Onboarding is the process of integrating a new employee into an organization, and creating a positive onboarding experience is critical to employee engagement and performance.
Employees who have a positive onboarding experience are more likely to be engaged and productive in their roles– according to a study by Brandon Hall Group, formal onboarding programs increase retention by a whopping 82%.
Therefore, it is important to invest time and resources into creating a high-quality onboarding experience.
This post goes into detail on the 3 stages of acclimation to a company during the onboarding process, as well as a 4-step process for implementing your own highly engaging initiative to ensure that employees feel welcome, have a sense of belonging, and are set up to succeed.
The Onboarding Process
Maneen and Schein presented 3 stages of socialization: Pre-Arrival, Encounter, and Metamorphosis. This means that onboarding actually begins before an employee is hired when they are in the Pre-Arrival stage and interacting with recruiters and interviewers, receiving automated notifications about their application and updates, and researching your company. During this stage, they begin to set expectations and assumptions about what it is like to work for your company, what your team culture is like, and how management treats employees– all before joining the organization officially as a new team member.
During the Encounter stage of onboarding, new employees are hired and begin to experience the organization first-hand. What is critical to note about the encounter stage, is that if an employee’s expectations formed during the Pre-Arrival stage are incongruent with the experiences they have on their first few days to weeks, they are more likely to resign within the first year. For example, if they were greeted with friendly and curious faces while interviewing, but assigned to a manager who does not ask about their well-being or show interest in their background and experience, they will feel alienated and disenchanted by the divergence of expectation from reality. This means you want to make sure you show an accurate, authentic portrayal of the company, team, and culture during the recruiting and selection process.
In the final stage of onboarding, the “metamorphosis” stage, the new employee has adjusted to the job, team, and organization. Reaching this stage occurs in a variety of ways, 5 of which were identified by Van Maanen and Schein:
- Collective versus Individual: are new members socialized in groups, or individually?
- Formal versus Informal: Do new members go through formal orientation and training programs, or are they sent straight to work with little-to-no support?
- Serial versus Random: Do new employees have someone to help them learn the ropes, or are they left to fend for themselves?
- Fixed versus Variable: Is there a specific amount of time that socialization is supposed to take? Are there expectations about how long it will take for the new employee to be good at their job, or does it depend on the person?
- Investiture versus Divestiture: Do you want the new employee to keep their old experiences and identity or have new ones? If you want them to keep their old experiences, this is called investiture socialization. This means that you affirm and build on existing identities, experiences, qualities, and qualifications. On the other hand, if you want the employee to have new experiences, this is called divestiture socialization. This means breaking old assumptions and stripping away certain characteristics of the newcomer in order to mold them into somebody who is more suitable for the organization.
In each of these stages, there is an optimal choice. For example, delivering onboarding with formal training instead of sending them straight to work and left to learn the ropes on their own will be far less effective for employee engagement, and their performance will suffer.
Creating an Engaging Onboarding Experience
There are 4 steps to developing an engaging onboarding experience:
- Analyze: understand first, the quality of your existing pre-boarding process. Go through the process of finding a job opening at your company and applying for it, taking notes on areas where you had to jump through unnecessary hoops, as these will give a prospective employee the impression that your company is difficult to work for. Next, conduct a survey with current employees, or have one set up to automatically send out to new applicants after they’ve applied to a position. Collecting qualitative data from both existing and prospective talent is invaluable to improving your onboarding process.
- Design: what are your objectives when it comes to onboarding, and how do they connect to the data you collected in step 1? For example, if your objective is to have a new employee feel pumped up and excited from day 1 but your newest employees surveyed that they felt intrepid for their first week, then you’ll want to add new details such as a pre-recorded welcome video from the CEO, a mission list of 5 easy tasks to give them some quick wins, hold a welcome party in your team communication channel where everyone introduces themselves and gives a warm welcome, and more.
- Develop: now it’s time to build content, like e-learning materials, pre-recorded videos, presentations on learning opportunities, and more! Along with building content, you’ll want to make sure you have a timeline set and your objectives in place– I recommend holding a meeting with key stakeholders on which objectives to tackle and to evaluate the budget before building out your timeline.
- Implement: you can host your content in a Learning Management System (LMS), your Human Resources Information System (HRIS) if it has that capability (and even integrate an LMS with an HRIS if not, to get the full landscape of the employee experience!) or utilize a shared folder. Note that with a shared folder, you won’t be able to collect metrics as easily or automatically.
Measuring the Success of Your Onboarding Program
As with every initiative, you can’t make a business case without data to back up the ROI! If you want to reduce turnover and boost retention, ask your new employees for feedback on their candidate journey and the hiring process.
According to the 2021 Candidate Experience (CandE) Global Research Reports, 26 percent of them will recall being asked, but when they are, they’re 91 percent more likely to stick around long-term. Asking for feedback also has a 79 percent chance of increasing referrals from new team members.
Some other KPIs to look for include LMS usage (logins, course completions, and files downloaded all show adoption and engagement), short 15-minute interviews with structured, Likert-scale questions around whether the employee felt your objectives were achieved, and qualitative feedback via surveys Continue to collect feedback and usage data, and re-visit your onboarding objectives regularly, in order to continuously improve your onboarding program.
Creating an exceptional onboarding experience requires careful consideration of all of these factors, as well as others that may be specific to your organization or industry. By taking the time to create a truly memorable and effective onboarding experience, you can set your employees up for success from their very first day on the job.