Onboarding means all the activities that help to familiarize employees with their job and with the organizational culture. Effective onboarding also supports employees in building their own network within the organization and in translating organizational goals into personal ones. Onboarding can also have a strong motivational effect, as employees are then proud of having chosen this job and this organization. Onboarding should ideally be a mutual process where employees and employers maintain a dialog to align their expectations.
Five main goals of the onboarding process
Onboarding has five main goals:
- To motivate and support employees to perform independently quickly
- To align mutual expectations
- To clarify how employees can contribute to organizational goals
- To help employees to connect with colleagues and the organization
- To innovate from within the organization based on feedback from newcomers
Here are the most important onboarding trends:
1. Preboarding trend
Preboarding begins as soon as a new employee says yes to the recruiter. “Make sure you don’t neglect the time-frame from that moment to the first working day,” says onboarding expert Ardiënne Verhoeven of Workwonders. “Once a new employee has signed the contract, they often don’t hear anything from the organization, even though that period is an opportunity to ensure that the new employee retains their enthusiasm for the job and is already connecting with the organization.”
How do you approach this HR onboarding trend? “The key is to make it clear to the new employee that you are still thinking about them and that they are welcome. It’s about confirming to employees that they have made a good choice and about getting the conversation going.” It’s also important that the transition from application process to preboarding is smooth. “For example, the recruiter or HR person who has had a lot of contact with the new employee during the application process may occasionally call to ask how things are going.”
The organization can also invite a new employee to an important department meeting or to company social events, and put them in touch with the colleague who will handle the onboarding process.
2. Individual onboarding trend
For individual onboarding trend, the organization supports the employee at exactly the right moment and in the way that is most suitable for that particular person. Ideally, this will involve dialog, by asking: What is important to you? What do you need? Verhoeven: “In some organizations, employees have to wait two months for a group induction, because the organization only runs that training once every two months. Two things are wrong with this scenario. Firstly the timing, because those employees will already have been around for two months, and secondly the content, because a general approach won’t align with the work and experience of individual employees on many points.” So make sure that employees can take charge of the timing, “for example, by putting the factual part of the introduction, or a speech from the director, into an online film clip.” The content of the introduction could also vary from individual to individual. Verhoeven: “You need to ask yourself: what does this person need? Using a kind of template module isn’t a bad idea because you really don’t need to reinvent the wheel again and again, but you can offer a personalized introduction. With senior prospective employees, a customized introduction often means that you omit sections if they don’t have added value for that person.”
Verhoeven also believes that organizations can create customized plans for high-priority groups and specific problems. “Employees who come from abroad, for example, and are working in a predominantly Dutch team. Or groups of employees who are taken on after another company is taken over.”
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3. Digital onboarding trend
Part of the onboarding process, especially the more factual part, can be handled digitally.
Verhoeven: “That can save organizations a lot of time and money. You don’t need to have a customized onboarding app developed immediately, but you can make creative use of existing materials such as company videos or use a list of useful links on the Intranet to direct people to launch material.”
Too much focus on digital onboarding is also risky, however, says Verhoeven. “An app is an excellent way of sharing basic factual information, but onboarding is not just about transferring theoretical subject-matter knowledge or about the organization’s procedures. Effective onboarding means supporting employees with the questions and problems they encounter in everyday working life. You help them build their own network and make sure that they feel more involved in the organization every day — and you can’t do all that with an app. People won’t leave because of an app, but they won’t stay because of one either.”
4. Evaluating onboarding trend
Evaluation is an important part of the ongoing optimization of onboarding. Verhoeven: “There are two forms of evaluation: continuous and retrospective.” One example of continuous evaluation is where organizations take a pulse measurement every week, specially tailored to new employees. “This is a way of systematically testing whether someone is up and running quickly, feels connected and feels able to contribute to the organizational mission”:
- Clarity about the role: Does the employee understand what is expected of them? Where do they fit in? “You can even consider doing some kind of test to make sure they have worked through all the knowledge steps that are important to this job.”
- Social connection: Is the employee positive about the organization and their role? Do they feel committed to the organization? Do they feel they can contribute?
- Alignment: Are the vision and objectives of the organization clear? Is the employee managing to build their own network? How do they relate to the culture of the organization?
Organizations can also evaluate the whole process once it’s complete, in order to learn from it as a whole. Verhoeven: “Have the objectives discussed been achieved? Does that apply to managers and new employees? What actions can be taken in response to this evaluation? And what about premature leavers?”
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5. Remote onboarding trend
Nowadays, employees are more likely to work remotely and that poses significant challenges to new employees who are currently in their onboarding period. Verhoeven: “Getting information remotely about your job description can be complicated, especially if everything is constantly changing, so there is a risk of employees not being clear on what their role involves.”
That is why Verhoeven recommends that remote onboarding calls should be clearly structured and set up as efficiently as possible. “Because if all you do is talk about your holiday, you won’t have that much time for discussion.”
Organizations can also give explicit guidance to new employees and their supervisors on topics they can raise. “Like: What is my role? How will we work together? What do you think will happen in the short term within our team and within the organization? What do you expect from me? If I want to do my job properly, what do I need to watch out for?” Ask employees explicitly what issues they encounter. “Because with remote working, colleagues aren’t always available when new employees are facing problems, so it makes sense to explicitly ask about difficulties in calls.”
You may also have to schedule more calls than usual and, if necessary, to meet in person. “It can really help if you see someone in the flesh, in the office or elsewhere. Things really run easier afterwards, especially for jobs that require a lot of communication within the team, such as marketing, sales and HR.”
Helping employees with the social aspect is important. “Building a network and getting to know the culture is far more difficult remotely. In general, even under normal circumstances, not all employees are aware that it’s important to build a network themselves. In that case, you need to help them plan targeted conversations.”
The organizational culture can also be explicitly addressed as part of this. It’s very difficult to get to know these aspects from behind your computer, so you need to make lots of things about the culture explicit. Like: How do you handle risks? If you win a customer but you don’t have time to consult beforehand, can you make a decision on your own right away? Is that allowed here? Or do you have to run everything by the director first? Or: What’s the etiquette? How do you express appreciation, for example? These questions will also be different for each job.”
Finally, it’s important that you reassure new employees who work remotely. “Emphasize that onboarding will be a little slower than in the office and try to adjust the expectations of new employees. This will stop them wondering whether they have made the right choice, or feeling insecure. New employees really want to demonstrate as soon as possible that they can make a valuable contribution, but this is sometimes a bit more difficult remotely and in times that are uncertain. It therefore makes sense to explain that and to say as clearly as possible that this situation is a little more difficult, and that everyone knows that. And that can sometimes be difficult for existing employees to work from home as well.
6. Evaluating offboarding
It’s very important to handle employees who leave early well and to find out why they left. “Not only do you want to know what went wrong, so that you can do better next time, but when it comes to a forced departure, you also want to say goodbye in a positive way. This leaves the door open for that person to return to the organization at a later date. You make it more likely that ex-employees will speak positively about the organization.”
Ardiënne Verhoeven founded Workwonders in 2000 as a consultancy company specializing in onboarding and recruitment. She has written two books about onboarding, including Onboarding: het managen van verwachtingen (Onboarding: managing expectations). Ardiënne Verhoeven studied law and business administration at the University of Groningen (RUG). She then spent eight years as HR manager at KPN and Unilever, where she gained experience in areas including recruitment, selection, coaching and developing management talent.
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