Expert Insights on Strategic Employee Onboarding

🕑 9 minutes read | Jul 25 2023 | By Becky Gendron

Many organizations fail to meet the mark when it comes to developing an effective onboarding program for new hires. A report from Gallup revealed that a staggering 88% of organizations struggle to onboard new employees effectively. A separate study discovered that 58% of companies focus primarily on orientation covering processes and paperwork during their onboarding program. They overlook important factors that contribute to successful onboarding.

According to a study conducted by the Brandon Hall Group, organizations that have a strong onboarding process witness an impressive 82% improvement in new hire retention and over 70% increase in productivity.

How can organizations improve onboarding programs to focus on building relationships, creating connections, and going beyond administrative duties? In a recent episode of “Bring Out The Talent”, we were thrilled to have Zakia Khalfani, a TTA Learning Consultant share her insights and expertise on establishing effective onboarding practices. Zakia is a certified leadership coach and has over 32 years of experience working with companies of all sizes.

In this blog, we discuss important points from our conversation to help you start creating a successful employee onboarding program.

Q: Your change from a parole agent to an L&D change agent is fascinating. Can you talk about the journey from parole agent to L&D change agent?

A: I don’t think many people come from a corrections background; I started in the department as a guard. One of the things you learn in that environment is you become skilled at communicating, there’s a wide variety, diverse variety of people in that environment, and so, we must learn to use our words appropriately. Your communication style is important.

When I was promoted to parole agent was first experience training a group of people who didn’t want to be trained, most of the training that we have in that environment is mandated. Cutting my training teeth on that type of a crowd where the topic is just so bland, allowed me to really focus on how I can engage with the people who are in the room.

Fast forward to 30 years later and I’m doing corporate professional development training. I appreciate the beginnings and how I got to where I am. I have the curiosity of always wanting to learn and grow and always asking why can’t we do it better. Or why can’t we try to do it another way? My passion for facilitating comes from believing that we learn when we own information. Sharing it helps others grow.

I look at training and development as a way that I’m able to share my lived experiences. I like to take all my experiences and share them, particularly with employees who are not sure where their career’s going. Not sure if they’re really in the right place, and to help guide and direct and provide information and encouragement to that group of people, but also supervisors and managers, because oftentimes we’re promoted, and we should not be promoted.

We’re promoted because we’ve got enough time, and we meet the specs, right? But we may not have that internal drive that one needs.

It goes back to recruiting and onboarding and getting to know people. Not just placing people in positions because I meet the specs so I can be director of accounting. There are different skill sets.

Q: Can you share tips on what’s crucial for successful onboarding, including the involvement of recruiters, hiring managers, and department managers, to ensure a positive employee development experience?

A: There are three parts. Recruiting, hiring, and department managing.

Recruiters should recruit for what. What is the position? What does the organization need?

If at the recruitment level, we’re focused on the who, we’re missing the point. Have you ever applied for a job, it has a duty description, but you get there and that’s not it?

We need to start with recruitment to know who it is, what it is, what job, and what task we want the successful person to be able to complete. We want to tie the recruiting effort with the organizational core values and culture.

If recruiting documents are accurate, full, and rich in information, then I will draw a candidate in because that’s the place they are looking for. Or it may not be their vibe. Recruitment efforts should be for what. What do we need? What are we looking for? And being very specific and current.

When we hire, we want to focus on the what and the who. We want to make sure they can do the job, and that means, not that they did it five years ago or 20 years ago, that they can do the job that you’re asking them to do today. When thinking of hiring, we need to focus on our questioning and our interviewing process.

When hiring we want to make sure that we ask appropriate questions. If it’s a receptionist, you can ask what telephone systems you are familiar with. What computer programs? That part is fundamental, but it needs to be the who. What is it about being a receptionist that you like, that excites you, that challenges you, that motivates you?

We should already have established that they can meet the minimum requirements. When we get to that interview, it should be about what you are going to do and how you would handle this, when we think about the receptionist and customer service. That’s usually the first face or the first voice that someone hears. I want to know where your strong suits are and where maybe you need additional help. Hiring is for the what and the who.

People say supervising is for what, supervisors make sure the work gets done. Managing is for the who. But when we think about relationships with our staff, supervisors, and managers they both need to know the who.

I’m hiring in that process; we need to talk to people. We need to say, why are you interested in this? How is this going to benefit you and enrich your life? If I’ve had three or four conversations already before you’re even hired, knowing that you want to be a receptionist, but would love to be a data entry person, then we can already have those conversations and thoughts in our minds throughout, because we don’t hire for just today. We want to retain our employees.

