It’s time to adopt strategic onboarding

For those of us involved with new hire onboarding programs, maintaining the status quo is all too easy. Going beyond initial orientation to offer deeper learning opportunities may seem obvious and simple, yet many onboarding programs remain minimalistic. The current pandemic is forcing businesses to look again at how they attract and retain their top talented people.  This is the time to take the concept of strategic onboarding and create an approach to long term retention.

Growing evidence is showing a short term approach to onboarding is a missed opportunity to retain and engage new talent.  Strategic onboarding, which Mark Stein defines as “a program that allows employees to learn through an extended time frame and apply what they learn on the job. Reduces operating costs, and helps new hires improve their contribution”   When a short term approach is used, new hires are bombarded with what is classed as essential information.  Too much information leaves many new hires feeling overwhelmed.  The key is to extend the onboarding process over several weeks or months.  This extension improves learning saturation and accelerates performance.  Creating deeper connections are a by-product of extending over a period of time.

A learning process

Strategic onboarding doesn’t just happen.  The key is to connect new hires to other people through buddies, experts, and mentors. Deliberately connecting people in this way creates highly contextual learning opportunities.  According to Bersin research, people retain only 10 per cent of what they read, 50 per cent of what they learn through discussion, and 75 per cent or more from on-the-job experiences. The principle of learning through others is a gold mine for improving new hire success.

A network of experts

Assigning a buddy or advisor to a new hire is a great start, but imagine the impact when an entire network of experts and teachers become accessible to a new hire? Take a minute to think about your own job. In any given week, how many people do you tap across the organization when searching for information?  By connecting your new hire a network of people, the aggregate group knowledge that can be shared is astounding.  That said, just providing an employee directory or social network is not enough. The key is to connect new hires to the right people.

Building an emotional connection

Accelerating learning and time to performance is a key function of onboarding.  A fundamental goal of strategic onboarding is to build a strong connection between the new hire and the organization. Not only does this improve retention but it helps new hires align with the organizations’ culture and way of doing things.  Building peer connections within the employee onboarding process should be a priority.  Connecting in this way helps build personal networks. It also strengthens bonds to the organization and other employees.

New hires who feel supported are less likely to be intimidated by their peers. They are more likely to ask questions, increasing learning and team collaboration. Encouraging established employees to come together to share their knowledge with a new hire solidifies their own expertise. This strategy builds their confidence and potentially helps them learn. The more time established employees and new hires spend together, the better for building a truly collaborative team environment.

Empowering top talent

With a strategic onboarding program in place that incorporates learning through others, your most talented people will be empowered to thrive by getting up to speed faster and being more committed and connected which reduces turnover.  Beyond the benefits to new hires themselves, a strategic onboarding approach will help create a stronger overall team and collaborative workplace. Through this, you’ll contribute to the bottom line, one successful onboarding experience at a time.

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Steve O’Brian, Vice President of Chronus, is an accomplished author and speaker on the subject of corporate mentoring, coaching, and onboarding. His thought leadership has been instrumental in changing the way companies approach talent development programs. Deeply involved in the creation of client solutions, O’Brian shares his best-practice program expertise throughout the corporate learning and development world.