Improve employee productivity and retention with in-person onboarding in 2021

The pandemic had us all rushing to implement digital technology for the survival of our businesses. We made these investments in order to keep employees aligned to the organization’s mission, changes, and goals.

Take a bow, everyone, as your success was incredible.

Much of your success was due to employees who already knew your mission and culture and had relationships with their managers, team members, and clients. But that is not the case for new hires and talent competition is heating up.

While I am a big advocate of remote work and I favor the hybrid workforce and office, I also know that new hires need time to build relationships with total strangers—and that means time together and in person. What is your post-pandemic onboarding plan to win the 2021 war for talent?

Here is a quick review of the onboarding research and why excellent on-boarding is essential for successful new hire onboarding as well as improved productivity and employee retention.

A 2007 study from the Wynhurst Group found that newly hired employees are 58 percent more likely to still be at the company three years later if they had completed a structured onboarding process.

The Aberdeen Group, in a 2009 study, found that companies with effective onboarding programs had higher success rates for new hire assimilation: 62% had faster time-to-productivity (meaning faster time for novices to have the productivity of experienced employees), and 54% reported higher employee engagement

In 2018, Jobvite learned that 33 percent of surveyed employees quit their jobs in the first 90 days. As bad as this result sounds, it is worth noting that his survey was conducted before the pandemic when on-boarding was mostly face-to-face. Turnover is expected to climb again as more American workers get vaccinated.

I encourage you to think about onboarding as a six-month process, not six hours. Six hours is the basics of filling out forms for payroll processing, taxes, I-9, and reading and digitally signing required policies. This can be done digitally using your payroll/HRIS software and can be started before the first day of employment for exempt workers. (Note that nonexempt employees must be paid for these tasks, according to US labor laws.) The steps of this process can be significantly accelerated and improved with the use of intelligent assistants to answer common new hire questions and send reminders.

Unfortunately, for most employers the onboarding process stops here. The key to achieving faster time-to-productivity, higher engagement, and reduced turnover on time for new hires to meet in person with their managers, team members, coaches, and customers to build relationships. Certainly, this must be done when it is safe to return employees to the workplace without risking COVID19 transmissions and following the CDC and OSHA guidelines for COVID19 safe workplaces.

During the six months of onboarding, management must provide new hires with the answers to these questions:

How do things get done here?

No doubt you have hired professionally qualified employees who have the certifications, degrees, and competencies for their roles. However, they probably do not know how work is achieved in your company, such as understanding how to use the enterprise software for their department to complete work. Most employee surveys I have conducted identify this issue as the number one complaint of new hires. The software is complicated, not intuitive to learn, and no one is available to train them on it. Assign new hires a coach to meet with them on the first day to show them how the software works. While a coach can do much of this training online at first, they should spend hours together during the coaching sessions, face-to-face, to build a long lasting, trusting relationship.

What is the purpose and culture of the organization?

Research shows that when employees are aligned to the organization’s purpose and are comfortable in the organization and are comfortable in the organization’s culture, the employees and the organization do better. Nothing builds a better sense of purpose than an organization’s creation story and stories of organizational success, stories of customer success due to its products and services, and how the company averted disaster through vision, agility, teamwork, and resiliency. Don’t allow PowerPoints in these sessions. Nothing beats a great story, except for several great stories that convey the company’s purpose and culture. The most significant impact for such accounts is when it is face-to-face in a group setting, and new hires can see and directly hear the passion in the speakers’ voice. As safety allows, organizations should plan that these sessions be face-to-face.

What are the priorities?

During the interview process, the employee has seen a detailed job description and had discussions on the work to be done, but that is often the tip of the work’s iceberg. Employees need to have time with their managers, internal or external customers, and the employees who will be accountable with them to thoroughly learn the priorities, milestones, hand-offs, roles, and responsibilities. This is always a nuanced discussion and needs face-to-face time to get the conversation started and build the level of commitment and esprit de corps for success. These conversations should also include having coffee together and informal chatting. Emanating from these discussions ought to be a 30-, 60-, 90-, and 180-days written plan of priorities the employee needs to achieve for the organization and whom they partner within the organization or externally to achieve them. Another benefit of the 30 to 180-day plan is it sets up early wins for the employee and builds confidence and a sense of belonging. Managers and employees and the coaches and mentors assigned to employees should plan to meet weekly, face-to-face at first.

Who is my community?

Research shows that employees will leave a job if they feel isolated, lonely, or they just do not fit in. The priorities guidelines listed above will help an employee build community, but employee community is much more. It includes those who have similar roles as the employee and also those with whom the employee does not work directly but may share similar interests. These discussions will help build social capital for the new hire and build their stake in the company.

How do employees move ahead?

One of the most popular events of new hire onboarding that I developed was the monthly lunches for new hires that featured employees at the director level talking about their career advancement. These discussions included the relationships they pursued, challenging projects they undertook, mentors they worked with, and the critical formal training or experiences that led to their career success. These sessions ended with new hires about three months into their tenure, after building career plans with their managers.

The US unemployment rate has fallen to six percent, and there are now over one million job openings. The competition for talent is becoming fierce. Do not lose employees after you hire them. Create an excellent onboarding experience that builds their loyalty and improves your business.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting, managing partner of InnovationOne, and Sales Advisor to MeBeBot. He works with companies to transform HR, implement remote work, recruit executives, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and innovation cultures. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at 

1 comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: