An effective guide to onboarding for HR

Written by
Changeboard Team

06 Jan 2016

06 Jan 2016 • by Changeboard Team

Are we doing enough to prepare people for a life changing new role? Is ‘real-life’ onboarding more a test of their ability to scramble out of the water to safety with the expectation that they have all the skills and capabilities to do this? The truth is that good onboarding is generally under-performed and under-personalised and remains a major influence on why up to 50% of senior leaders fail to thrive. This has a financial, logistical and emotional impact to all involved – the individual, the organisation and the recruiters.

Step 1: Get your due diligence done

The journey starts well before day one of the new role, at the time of selection. The recruitment process, just like an M&A transaction, requires high levels of due diligence. Without this critical, objective analysis - investigating in both the strengths and weaknesses of candidates - decisions are supported by too little evidence. Hiring decisions are always a risk so it is important that the instinctive judgement portion of the decision is as low as possible and is supported by a wealth of easy to use evidence, comparative and diligent analysis.  

Our recent research shows that insufficient due diligence is being performed to support the critical decision-making surrounding senior level hires. No other area of business decision-making relies on less real data and so many of Donald Rumsfeld's 'known unknowns'. We all hear about ‘the chemistry’ being important. Chemistry and instinct is actually based on an inner unconscious knowledge of the combination of behaviours and reactions that create the right ‘connection’ between individuals. And we now have many ways in examining and comparing it objectively it. Explaining what can be explained and making diligence data easily consumable is critical to supporting smart decisions in today’s information-rich world. It’s also vital if onboarding is to be designed and implemented effectively.

Step 2: Focus on the negatives

It sounds counter-intuitive to start off by looking at the weaknesses of your next great hire. It is not. It is very rare that we find the perfect candidate and there will always be something missing. By examining the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the soon-to-be-employee you are in the best position to help them towards success by filling these gaps rapidly. These pointers for future support are vital for HR and for hiring managers. They give a ‘heads up’ on how best to manage and develop the employee and also enable an open (post-selection) conversation on the training and development they have undertaken to improve skills and manage behaviours where necessary. 

Step 3: Start before they do

The information you generate prior to selection is just the start. The time between acceptance of offer and day one (often weeks and months) is a perfect – currently underused – time to get to know the person even better, developing and preparing them for them role. This can be turned in to a competitive advantage for the hiring company. You can continue with assessment and begin your on-boarding through improved assessment. All parties should be motivated to find this out and use the data to help prepare for their new beginning.. Logistics dominate until the first day in the role, when onboarding traditionally begins.

Every candidate will have some anxieties and apprehensions about starting the new role. A well designed onboarding package helps familiarise the candidate with the new organisation as well as develops and coaches them through any behaviours, beliefs and barriers thereby enabling them to fulfil their true potential from day one.

Making sure that the employee has access to materials, contacts and a development plan before they begin helps them deal with the tsunami of information in the early days and gives them the reassurance of an employer who is thinking about them, not simply what they can get from them.

Providing this type of support has an additional overlooked advantage – the increased loyalty of the candidate to the new company and, therefore, the increased chance of the candidate staying with the company and wanting to do the best they can for the company.

Step 4: Fit for purpose

Each of us requires different support to be successful, so our onboarding should reflect those individual needs.  With an early knowledge of the strengths and support needs of the candidate, onboarding can be targeted, planned, started before day one and have impact and effect before day one. It should involve access to coaches and mentors and extend out beyond the first 100 days. Implicit in this is more structured, regular feedback to employee and employer on how they are adjusting, personally and professionally. 

Step 5: First 100 days

Rarely does the first day, week or month reflect our success in our roles, or our ability to find our sea-legs in a new business. Support is needed across many weeks and months in a structured way, to allow even the most experienced senior leaders to find out how to adapt to new cultures and features of the business. Milestones across the 100 days can be planned in advance for external mentoring, coaching development and feedback allowing the employee to develop relationships of trust with the onboarding team and with HR.

Over this time they can openly address the personal and professional ups-and-downs of the first months and address training needs before they become stumbling blocks or poor ‘first-impressions’. Once the employee is settled, coached and integrated they will be making their impact and being the person you wanted to hire.

Onboarding should be a supportive, challenging and exciting experience for any new employee. It should be a supported walk along a stout gangplank with a clear goal in front, not a scramble up the side of the boat. At the end of the first hundred days employees should be convinced that they are in an organisation that is fixed on making them successful and the employer should have a firm grip on how the new recruits are adjusting to their new environment and what steps need to be taken to maintain their productivity. It is not about logistics, site-maps or just access to the IT. It is about making sure that the needs of the individual are understood early and that a plan is in place before day one to engage both parties in addressing them, for the benefit of all. If we focus on onboarding in the same way as we do any ‘integration’ then we will significantly improve our people and our organisations.

Article by Chris Molloy, CEO, RSA and Ella Jaczynska, coach and consultant who owns Krysalis Coaching