Making onboarding inclusive and successful for everyone
Inclusive and successful-for-everyone onboarding is integral to the overall inclusive culture in your business. But there’s just one crucial thing — you need to have an onboarding program to begin with.
According to statistics, onboarding is an afterthought for many businesses. An Allied Workforce Mobility Survey found almost a quarter (22%) of companies don’t do formal onboarding.
The same survey showed only 28% of businesses have really successful ones. Just under half (49%) of companies said their onboarding regimens are “somewhat successful.”
Statistics show that people who have a disability are more loyal to the organizations they work for than other employees. But poor onboarding experiences lead to employees leaving within their first year. A third of new hires look for a new job within six months. Within a year, 25% of new employees leave.
“Competition among the most innovative companies is growing ever more heated for one of the most highly-coveted resources on the market: talented employees. But sadly, too many new hires slip away because of a poor initial experience with their new companies,” wrote Keith Ferrazzi in a March 2015 Harvard Business Review article. Ferrazzi is CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a consulting and training firm in Los Angeles.
Best-in-class onboarding has big benefits
Then there’s onboarding done right. With a best-in-class approach. It has noteworthy results.
- A 2013 research study by Aberdeen Group found that businesses following best practices in onboarding retained 91% of their employees.
- According to Statistics Canada, retention rates are 72% higher among employees who have a disability. So, creating a positive onboarding experience can add even more to the employees-who-have-a-disability retention rate.
- Employee performance and productivity are also better with best-in-class onboarding, the Aberdeen study found. It notes, 62% of new employees met their “first performance milestones on time, as compared to 17%” in organizations without robust onboarding programs based on best practices.
The onboarding phase is the most crucial time in an employee’s experience with your business. How do you make it inclusive and successful — benefiting both your business and all your employees?
Best practices to follow
Follow some best practices, for certain. It may require evaluating — and possibly rethinking and reinventing — your onboarding strategy and tactics.
“Excellence in onboarding results from a combination of strategies, capabilities, and enabling technologies. The Best-in-Class display a number of common core characteristics,” notes the Aberdeen report.
Here are some best practices to follow for first-class, inclusive onboarding:
- Ensure every aspect of onboarding is accessible. This is the first and foremost best practice for creating an onboarding program that’s inclusive and positive for everyone. Documents need to be available in a variety of formats to meet different needs. PowerPoint presentations and online training modules should be captioned. Any needed assistive technology (AT) should be in place before the employee’s first day.
Making the rounds to meet managers and colleagues is often a standard part of first-day and -week onboarding activities. The entire workplace should be physically accessible. Or, these meet-and-greets should be arranged in one location easily accessible for all. As well, any group or individual activities (such as problem-solving exercises) need to be accessible.
There’s generally a lot involved in creating a successful onboarding program. Adding the essential accessibility layer may require enlisting the help of outside experts. That is, unless your business is well along what PwC calls “the D&I maturity curve.” If you’re well along the curve, you’re thinking strategically and not tactically about D&I. Perhaps you’re at the curve point where you’ve invested in having staff who are singularly focused on D&I. If so, they need to own your onboarding program.
- Collaborate for success. Perhaps you recruited your new employee from the “hidden” disability talent pool with the assistance of disability-sector agencies and organizations such as the Ontario Disability Employment Network. If so, work with these D&I experts through the entire onboarding process. They can provide guidance and assistance. They’ll help you make sure all aspects of your onboarding are accessible, and that the entire experience is successful and positive for everyone.
- Remember that onboarding is different from orientation. Orientation is an activity — just one part of the process. Onboarding is the entire process. It consists of three broad parts. The first is “forms management,” which includes all the paperwork new employees need to complete. Then there’s “task management.” This includes making sure the new person’s workstation is all set up; that they have access to all systems; and that a meeting with their manager is arranged. The third element is “socialization” — getting the new person engaged in the company culture.
- Plan the first day in advance. The first day on a new job is stressful for any new employee. Like any other new hire, people who have a disability expect everything they need for doing the job they’ve been hired to do, to be set up already. They’ll probably have questions about everything from their role and responsibilities; to the locations of important rooms and their accessibility. You’ll need to give new hires an orientation tour of the workplace. They’ll need introductions to their immediate colleagues.
