Why do leaders care about onboarding?

Why do leaders care about onboarding - blog header image

It’s one of many million-dollar-questions in the business of “talent” these days. Why do our leaders and executives care about onboarding?

I attended a conference session last week led by Tamar Elkeles, Ph.D., a former Chief Learning Officer of the Year during her longtime tenure with Qualcomm. Dr. Elkeles had some no-nonsense insight into the ever-evolving role of a Chief Talent Officer. While the session itself wasn’t necessarily focused on onboarding, but rather the position and challenges of talent leaders in general, there were some parallels I took away that are highly applicable:

Key Talent Challenges Facing Global Organizations:

  • Forecasting the future…and developing people for jobs that don’t even exist yet
  • Creating a company culture that maximizes employee growth and engagement
  • Retaining talent to drive business success
Source: Tamar Elkeles, Ph.D.

(If those challenges don’t directly correlate to onboarding, I don’t know what does.)

If our job is to find a solution to these challenges and address them through onboarding, then we need to have a seat at the table to better understand the underlying drivers:

  • To learn about jobs that don’t exist yet, we need to understand the industries we support, the products and services our organizations deliver and new innovations that require us to evolve.
  • To contribute to company culture, growth and engagement, we need to create onboarding programs that embrace and immerse new employees and help them feel connected.
  • To effectively retain talent, we need to enable new employees up to learn, perform and be successful, quickly.
Getting started with onboarding? Check this out: 5 Must-Capture Onboarding Metrics to Prove Your Value

Perhaps the most provocative statement that Dr. Elkeles stated during this session, and possibly the sentence that resonated with me more than anything during the entire conference was this:

“Executives care because we tell them to care.”

(This quote is paraphrased a bit, because I was in the middle of an “a-ha” moment when she said it, and didn’t write it down fast enough!)

But please let the point resonate as loudly with you as it did for me…

Many (not all) of our executives and senior leaders fail to recognize the value in developing talent, or providing a rich onboarding experience for new employees. Only when we claim a seat at the table (or contribute in our role in a way that our department leaders can claim that seat on our behalf) and TELL THEM how onboarding impacts these challenges, will the impact our programs are making “bubble up” and be:

Seen. Heard. Felt. Measured.

Providing an intentional onboarding experience is the necessary foundation and logical starting point for a results-driven talent engagement, development and retention strategy. It’s a competitive advantage that will set your organization apart, and be YOUR professional advantage, if you are looking to build influence among leaders.

Take some action: Find what matters in your organization, what drives business, and what keeps your leaders up at night…and discover how onboarding will make a positive, measurable impact.


Talent GPS is here! 

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I’m thrilled to have co-authored the book, Talent GPS: A Manager’s Guide to Navigating the Employee Development Journey, with Lou Russell and Brittney Helt. If you manage people or support those who do, you’ll want to grab a copy!

Buy now


Are you ready to Make Onboarding Better in your organization?

We are nearing the halfway point of 2017 already! Is updating (or starting) your onboarding program on your list of goals this year? How’s that going?

Based on overwhelming feedback from our annual onboarding survey this winter, we are getting ready to launch an exclusive online community, completely focused on making onboarding better. Whether you are just getting started with developing and implementing an onboarding program, or you are committed to improving the new employee experience at your organization, this community is for you.

Be one of the first to learn more and to get pre-launch access to the community.

Subscribe today and be in the know!

Why “Lean In” Made Me Step Back for a Moment

Over the past few years, the Lean In movement has become a highly influential, inspirational voice for professional women around the world. As a professional female, I appreciate the message and encouragement. As the mother of a teenage son (today, at the time of this writing, is actually his 15th birthday!) and a college-aged daughter, I appreciate that these conversations are happening, to hopefully provide an equal, empowering career experience for her, and that my son has an educated perspective as well. I’ve read the book and follow posts on social media. I would say that I’ve been in agreement with most of the points I’ve seen.

