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Onboarding: Another key to unlocking organisational success

Ricky Robinson

In the context of a more competitive marketplace, tough economic times, together with new recruits who may lack functional or business-operational knowledge and skill, more and more organisations are appreciating the value of world-class onboarding programmes.

Onboarding takes the more traditional orientation or induction programme to the next level and when harnessing its many benefits at every level, it has been shown to vastly improve organisational performance through driving employee engagement, productivity and ultimately retention of critical talent.

It is a powerful way of absorbing employees into the business fast but is not confined to knowledge and skills development. It’s a holistic process where the employee is immersed in the business’s vision, mission, strategy and values often even before they arrive for their first day of work.

There is a strong correlation between an employee’s sense of unity and performance. Improved skills, knowledge, information and motivation equate to increased performance and more importantly, a quicker understanding of their role and the ability to start making an immediate contribution. Employees need to understand which direction the business is going in and why it’s going there. This will most likely answer their ‘why’ questions and clarify how they can contribute to business success.

The Aberdeen Group’s Onboarding 2012: The Business of First Impressions report indicates that of the best-in-class organisations surveyed implementing onboarding programmes, 77% of employees hired in the last year met their first performance milestones. On the other end of the spectrum, ‘laggard’ organisations not implementing onboarding strategies saw only 41% of new employees meeting their first performance milestones on time.

Onboarding also encapsulates each organisation’s unique culture. The quicker a new recruit can fit in and understand their role, the quicker they can start working and adding real value to the business. It also does much to alleviate anxiety, giving employees the tools to understand their role while also setting performance expectations. This softens the learning curve allowing them to become active workers that much faster. Locally it has been proven to play an instrumental role in bridging the gap for school leavers and tertiary institution graduates.

When you consider that the first impression can often be the last impression an organisation makes on a new hire, onboarding or the lack thereof can have a huge impact on staff retention. The same research conducted by the Aberdeen Group indicates that best-in-class organisations implementing Onboarding programmes retained 86% of their first year employees. This is compared to the laggards not implementing onboarding programmes who managed to retain only 56% of their first-year employees.

Onboarding also has a role to play in decreasing the amount of employee ‘dead weight’. Employees are able to quickly gauge during the onboarding phase if they are the right fit for the business or not. For those that are, engagement levels can be substantially enhanced with a well-considered onboarding programme.

Onboarding programmes are however, not just for new recruits, nor are they a once-off occurrence. Instead throughout their lifespan within an organisation, employees are given the opportunity to refresh their knowledge and skills and re-immerse themselves in the culture thereby promoting consistently high productivity and engagement levels.

In South Africa the concept of onboarding is definitely catching on, particularly amongst large organisations that tend to be more open to this approach. Brand value has become key so competitive industries that need to present exceptional customer service and professional people find onboarding an invaluable tool. It makes employees brand ambassadors from day one.  

For businesses that adopt a more structured approach, specific timelines and steps are allocated during the onboarding phase. Structured activities such as meetings, online learning, self-directed learning and collaborative learning sessions which integrate facilitation, games, collaboration, simulation, visuals (DVDs) and online learning may be included in this phase. For those that prefer something more unstructured, employees are given the material but have more flexibility in terms of completion time. The employee can virtually drive their own Onboarding. The learning is self-directed and allows the employee flexibility, though it is structured in outcomes and assessments.

Ultimately, a key differentiator in a competitive workplace depends on the knowledge and skill set of one’s employees and their alignment with the organisational strategy and vision. Onboarding gives companies a much-needed competitive edge.

Author: Ricky Robinson is the CEO of LRMG Performance Agency.