Humans are notoriously quick judges of character – we make decisions about whether or not we like someone in the first 30 seconds of meeting them. First impressions really do matter on a one-on-one, interpersonal basis.
How about on a company-to-candidate or company-to-employee basis? While the timeframe may be extended – research from Bersin by Deloitte indicates that 90% of employees decide whether to stay with a company within the first six months of starting a new job – the ‘first impression’ theory still holds true.
Getting a new hire up and running, productive and settled into a role often comes down to successful onboarding. This critical function is too often dismissed as an afterthought at best, and a time-draining compliance task at worst. There are of course certain box-ticking essentials that must be carried out during onboarding. Core HR processes like the completion of necessary forms related to tax/banking details, personal details, superannuation selection, training schedules and other critical policies are simply part of HR’s remit.
However, the 2016 best practice view of onboarding is to consider it as an extension of the candidate experience, which intersects between core HR functions (payroll, benefits, time and attendance, employee self-service) and strategic HR processes like talent acquisition and talent management.
“We believe onboarding is a strategic process due to the impact it has on a company’s performance by increasing employee engagement and reducing time to productivity,” says Riges Younan, Avature’s vice president – APAC. “It can have a tremendously positive impact on your employment brand.”
What’s going wrong?
Unfortunately, many organisations are still struggling with an ad hoc approach to onboarding, marred by outmoded systems and a lack of consistency and cohesion between – and sometimes inside – departments.
“With no structured onboarding process, it’s impossible to manage or even improve the experience,” says Younan. “Organisations may well be losing a lot of people for subtleties they may not even know about.”
These ‘subtleties’ may seem small, but they make a significant impression on someone new to a company. They might include things like a missing laptop on their first day, a welcome meeting cancelled by their hiring manager, or missing out on an invitation to an after-work activity.
Younan adds that if employers are not tracking the process and the interactions, or don’t have a system that allows them to take the pulse of new-hire engagement and happiness, they will never know what happened, at what point, with whom, and so on.
“It’s relatively simple really. Make onboarding easier to manage by structuring the process – and, importantly, make it more human, more employee-focused. It’s not a big idea; it’s more common sense,” he says.
Younan concedes that it’s hard to implement common sense when you have 100,000 employees, especially when everything has to be done electronically for compliance and ease. “It’s very easy to fall into company focused processes rather than human-orientated approaches,” he says.
Indeed, bad service delivery at this stage of the process gives the candidate many opportunities to ask themselves, “Am I making the right decision?”
“Losing candidates at this stage in the process is not only costly financially but has a negative effect on brand, employee perception, and future hiring ability – for example, when people turn to Glassdoor to share their experiences,” Younan says.
A service delivery approach Younan believes a change in mindset is required. Despite the hype around the ‘candidate experience’, he feels this discussion too often focuses on the company’s career site – how easy it is to apply for a job, etc. This is too narrow a view of the candidate experience.
“If HR organisations shift their thinking to a more ‘service delivery’ approach, then the candidate experience has many more touchpoints,” he says. “This means you have many more opportunities to delight the candidate but, similarly, many more opportunities to let them down.”
Younan likens onboarding, which sits at the tail end of the recruitment process, to a dessert at a fine dining establishment. “As the chef, you want the meal to end well and leave the customer with a good impression,” he says.
“Continuing the CRM [Candidate Relationship Management] methodology to keep the candidate warm and engaged is a great way to enhance the onboarding experience,” Younan says.
The role of technology
Technology has indeed changed the onboarding game – and it’s not before time. Younan says legacy systems have been rigid and compliance-focused and were developed primarily to automate the process and allow people to complete forms electronically.
In addition, organisations would often use multiple tools rather than a single platform. A single platform eliminates integration bottlenecks, and, importantly, makes it easier for the HR professional to see the bigger picture and understand how everything they do works together.
“Too many systems mean that there are too many things to learn, and it’s very easy for critical information to be stored in silos, making it difficult to combine and follow the life cycle of that data,” Younan says.
“These systems were developed for HR, not the candidate, because onboarding was seen as a core HR process rather than a strategic one.”
For example, new hires would move from an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) to an onboarding system, most likely from a different vendor. These systems did not leverage social networks and were not optimised for a mobile experience via portals or mobile apps. This had a huge impact on the candidate experience as there was no consistency in how the new hire interacted with the organisation.
“It all seemed very disjointed – not the best impression you want to make,” Younan says.
What’s the answer? The key is for HR to have full visibility. They should be able to manage, understand, track and focus on what’s important. They should be able to see what works, tweak processes, and share best practice among departments, which is imperative from a service delivery standpoint.
They also need the flexibility to customise their processes, particularly for international organisations with multiple office locations.
“There is no way you can onboard people the same way in every country or region in the world,” says Younan. “Just look at the onboarding period in Australia compared to Germany. In Australia, you assume it lasts about three months, but in Germany it’s usually considered six months. Suddenly your engagement strategy has to change. But can it?”
The right platform puts HR in the driving seat for the entire journey; it allows them to service all areas of the business, while taking into consideration regional cultures, languages, regulatory needs, etc.
With the right platform and tools, an organisation can structure the onboarding process to enable all stakeholders – new hire, hiring manager, recruiter, buddy, HR professional – to engage and manage their part effectively in the process, without having to constantly remind themselves of what they need to do. For example, it can set reminders for managers to write welcome emails, book time in their calendars for intro meetings, send invitations to lunch, give a welcome gift. You can pre-populate a new hire’s calendar with training sessions, meet-and-greet moments, or provide them with a training schedule that they can sign up for at convenient times. Also, it’s important to extend that beyond the initial first day or week, and pre-schedule feedback sessions. That way the hiring manager and employee know when they are coming up and can prepare.
As an employer, you have one chance to make a good impression; it takes five times the effort to reverse a bad one. A good onboarding experience can maintain the ‘happy vibe’ and open up many new doors for sourcing future talent.
From August through October 2022, BCG and The Network, a global alliance of recruitment websites, undertook the world’s largest survey dedicated to exploring job seekers’ recruitment preferences—more than 90,000 people participated. This article reports and interprets additional survey findings and offers recruitment recommendations for employers.
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