plan, but you also have the ability to gain new insights everyday from your own employees. It’s important to use that data to adapt your processes over time.
Even when you’re armed with a great plan and are committed to ongoing improvement, onboarding programs can still fail. Here’s four more keys to help guarantee success.
1. Identify your vulnerabilities.
No onboarding program is perfect. Use your own data to get a baseline of where your specific strengths and weaknesses lie. Are new hires unsure of who to turn to with questions? Are you seeing a big drop off at 30 days? Do new hires in a particular department struggle to set their initial goals and KPIs?
Collecting this data is critical in helping you pinpoint where in the onboarding process you struggle most. Perhaps it’s a quick fix like giving employees something to reference when they have questions. Or working with a particular manager to help them set up their employees for individual success.
2. Get comfortable with stay interviews.
Exit interviews are incredibly valuable, but having too many of them means you aren’t turning that information into action. If you find new hires are leaving around the 30-day mark, conducting stay interviews two weeks into an employee’s tenure can help you proactively discover why they’re leaving and how to fix it.
And while you’re at it, keep at it. Implement stay interviews at various points in your employee life cycle to understand what your company is doing well to keep them, and where you might need to make changes. If turnover is low (good for you!) then stay interviews will be a critical way to gather feedback you’d typically get from exit interviews.
3. Tailor onboarding appropriately.
There are a lot of repeatable steps in the onboarding process. Training on internal tools, introduction to your culture, education on your products and services - all of this needs to happen consistently no matter who is hired.
But there are also some nuanced onboarding practices that vary by role, department or individual that can increase your chances of new hire retention. For example, management hires will need additional training for conducting performance reviews. Or if a particular department has a lot of remote employees, a virtual lunch or happy hour can help an employee’s transition to the team.
Consistency is key in ensuring everyone has the same experience and is given the same opportunity to succeed. But onboarding isn’t one-size-fits-all. New hires might need more or less training or support based on their past experiences and skill levels.
4. Stay in the onboarding mindset.
The average length of onboarding is typically 90 days, but why stop there? The best, most successful onboarding programs are accompanied by thoughtful engagement programs with similar goals. While your formal onboarding might end at 90 days, keeping an onboarding mindset for the entire duration of an employee’s tenure at your company is your best defense against turnover.
During onboarding, you worry about preparing your employees for their role, ensuring a strong culture fit and making them feel appreciated. Shouldn’t that be your goal for your employees who have been with you for years or even decades? If your turnover spikes shortly after formal onboarding ends, take a look at where your engagement program might need some work.
These four tips will help bridge the gap between a carefully planned onboarding strategy and the reality of how well your program is working for you. In today’s labor market, it’s critical to do everything you can to keep your employees happy and off the market.