Until last week.

If you know me, you know that I am hardly a confrontational person. This blog, while sometimes a source of tough love for hiring managers and those who are responsible for creating learning experiences, is not typically a platform that seeks out debate because, quite frankly, it’s exhausting, it rarely yields change, and it’s just not my style. However, in defense of my passionate stance for the new employee experience, I was unsettled by a post and New York Times article I read the other day on the Lean In Facebook page:

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Specifically, this line from the post:

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Please hear me: I am not disagreeing with the overall premise of this article. I fully believe that women often do more “office housework” than their male counterparts. I have seen (and experienced) it time and time again during my 20+ years in the workforce.

My issue, and what struck such a nerve with me, is that this post described “training new hires” as OFFICE HOUSEWORK, suggesting that it is an inconvenience. A mindless task. A chore.

Then I thought, “Okay, Michelle. Before getting all worked up over a Facebook post, maybe you should read the article and then form an opinion?” So I did.

And in the first paragraph, I read this:

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Right there, among suggestively trivial items like helping improve a presentation and planning a holiday party, I saw it: “trained several new hires…”

Now, I can accept that fact that whoever wrote the Facebook post, and the authors of this article probably did not intend to minimize the importance of onboarding. Of the thousands of people who read the post/article, I am probably the only one who is reacting so passionately to something that wasn’t even the main point (I could argue how sad that is, but I’ll let it slide). But since the Lean In organization has such influence over so many professionals in countless organizations and industries (and kudos to them for it), I am distressed over the notion that such cavalier word choices may cause readers to dismiss an organization’s need for intentional, results-driven onboarding.

If you treat onboarding like an inconvenience or a low-priority task, then don’t be surprised if your new employees aren’t feeling connected to your organization.

A study by Aberdeen has shown that as many as 87% of new employees aren’t fully committed to a new job for the first six months. Eighty-seven percent. Let’s put it this way: out of 100 newly-hired employees, 87 of them are still subscribed to emails from Indeed and Glassdoor and may still be following up about other submitted job applications or calls from assertive recruiters. Those talented employees that you have invested time and money to hire and train are not entirely sure that they want to stick around for the long haul. If your partners in the onboarding process don’t realize how important their job is, then it is your job to communicate it.

Who are your partners?

Regardless of who “owns” the onboarding experience for your organization, there are a number of key stakeholders who should be involved in the new employee experience. Just a few include:

  • HR/Talent Acquisition
  • L&D/Training/Talent Development
  • Hiring Managers
  • Peers and teammates
  • Support staff (IT, administrative roles, etc)
  • Executives and senior leaders
  • Clients and vendors

Everyone involved touches a new employee’s experience in some way. If they treat this responsibility like an inconvenience, an afterthought or a “nice-to-have” during a busy time, then your new employees feel it. It potentially stunts their development, performance, engagement, and connectedness. You must educate your organization on how onboarding impacts the bottom line of your business.

Wait, what? You don’t know how onboarding impacts your business?

Find out.

What story is your company’s data telling about your new employees’ performance, retention and engagement? 

Depending on your organization’s goals and priorities, some essential metrics could include:

  • Sales within the first 30-60-90 days of employment
  • Number of errors or accidents on the job
  • Reasons employees leave within the first year (exit interview data is a gold mine for this!)
  • Number of internal promotions within the first year
  • Productivity – particularly for those in a very metric-driven role (think call center data, customer service, assembly line, etc)

 

Onboarding and new employee training can make a significant impact on business results – during Orientation, in a training environment and through on-the-job experience. People, male or female, who are involved should know how THEY are contributing to the bottom line. Give them a chance to take ownership of their role and recognize onboarding as a need-to-have. To lean in to the privilege of serving and contributing to a new employee’s success (see what I did there?).

