The 6 dimensions of a successful onboarding

Today nobody questions the fact that successful onboarding is essential. It determines whether an employee stays or leaves quickly, whether he or she is quickly operational and committed. It is also a key element of the employer brand: onboarding is the first memories of the employee in the company, memories that will often be permanently anchored in my memory and are the first things that he will be quick to talk about with his entourage and network from the very first day.

It should not be forgotten that, according to Easyrecrue, in 2018, 20% of employees who join a company think about leaving on the first day because of a faulty reception on the human, administrative or material level!

A failed onboarding, if we take the direct and indirect costs, costs between 100 and 300% of the monthly salary.

Today, companies have understood the importance of onboarding even though they would like to have people who are immediately integrated and productive, which can lead them to be satisfied with the bare minimum, forgetting that the time and resources devoted to onboarding are an investment in the future.

But by the way, what is onboarding?

We also see a great disparity in onboarding depending on the company, with not everyone agreeing on its perimeter.

One could go on and on about what good onboarding should address and who should take care of it. But it’s easier to go the other way around: start from a failed onboarding and understand the causes.

So, what is failed onboarding, how do we recognize it?

  • The employee leaves the company quickly
  • The employee is not integrated in the collective (company, team, project team etc).
  • The employee has not integrated the company’s explicit and implicit rules and codes
  • The employee has not assimilated the company’s methodologies and tools.

These effects may or may not be cumulative. The employee may be integrated but leave because he or she did not feel that he was expected or that the necessary steps were taken to make things easier for him . Or, on the contrary, he may still be there but his lack of assimilation of the company’s codes may be a source of recurring problems and his lack of understanding of the methodologies may make him durably underperform.

Onboarding is not a “one shot”.

So if we try to remedy these undesirable situations through adequate devices, we realize different things:

  • Onboarding is not just a one-time event: certain actions must take place over time.
  • Onboarding touches on many subjects: it must therefore involve different legitimate actors on each of them.
  • Onboarding is not only about the arrival of the employee. As he evolves in the company, it will be necessary to re-onboard him several times.

The different dimensions of onboarding

So if we were to divide onboarding into different sub-programs we would have something like this.

1°) Pre-onboarding

A candidate has given you his agreement and he will join you. But sometimes, with advance notice, you won’t see him arrive for 2 or 3 months! And what happens in the meantime? Don’t you know that you have spent so much energy to seduce and convince him? Do you take his coming for granted that he is no longer a subject?

Well, at the very least, it’s a big mistake that can cost a lot of money. It is also a missed opportunity to capitalize on previous efforts instead of having to start from scratch.

But this is a specific subject that will be dealt with in a dedicated article soon.

2°) “Administrative” onboarding

Here we are more in logistics. Is his equipment ready and well configured? Are all the documents that need to be given to him and that he may have to fill out ready? Are the welcome documents/guides ready, where will he easily find them when he starts his computer?

In this regard, it is impressive to see the mass of paper documents that circulate on the day of an employee’s onboarding when everything could and should exist in digital form and what needs to be signed is signed electronically.

As for the many questions that a newcomer will ask himself, it is always desirable that the answer be proactively brought to him by a human being in the first days following his arrival. But he will not ask all the questions and will forget things that are not immediately useful.

The existence of an online resource center where any employee can find the answers to all his questions at any time is also a very useful tool for onboarding but at any time of the employee’s life cycle. This too deserves a dedicated article that will be coming soon.

3°) “Cultural” onboarding

A company is a culture, implicit or explicit codes. Not knowing them, not applying them, is detrimental to integration and can even lead to false steps with sometimes dramatic consequences.

One cannot integrate all of this information that is part of life skills in one day. Sometimes a “corpus” of values is formalized but not translated into observable behaviors. And there is a lot of implicit information that we learn only through observation or by listening to the advice of caring and knowledgeable colleagues.

Cultural onboarding is therefore a long-term process and requires that the newcomer be accompanied by caring people who are concerned about transmitting these codes and attach great importance to the subject. In other words, it can happen naturally or not at all.

This can be one of the topics addressed by a mentoring program, a topic that will be discussed soon as well. This also leads us to discuss the duration of such a program. It is not illusory, when we know that it takes (depending on the position) from 6 to 8 months for a person to really become operational from every point of view, to think that the individualized follow-up of an employee through mentoring can last 1 year or at least 6 months with a lighter (or not) system for the following 6 months depending on the way the person assimilates things.

4°) Human onboarding

A company is people. It is above all people. People with whom one will not work but whom one will meet over time and especially people with whom one will work.

How many times has a newcomer complained about being vaguely greeted by his manager and parachuted into the middle of a team that didn’t expect him and didn’t have the time or willingness to take the time to welcome him? Too much.

