Onboarding Programs & Mentoring

May 25, 2019

You may be hearing more about onboarding programs and the onboarding process recently, and it’s more than just a buzzword. The term ‘onboarding’ has only recently become a part of modern business language, but the actual process of onboarding new talent has gone on for as long as businesses have existed. It’s now being recognized as an important stage in the overall employee experience, and as a result, a key business process.

To clarify the meaning of 'onboarding'...

noun

the action or process of integrating a new employee into an organization or familiarizing a new customer or client with one's products or services.

Orientation and Beyond

.As business and business processes evolve, so does terminology. It’s important to recognize that onboarding and orientation are two separate concepts. The process of orientation can be part of the onboarding program, but not the other way around. The orientation process covers the paperwork, training, policy reviews etc. that the employer and employee both want to get out of the way as quickly as possible. The process of onboarding can span a year or more.

The orientation with a new company can be a formal event, with most new employees completing a planned orientation day before they officially start their position. Most orientations follow a pre-determined agenda, regardless of the new employees’ role, history or gender. The new hires will be introduced to the company’s occupational health and safety requirements, the mission and vision of the company, and who the key contacts are within the organization. This is also a good opportunity for the organization to communicate and complete any legal requirements related to employment standards and legislation.

There are positive and negative aspects to orientation day. Orientations can be stressful and are usually an information overload for the new hire. They may feel pressure to remember everything that they’re learned that day, and this can result in feeling overwhelmed, with negative feelings towards the new company. However, orientations are a necessary part of moving into a new role and can also have positive effects for new employees as they meet their new colleagues and become familiar with the working space and environment.

While orientation is great for covering the basics and the legalities of employment with the organization, it does not do much in terms of setting a plan of action specific to the employee, discussing expectations for the new hire within a specified time frame, or introducing new hires to a support network that will help them succeed in their role.

For organizations who just want to check the boxes and get their new recruits on board without ensuring they stay on board, orientation is the minimum requirement. In order to offer something that helps the organization and the employee long-term, onboarding programs should be considered. The process of onboarding can start even before an orientation has taken place and can follow an employee right through to promotion and years beyond. Well-developed onboarding strategies lead to higher employee retention rates and job satisfaction.

All staff, from corporate to retail, rely on a regular income to pay the bills. But when there’s no clear route for career progression, how are employees expected to commit or show loyalty to the business they work for when this loyalty is seemingly not reciprocated? If an employee is working the same job for several years and can’t see any opportunity to progress, they’ll begin to look for a job elsewhere in order to move up in pay or position. In some organizational cultures, asking for a pay raise or a promotion can be more awkward than handing in notice.

Time

The problem is time. Companies need to recruit quickly, exceed budget targets and continue to innovate year over year. The question is, where do employees stand in all of this? Will employees be prepared to succeed if time has not been carefully invested in them? Employees working in an organization for 12-18 months may still consider themselves as “new”, but they’re often expected to be able to settle in after only a few months. An onboarding program that includes mentorship is one way to ensure employee success.

The Best Onboarding Programs

What makes a great onboarding program? It allows employers to bring new staff in and provide them the tools and confidence to complete their jobs effectively. Through onboarding, the new hire may receive a kind of starter pack which may include: a plan for training and development, insight into details specific to their job, tasks assigned to their level of competency, timelines for completion and a schedule of periodic reviews to discuss their progress. This process should be prioritized, and not just pushed aside in the interest of getting ‘proper work’ done.

A solid onboarding program will provide information to you as the employer on your staff and their level of learning. This will result in awareness of the level of talent and skillsets within your organization, and what holes may need to be filled.

Onboarding should feel exciting and innovative for all parties involved. New hires will get a feeling of inclusivity, as their individual value and contributions are discussed as part of the big picture success of the organization. A successful onboarding program teaches and demonstrates the culture and values that your company wants to convey. This is done through practice and two-way engagement.  The traditional environment of a classroom is outdated, and technology helps to streamline learning and processes. Modern, expanding companies often use a more informal setting for the onboarding process, encouraging participation and discussion to achieve the desired outcome.

Onboarding Process Steps

Recruitment

The recruitment process should be clear and concise. Interviews with potential candidates should be used as an opportunity to communicate what kind of future they can expect with your company. Will they work well within that team and have a positive relationship with their manager? You may find a candidate who exceeds all of your expectations, but if you don’t communicate how your company is the right fit for them, you could lose out on a great employee. Up to one third of newly hired employees end up resigning just before or during the orientation stage. This means that a verbal acceptance or handshake after a job offer are no longer a guarantee that you new hire will show up for their first shift. A well-designed onboarding program and a mentally stimulating orientation that uses visual and practical exercises are two great strategies towards ensuring new staff feel like they are already invested in and eager to learn more about the company.

Mentoring

Including a mentoring program in the onboarding process indicates to the mentor and the mentee that the organization cares about their development. Setting up a mentoring relationship from the get-go creates a relationship between the new hire and the experienced mentor who is familiar with the company culture, structure and the role.

The mentor will need to be sympathetic to the needs and feelings of the new hire who may be anxious and feeling doubtful during their introduction to the company. Two key characteristics of this mentoring relationship will be trust and confidentiality.

20-30% of new employees will leave a company within the first 90 days. Sometimes there are other contributing factors such as personal circumstances or illness, but a larger portion of this percentage who are leaving is due to new hires who don’t feel welcomed, valued or clear on what’s expected of them. If you consider that during the application process, the individuals looking for work are rarely applying for just one job, and they have likely attended several interviews. Offers from other employers may be coming in after this new hire has already started at your company. One way to address this is to ensure your new hire feels welcome and match them to a potential mentor. Selecting and completing this match doesn’t have to be a guessing game, as mentoring software can be a valuable tool used to streamline this process.

