Get on board for the induction revolution

Onboarding represents the most extraordinary opportunity to build your optimal company climate from the ground up. So why are so many organisations missing the mark? Sally Earnshaw shares her insights


According to Harvard Business Review, 22 per cent of companies have no formal onboarding system and those that do still tend to relegate induction to a purely technical task. Little time is spent on sparking new starters’ personal passion for the company mission, nurturing an early sense of community or fast-tracking essential competencies. No wonder 33 per cent of new employees look to move within six months on the job.

Induction programmes have barely evolved in 20 years, yet businesses have become more complex and fast moving. With attrition rates rising, organisations are haemorrhaging money into the gap between why new hires join and what their employee experience really feels like. Get those first weeks right, however, and the benefits extend well beyond the obvious.

Leaders need to change the way they view the whole idea of onboarding. The question isn’t just how to build an agile, memorable induction process. It’s how to build one that inspires, informs and engages your entire workforce, not just the fresh recruits.

So what do the best onboarding journeys look like?

They start early

Pre-joining is such an underexploited time. Employee experience must now start earlier and run deeper than ever before. Your new talent is having their first experience of your organisation. They’re curious, motivated and porous. This is the opportunity to create a lasting first impression. Personalised welcome packs should be teeming with opportunities for peer-networking and support on platforms such as tessello, while other digital onboarding tools can streamline the clunky, but all important, workflow processes.

They involve real-world learning

This can be a challenging time for new starters. They’re deluged with a massive information overload and they’re feeling the pressure as they navigate this new climate. Drip-feed information when they’re actually working through a customer journey and test their focus on real-world outcomes, so they feel connected to the job in hand.

Now is also the time to ramp up the social side of onboarding to ensure new starters settle into their teams and connect with the right people across the organisation. Build a blended learning ecosystem that supports independent self-directed learning, so new starters can keep improving and realise their full potential. Immerse your new starters in challenging and memorable role play, simulation and virtual reality activities that facilitate learning by doing.

They have character

The secret to success is knowing how to create a connection with your new starter. Establish your tone from the outset, starting with the offer letter and continuing with engaging ideas, such as invites to the new starter’s first day, accompanied by a tea bag and a chocolate biscuit. Yes, we really did that as part of a major redesign of a large telco’s induction process and it helped to reduce attrition from 44 to 19 per cent.

Climate – the real secret to successful onboarding – is barely mentioned in traditional induction literature. Perhaps it’s because it contains the uncomfortable message that onboarding must start at the top of the tree. Nowadays, onboarding will only be effective if it is designed to build a thoroughgoing climate of learning in the company.

They achieve tangible RoI

Blue Sky was able to reduce attrition for home improvement giant Wickes from 33 to 8 per cent by transforming the way they onboarded their design consultants. In addition, because the training was designed around sales behaviours rather than processes or systems, Wickes also achieved a faster time to sales competency, higher return on investment (RoI), increased coaching capability of in-store managers and higher overall employee engagement. Achieve results like these and your leaders will start to realise that induction isn’t just a chore, but a
huge opportunity.

Sally Earnshaw is managing director of award-winning people transformation businesses Blue Sky, Brightwave and G2G3.

Gold winners of UK Employee Experience Awards in 2019 and 2018