On their first day new employees want to feel comfortable, not stressed out. It’s important to find the balance. Planning too little — or not at all — can create a memorable poor first-day experience from which no one benefits. It can have lasting ramifications. First-day experiences set the tone for employee loyalty and retention. “A positive first day, with some interesting work, can leave a lasting impression,” says Connie Malamed, an eLearning coach.
- Align onboarding with your business goals. “Deep commitment to aligning onboarding initiatives to overall business goals” is a characteristic of best-in-class organizations when it comes to onboarding. That’s according to the Aberdeen Group research study. It’s not enough to just have a goal of creating a successful and positive “people” experience for everyone. Onboarding experiences can affect employee productivity and performance, and business growth and profitability. It’s important to have an onboarding program that’s intentionally inclusive and that helps you achieve your business goals. This requires being closer to the strategic-thinking end of that D&I maturity curve.
- Get all employees involved in awareness training. This is part of having an inclusive culture. Disability awareness training for your team is a good idea because it can help avoid etiquette and disability-terminology issues. It also can help make everyone confident in any employee interactions.
Encourage staff to be a mentor for the new hires. This can help with employee retention. A study by the Society of Human Resource Management found that new employees who were assigned a mentor built more knowledge about the organization and were more invested in it.
Another option is creating a “buddy” system during onboarding. It’s a common practice when businesses hire several new people at once. This helps with the socialization part. There are two ways to approach this practice. One way is pairing two new employees. As they support each other through acclimatization to the culture, they’re forming interpersonal relationships. Another way of “buddying up” is matching a new hire with an employee who has been in the organization for some time and is familiar with the culture, processes and people. They, too, are relationship-building with the new hire as they support the person through the socialization period. Both approaches are beneficial and can help create a positive onboarding experience.
- Own the onboarding process. “It may seem like a fundamental concept, but the majority of onboarding programs fail due to a lack of ownership,” states the Aberdeen Group in its 2013 study. Only 9% of organizations have an onboarding manager, the study found.
Traditionally, Human Resources is the department primarily responsible for onboarding. But often, “various departments and key stakeholders are typically involved in the creation, implementation, and measurement” of onboarding programs, notes the Aberdeen Group.
The study found that in 26% of organizations, learning and development departments own the onboarding process. In 22%, HR owns onboarding. Taking ownership of the onboarding process means people have a stake in it. It helps drive the incentive to create a process that results in a memorable process for everyone. For all the right reasons.
- Invest in technology. “The best onboarding experience puts all required information online where it is more easily accessed and searched before and after new hires start,” notes Jobvite. This includes everything from forms and policies your new employee needs to fill out and read; to organizational charts; to information about company events; to a portal for new employees. “Make sure that your new hire portal is also available on mobile so that everything a new hire might need is always at their fingertips,” says Jobvite. Of course, accessibility is the overarching factor when you’re looking at technology solutions for onboarding.
- Make the onboarding period long enough. The Aberdeen Group notes, “Traditional new hire programs last for one week or, in some cases, a single day. These short-term strategies fail to improve areas such as retention, productivity, and engagement.” It generally takes a year to 18 months for new hires to really settle in to their new role and the company. And most new employees make the decision to leave or stay within their first year. But only 15% of organizations have an onboarding process lasting longer than six months, according to the Aberdeen Group study.
- Think of onboarding as an experience, not as a process or program. This may actually be the most important best practice. Sonja Gittens-Ottley, the head of D&I at Asana points out, the way you think about onboarding in your business is central to creating an inclusive and successful experience for everyone involved. She says more often than not, “the focus is on getting new hires ramped up and contributing rather than settled in.” This is when onboarding becomes “more about process than experience”. And it results in a failure “to really connect new hires to their new role, team, and company.”
An inclusive, rewarding onboarding experience is the final stage in an inclusive recruiting process. In many ways, it’s the most crucial part. Doing it well positions employees, and your business, for future success and growth. Not doing it well means you may end up starting recruitment for a role all over again within a few months. And that can hurt morale, culture, productivity and the bottom line.
As with all the other aspects covered in this five-part article series, inclusive onboarding requires three vital things. Following best practices; being intentional about D&I; and having the right mindset to begin with.