Am I going to stop following Lean In because of this? No, of course not. The mission and work of this organization is important; it invites productive conversation and adds immense value to our professional society. In fact, had it not been for confidence gained through the stories of passionate female leaders and influencers, maybe I would not feel comfortable sharing my opinion through this platform? Who knows…

As a champion of learning in the workplace, I firmly believe that we need to pay attention to the direct and indirect messages we are sending, and use our influence to shape learning experiences for employees in the organizations we support. This article was a powerful reminder.


 

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When does onboarding become too much of a good thing?

paris-love-locks
Ah, c’est l’amour.

For several years, countless tourists in love made a pilgrimage to the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris to pledge their undying devotion by attaching a padlock, a “love lock,” to the metal grating on the bridge.

So. Many. Locks. 

The love lock tradition has spread to a number of other cities around the world. Like the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City:
love-locks-brooklyn-bridge
I saw the Brooklyn Bridge locks last summer when I was in New York with the family. Even enterprising street vendors were trying to capitalize on bridge-crossers in loooove by selling padlocks along the bridge. It’s definitely a thing.

The idea of love locks has brought mixed reactions among Parisian tourists and locals. Some saw it as a romantic gesture, an homage to everlasting love….others, including preservationists and city officials, saw it as a cluttered mess, ruining an otherwise historic landmark. Last year, an estimated one million locks were cut from the Pont des Arts bridge, thus ending the Love Locks tradition.

What started out as good intentions – a sweet gesture – quickly spun out of control.

If we’re not careful, the same thing can happen with our onboarding programs. We invest time, energy and resources into creating a memorable experience for our newly-hired employees – but without proper management, even a great “idea” can go awry.

Be aware of these red flags…does your onboarding program:

  • Focus on training, rather than on performance?  Spending too much time “teaching to the test,” or mastering hypothetical, simulated content, instead of preparation for real-world experience can be risky. Ensure that your content is aligned to the true working environment, and that there are ample opportunities for application and assessment.
  • Have too much show, but not enough substance?  We want our Orientation and onboarding experiences to be pleasant. We want our new employees to enjoy themselves and have them walk away feeling they made the right decision in joining our organizations. Free lunch! Scavenger hunt! More swag! All good things. Just ensure that the fun elements have purpose. 
  • Set unrealistic expectations of how amazing your organization is? Onboarding is a process that bridges the gap between the sometimes-idyllic first impressions set during the recruitment and pre-boarding process and the reality of everyday life in the company. If your new employees are pinching themselves because things are just too perfect, beware. Showcase your organization’s strengths, but keep it realistic.
  • Encourage long-term reliance on a training facilitator, rather than a supervisor, peers and resources?  In cases where “new employee training” lasts several days or even weeks, training participants often look up to their primary training instructor and view him/her as an expert. While that may be true, it is important for the primary focus to shift away from the training environment and move toward the job environment. Make an effort to enable new employees to utilize self-directed learning resources, leverage peer coaching, participate in on-the-job training and (most importantly) build a solid relationship with his/her direct supervisor.

Having a hand in the new employee experience is a privilege. Creating an experience that balances learning, engagement, immersion, relationship building and yes, fun, requires thoughtful planning and ongoing attention. Just like the locks prevented visitors from experiencing the beauty of the bridge, don’t let your organization’s heavy “locks” outweigh the value your program adds.

Your turn: What are you doing to make that experience a memorable one in your organization? Share your tips in the comments below!

What To Do With Those 2014 Professional Development Budget Dollars?

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Believe it or not, 2014 is quickly coming to an end. It doesn’t seem possible, does it?

If you’re like many L&D leaders, now is the time you’re looking at your annual department budget, and quickly trying to spend some of your allocated dollars, so you don’t have to hear this:

“If you didn’t need the money in 2014, we’re not going to approve it in 2015.”

Been there, done that? I know I have!

So, if you’re looking for an affordable professional development opportunity for you or someone on your team, why not consider registering for the newest interactive workshop experience from phase(two)learning?