Time Management

The key to a successful onboarding is to ensure sufficient time is spent on training employees, but also to verify that training is targeted to individuals and time is not wasted on the wrong kind of training. For example, one segment of an onboarding program might focus on providing a basic understanding of a CMS that is used throughout the company. Depending on who is receiving the training, this may only take an hour of time for someone who is confident with computers and learns quickly but may take longer for someone who just changed roles and has limited computer literacy. In scenarios like this, it’s important to target training to each individual and ensure that no one feels rushed or exposed for taking longer to pick up on some parts of training.

It can be easy to neglect the onboarding program and the associated tasks since this is not always seen as a core business activity. However, with the right buy in and support, onboarding can be viewed as less of a distraction or a chore and demonstrated as crucial tool to instil the company culture and values and grow productivity.

One interesting perspective to consider is that onboarding doesn’t have to be reserved for new recruits, it can be used when an employee is promoted or to help prepare for promotion. It’s a great opportunity to revisit skills after working many years for a company, and to refresh and reinvigorate long-term staff. Onboarding your current staff also ensures that everyone in the organization is on the same page in terms of the training and messages they have received.

Checking In = Employee Engagement

Introducing an onboarding system is only the first step. Regular checkpoints, progress monitoring and feedback from everyone involved is required so that the the onboarding process will succeed and can be financially justified. The checkpoints will provide valuable feedback for the organization on how the onboarding system is working, or what may need to be adjusted.

Checking in also provides valuable feedback to the employee. Let’s say an employee has been with the company for 6 months, completed orientation and are settling in as part of the team, regularly achieving their targets. This employee ticks all the boxes, but no one is there to tick the boxes and recognize this. No one is reviewing their targets or helping them to set new targets. The new hire has had limited time with their mentor, and feels they are a nuisance by asking their mentor for more one on one time. This employee is a valuable asset to the company and is now feeling disheartened and demotivated. They may begin making small errors or making short cuts, as no one is really noticing their work.

Maybe this employee hears abut a new workplace that an old friend started work at 6 months ago. This friend is already on a training and development plan for the next set of new initiatives, their mentor checks in with them regularly and offers coaching and advice. They’ve been introduced to higher levels of management and are included in decision making processes. Where do you think our new hire is now?

Regular check-ins will reinforce both parties’ confidence in each other and can be easily scheduled with the help of supporting software. There is really no excuse for the mentoring program to fail in this case.

Setting milestones for learning achievements, and handling feedback in a less formal manner than a performance review gives the employee a chance to voice their concerns. It also allows them to clarify their current status, especially when under-performance is being considered. A mentor check-in should be a productive use of time and add value to the onboarding program.

An Onboarding Kit for New Employees

The onboarding approach for a new employee can be tailored and personalized to each job and new recruit. Careful planning and consideration for the onboarding program and orientation process will be the difference between a new hire feeling overwhelmed and undervalued or motivated and empowered. Simple details, like having enough bottles of water around the table for the group of new employees can make a world of difference. It shows that attention is being paid to each individual attending and that you have confidence that all of them are going to show up. A standard onboarding kit will include information such as the employment contract and terms, login details for the employee learning platform, key deadlines and timelines for training, a guide on who’s who.

Measuring Success of Onboarding Plans

Once the onboarding process is in place with assigned mentors, planned check-ins and progress updates, the next important step is to measure the success of the program. There are several ways to do this, but three of the most popular are:

  1. Ask - Feedback from online surveys is a regular tool for most businesses where customers are concerned, so why wouldn’t they be used to determine how employees view their job and their peers? Employees can provide feedback on training, orientation, work environment and facilities and will be more likely to give honest opinions if the survey is anonymous. This could be facilitated with software, and the feedback being provided from behind a computer screen really adds to the level of anonymity. Great mentoring programs allow new employees to feel comfortable offering their opinions and feedback on how to improve onboarding for future new recruits.
  2. Staff Retention - Spreadsheets and calculators can provide HR with the specific data on turnover rates, but it’s easy to gauge whether more staff are staying with an organization on a smaller scale. Compare your rate of employee retention to the national average, to your sector and to previous years. If the onboarding program is introduced in one department before others, compare the retention in that department to the rest of the organization. Analytical data could also be used to measure the level of engagement that employees had within a mentoring program vs their rate of retention; this key statistic can go a long way in justifying a program.
  3. Improved Business - How is the profit & loss report looking? Is the company generating more operational profit? The direct link between onboarding, mentoring and profit and loss can be hard to see, however, mentoring software can help simplify this process. If staff turnover cost you $X amount last year, and that number has dropped since introducing an onboarding program, it can be reasoned that the opportunity for mentorship, goal setting and feedback have contributed to reduced turnover costs.

While the above examples provide a general guide to measuring onboarding program effectiveness, organizations should try to align their metrics and program KPIs with the business needs of the organization. Since onboarding can be linked to improving business outcomes, onboarding should not be looked at a separate initiative from business strategy. It should be planned and measured using the same critical thinking as any other business process.

The business case for onboarding is to integrate new recruits, increase productivity and retention rates, and ultimately improve the business. Achieving these objectives will result in increased revenue and a workforce who stands behind their company values and business processes. This engaged workforce will be more likely to show up on time, give 110% and to recommend the company from the point of a customer, client and employee. This is marketing and promotion that you can’t put a price on.

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