Q: In terms of onboarding, where do you believe most companies fail?

A. I don’t think they think about the culture. They appear to be operating off a checklist.

We must do things procedurally, but many organizations don’t even think about engagement at all. They don’t see it as an opportunity to get to know people. They just see it as a requirement to check off the box list.

Orientation is not onboarding, and many people inextricably link those two. They are two separate things, and the biggest issue is that people are lumping everything in together. Onboarding is where you work, what we do, and where we are. Here are the people that you’re going to need to speak to. Onboarding helps a person feel comfortable.

Orientation should happen first if it’s truly about your benefits and things of that nature. Because everybody wants to get paid. We want to make sure we select the right boxes. That’s not onboarding. Onboarding is, thank you for coming in. I’m Susan, I’m going to be with you for the first two weeks, and here’s what we’re going to do.

Orientation is business processing that should be done so that they can focus when we get to onboarding on what we expect of them. It should not be lumped together, and it should be clearly designed to assist that new employee with a proper transition, introductions to the people that they need to know, and more.

Q: You mentioned both an unsuccessful and a successful onboarding story. Would you like to share those examples?

A: A very prominent company spent a great deal of time, money, and planning on its onboarding program. And you could see that, and it felt good. It felt like they were in tune. The only issue for me was there was one video for everyone explaining what the company does. Well, you have engineers, receptionists, HR, and legal. HR and legal and the receptionist probably didn’t care about the drill down on the engineering side, but they had to sit through it. I barely understood how the parts were related, but I know it was important for the engineers. So, in that case, the engineers could have met afterward, right?

During this program, everyone’s there, and they’re able to ask questions. A couple of issues with that is HR came in and personnel came in and gave great presentations. Do you think 80 people want to talk about their 401K and their benefits in front of a group of people that they don’t know?

At the end of the orientation, IT came in and gave everyone their ID, their computer, their passwords, made sure they understood the server, and all that. So, everyone could go to their desk and sign on. But the idea of lumping everything for everybody in one sitting was just a little discombobulating. I don’t think personnel and HR questions should be addressed in a large group setting with people that you just met two seconds ago because you all just got hired on the same day. I think there’s a potential for a disconnect there.

The greatest onboarding, I felt was when I had a letter that told me what I was going to do for the next seven days. Now, I was promoted within the same department, so I didn’t have to deal with the personnel issues. But for someone to sit down and craft what I’m going to do for seven days, made me feel welcomed and appreciated.

Q: Could you provide a few examples of what effective onboarding looks like, apart from your personal experience? What are some strategies to help new hires adapt to the environment and culture swiftly?

A: Here is my first tip. When the new hire reports to work, someone should be assigned to meet them. That’s very basic.

When I was a supervisor and a manager, and even an executive, I met my new hires. I met them, regardless of what level. If you’re working for me, I’m going to meet you on your first day. If we’re talking about that connectivity all the way, that begins with recruitment, it needs to go all the way through.

When looking at an onboarding training session everything should be there already. The computer, the password, the Wi-Fi connectivity, the hotspots, the cell phones, and whatever equipment you need should already be there and be identified. There should be information on the website. Onboarding means giving you all the tools on day one.

They say your first impression is one that you can’t escape. Make a great first impression. Make sure that all your actions are in alignment with what you said about your organizational culture goals and values.

Q: A lot of the stuff we’re talking about is making people feel connected. How can you do that in the new hybrid world? Are there some tips that you can give us?

A: Hybrid or remote employees require more than Zoom. We need to get on the phone and have conversations. If you can’t be face-to-face, we can’t just rely on Zoom or Teams. I would probably have more engagement with my hybrid and remote employees in the beginning than I would with someone that I see. I’m going to check-in. It’s about finding that comfortable spot for your employees that will allow them to feel your presence in the most positive way possible.

Q: What advice do you have to prioritize integrating connectedness into onboarding programs? What initial steps can someone take to demonstrate the value of this investment?

A: We often have in our minds that it takes too much time, and it doesn’t. Having those conversations upfront and being supportive saves time and makes the rest of the process go more smoothly.

If you were in the process of hiring, you have the time, you must take the time. Onboarding is generally the first real impression and introduction the employee has to the organization. If we fail to engage with the potential employees and the new hires, then we’re setting ourselves up and then for failure in my opinion.

Learn more and listen to the full episode, “Is Your Onboarding Program Setting Your Team Up for Success,” to start setting your organization’s onboarding program up for success.

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