Before the arrival of a new employee, all the people in the team he joins must be informed of his arrival, including the manager (sometimes some people manage to forget this kind of “details”).

The manager must block time for the reception and present it to others. The team must at least take him to lunch (yes, we have already seen recruits being alone at lunch time on day one) or even plan one or more socializing moments during the first week.

I also notice that “problems” can occur even after years of presence in the company, when the person changes positions or teams. It is believed that the work has been done when the person arrives and that it has been acquired. But when a change of team occurs, everything has to be redone and we tend to forget about it. The discovery of a new human environment remains a major challenge, whether the person is new to the company or not: when you join a team you don’t know, you join a team you don’t know, whether you know the company well or not.

And then there is the discovery of the company in its transversality. Sometimes, depending on the position, you will have to work or interact more or less frequently with people from other departments, entities, services. These are people you’re better off not discovering than when you need them. Plan a short meeting with them to get to know each other, to explain the role of each person and the things you need to know to be effective together.

4°) Professional onboarding

One joins a company to hold a position, to fulfill a mission. One comes with his background, his skills, his experience but all this is worthless (or rather will be underused) if it is not mobilized in the daily work.

And the basis of the daily work is the methodologies, processes and tools to be mastered and implemented.

On these different dimensions once again it is desirable that a first transmission is made by human beings” and that thereafter this is recalled or deepened by online resources available to all at any time.

This part needs follow-up. One can imagine a “referent” colleague who can be a colleague, a mentor or even a manager taking all or part of this part in hand. And, in any case, a regular meeting with the manager is necessary for its follow-up ( other dimensions of onboarding can be discussed also) at a weekly pace at the beginning that can be spaced out over time and over a long period (3 months for professional onboarding, at least 6 for cultural/human onboarding).

5°) Technical/technological onboarding

This only applies to certain professions, certain companies, but having been confronted with it, I prefer to discuss it here. Let’s say that it is an in-depth component of professional onboarding that will most often be provided by a business expert.

In many companies generic methodologies are used for many things, the same standards are applied. This is reassuring because it is a baggage that the employee takes with him from company to company and that makes him immediately operational on certain subjects.

In the same way, for more technical jobs related in particular to the mastery of technological platforms, it can be said that someone who has already worked on a given platform or framework, developed in this or that language, will be able to do it anywhere.

But each company has its own way of doing things and adapts the standards in its own way, or even develops its own way of using a framework.

A project manager will tell you that “everyone does Scrum but unfortunately never in the same way and you end up really deviating from the standards”. As for the developers, they will say that “yes, we use such and such a technological framework like our competitors, but we have developed our own way of exploiting it which is the fruit of our experience and expertise, and it is not the same as our competitors”.

If a clarification is not made on these subjects, the consequences can be worse than for a beginner candidate who is not well or not at all onboarded! Indeed, if we recruit a person without any particular background or experience, we can understand that if nothing is done, they will not be operational on these subjects. So if we do nothing for him we assume the consequences.

On the other hand, if we start from the principle that a person masters a certain standard, a certain technology, but it turns out that he has a “standard” practice that is not the particular practice of the company, we can quickly encounter big problems. You expect a given way of working, so you don’t bother to train, you put people directly into operations and they don’t work in the same way as others. And you only realize this when problems arise because of inconsistencies in work methods.

Just because a person has experience in a specific technical field doesn’t mean they work the same way you do! How many times have I heard “ah yes I have experience on xxxx but not the way it is practiced here”. But as we confuse technical mastery and the way we implement this mastery we are never safe from a misunderstanding.

6°) Onboarding in projects

When you join a company you join a team and often you also join projects. When a project is already under way, we often forget the most basic things when we welcome a newcomer: introduce them to the ins and outs of the project they are assigned to.

The question is not to tell him what he is going to do but why he is doing it, why we launched this project, who is the internal or external customer, what are his challenges, his needs and what are the expected results.

You will tell me that this is the hallmark of any good project launch. Yes, but… it’s done in a hurry, botched or not done at all. And if you do it for a project start, you tend to forget it or to do it in a minimalist way when you add people during the project.

So it’s not limited to onboarding, but it’s part of it.

Who should be mobilized for onboarding?

There is no single device that works everywhere, but onboarding requires mobilization of :

  • Support functions (IT/HR)
  • Managers and employees who most often do not find the time to do it well unless it is formally organized.
  • Mentors or other “coaches” who fulfill this role in addition to their job within an organized system.
  • And as we have seen, some will be mobilized on an ad hoc basis, while others will have to follow up on a long-term basis.

Photo : Onboarding by One photo via Shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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