Orientation Overhaul: Re-imagining the New Employee Experience in your Organization

By popular demand, phase(two)learning is partnering with Brian Washburn, Managing Director with Endurance Learning and the voice of the popular Train Like a Champion blog, this 2-day workshop will provide participants with the opportunity to:

  • Identify the strengths and weaknesses in the design and delivery of your current New Employee Orientation program
  • Define success for your New Employee Orientation program
  • Identify the essential stakeholders across your organization who should be involved in your New Employee Orientation program
  • Incorporate strategies into your Orientation program proven to increase engagement and to make sure your new employees “get it”
  • Compare and contrast what you’re currently doing with successful practices from industry-leading organizations featured in a panel discussion
  • Differentiate between must-have and nice-to-have elements in your New Employee Orientation program
  • Use concepts learned in this workshop to immediately implement changes to your current Orientation materials in a unique Design Lab session

Is re-imagining your New Employee Orientation program on your 2015 agenda? Start planning now by registering for this session, and take advantage of early bird rates!

And just for you, Phase(Two)Nation…

Use promo code FRIEND to save an additional $200 on your registration (even with the discounted group rate)!

Seating is limited for this roll-up-your-sleeves event, so reserve your spot now!

Got questions? Check out the FAQ on the registration page, or send an email today to learn more.

 

Know of someone who plans to re-imagine their New Employee Orientation program in 2015? Be kind and share this post!

Onboarding Should be Relational, not Transactional

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Sometimes, it’s the smallest things that get under a person’s skin and drives. them. absolutely. crazy.

For me, it’s the term “new hire.” Seems innocent, right? I’m sure about 99.2% of people in the free world wouldn’t think twice about the expression, but it’s one I simply cannot stand.

In fact, I told my friend Brian the other day that “I die a little bit inside every time someone says ‘new hire’.” Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but hear me out:

Onboarding should be relational, not transactional.

“Hire” is a verb. It suggests transaction, or something that you do. When I hear someone referred to as a “new hire,” I immediately think that person isn’t an official part of the organization yet. In fact, when we look at the top definition for hire, this is what we see:

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Am I saying there is no “transaction” involved in the process? Not at all. I get it, there is paperwork to complete, processes to follow, content to share. But that is not the end-all-be-all to onboarding a new employee.

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Onboarding is a process that immerses a new employee (noun!) into an organization.

I think it’s safe to say that most, if not all, of us want our newest employees to feel welcomed, nurtured and included when they join the organizations we support. Your new employees are people, with needs and emotions and questions.

There is so much more to onboarding than the simple act of “hiring” a person.

When building a culture that welcomes, nurtures and includes new employees (particularly when there hasn’t been much of a process in place), an easy place to start is with the language you are using. It may be subtle – maybe even unnoticed – but being intentional with a detail as seemingly tiny as “new hire vs. new employee” sends a message to your organization that you are committed to building relationships with your newest employees.

Want to blow people’s minds? Tell them about it.

Tell your onboarding stakeholders and company leaders about your decision to use intentional language. Tell them that your team is committed to making onboarding a relational process, rather than a transactional one. This can be a huge value-add for your program.

Guess what? The benefit of intentional language goes beyond onboarding. Consider your language for learning, development and succession planning programs as well.

 

Your turn: Am I crazy? Is this just being a little too nit-picky? Tell me about it. Or tell me that this is brilliant, and it will revolutionize your program. Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Know of someone who would benefit from this article? Please take a moment to share it!

 

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A Few Words About Onboarding Jargon

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I always get a kick out of articles that summarize the year’s most popular corporate jargon. Having worked in a corporate setting for many years, I have heard (and, admittedly, used) many of the terms at one point or another. Come on, you have too. Admit it!

Jargon isn’t limited to conference calls and status meetings, friends. Even the most prepared, knowledgeable, well-intentioned facilitators have used this lingo while delivering onboarding and training programs.  Here are a few to ponder:

Variations on “talent”:  Talent Management. Talent Acquisition. Talent Retention.  If I were to ask ten people what these terms mean, I’d probably get ten different answers.  Unless one is actually in the “talent” business (and I’m not referring to America’s Got Talent, friends), one does not necessarily care about understand the “talent” business.  If your organization has these roles, please make sure you explain to your new employees what they mean to your organization. Roles and functions and job descriptions and teams and objectives and priorities vary from company to company, from industry to industry.

Bootcamp:  When did everything become a “bootcamp”?  By definition, a true bootcamp should be an intense, über-structured program, as the military requires. I have seen light workshops, webinars and even team-building events, titled “bootcamp”.  Really?  A couple of years ago, at the day job, I was asked to develop a 2-day – you got it – bootcamp, for some employees who would then be delivering their own – yes – bootcamp to another group of employees. The smart aleck in me couldn’t resist, so I lovingly (and a little sarcastically) titled the session “Bootcamp Bootcamp”. Fortunately, my crew had a good laugh about it!

My point? Not everything is a bootcamp. Title your offerings accordingly.

Any internal terms or acronyms that new employees have no context to understand: In the first days on the job, your new employees are lucky to remember the first names of the people on his/her team, let alone understanding all of your internal systems, processes, projects or industry terminology. If you can’t eliminate all of these terms from your onboarding program, define them as clearly as possible. Even better? Create a glossary of terms as a quick, go-to resource for new employees to refer to in a pinch during their first weeks.

The term “onboarding” itself: Like “talent”, this is a made-up word that means little to those who are neither passionate nor involved in it. Many of our organizational stakeholders do not understand the difference between “orientation” and “onboarding”. HR systems refer to the automated paperwork process as “onboarding”, so it has morphed into this catch-all word that is used for pretty much anything related to the new employee experience.

If we can’t explain the process clearly, how can we expect our stakeholders to support, or get involved in, the process?

Communicate your program’s objective. Its purpose. The value it brings to your organization. Use clear language that anyone in your organization – entry-level to C-suite, new or tenured – will understand. If it’s been awhile since you’ve communicated the objectives of your onboarding program to your organization, maybe it’s time to have that conversation.

Your turn: What jargon is common around your organization? How do you clarify this jargon for your new employees?

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Improving Training Programs with Feedback

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As learning professionals (or whatever hat we might be wearing at any given moment), it is our responsibility to assess a learning need and provide a solution. And, tipping my cap to my passionate learning cohorts around the world, I’d say we do a fine job.

But, you know what? We don’t always have the answers. Or the perspective. Or even the right questions to ask. So we need to engage others.

This might be a pow-wow with a SME or project manager, to learn more about a task, process or system. It might be meeting with a supervisor to better understand a team’s skill or knowledge gaps.

But what about the employees themselves? How often are we asking them what they want out of training? What they need? How we can help them become a stronger employee today…and maybe-just-maybe, help prepare them for future opportunities?

The same goes for orientation and onboarding programs…consider doing a brief survey to poll your workforce, and see what you can learn about your new employee experience. A few questions might include:

  • When you started with (company name), what was the most helpful part of your onboarding experience?
  • What was your biggest challenge when you started in your role?
  • What advice would you give a new employee starting with (company name)?
  • What tools and resources are the biggest help to you?
  • Who was your go-to person when you were getting started in your role?
  • How can we improve the new employee experience at (company name)?

These simple questions can give you perspective that can help you strengthen your process and program. You can use these questions as a foundation, and tweak or expand them based on the program – these examples focus on the new employee experience, but just imagine how a few strategic questions can help you evolve your other training initiatives, leadership development programs, employee transitions and more.

The important thing is to stay curious, friends. We should continuously seek out feedback and suggestions from our various stakeholders, from the executives to the end users, and from all cubicles in between.

Your turn: How do you engage your organization beyond the standard needs analysis or evaluation process? What information have you gained from employees that have impacted your learning programs?

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