5 ways to create a strategic onboarding program

The labor market is not what it used to be as in many countries, the variable unemployment rate and shortage of skill sets enormously affect the recruitment and talent management. According to the “World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2018”, even though the global unemployment rate has stabilized, the number of unemployed remains in high levels, exceeding 192 million persons around the world.

What is the place of onboarding in companies ?

The labor market is not what it used to be. In many countries, the variable unemployment rate and shortage of skill sets significantly affects the recruitment and talent management. According to the ‘World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2018’, even though the global unemployment rate has stabilised, the number of unemployed remains high, exceeding 192 million persons around the world.

This leads to the intense battle for talent among companies where HR department has to work more strategically, not harder. Nevertheless, companies are paying more attention to existing employees than to the newcomers, who are the strategic workforce determining their future. It is reported that 20% of staff turnover occurs within the first 45 days of employment, which appears evidently as a waste of human and financial resources.

Onboarding has proven to play a strategic role to unlock a lot of business value in which it enhances employees branding, competitiveness, time to productivity, engagement levels and reduces recruiting and labor costs. It creates an interconnected link between the company’s mission, vision, philosophy, culture, job specifications and employees’ expectations that gives meanings to their motivation and engagement. Here are five key ideas to create a strategic onboarding program that can reduce first year turnover:

1. Differentiate "onboarding" and "orientation"

Onboarding is sometimes regarded as a synonym for orientation and as the next step of a hiring process in a company. However, orientation is totally different from onboarding. While orientation is an event, onboarding is a process of 90 to 180 days starting from the day the employees accepted the position, which includes pre-boarding: the preparation phase for employees’ first working days. 

As orientation is simply an event, it offers a typically classroom-style learning whilst onboarding allows “live and learn” experience with a blended learning approach such as eLearning, coaching, face to face training. Onboarding, in other words, is a process to help newcomers get familiar with the company cultures, policies, histories and consequently create a sense of belongings. Therefore, it will not usually be owned and led by HR department alone but also involved the collective efforts from hiring managers and other departments.

2. Train managers

Many companies entrust onboarding entirely to the HR department without apprehending that it is actually the managers who spend most of the time with the new hires. And yet, not all managers understand the psychological difficulties an individual might encounter during this transition phase. The person can undergo different feelings including excitement or anxiety, confusion and even frustration throughout his/her first months. 

It is a changing and unexpected journey so a person who comes from a different environment with high expectations might be disappointed or surprised in one way or another. The experience might depend on various external factors such as the business context, the local or even the team organization and also on how well the manager handles the situation. 

Therefore, managers must be given trainings in order to best accompany the newcomers in their first months.They should know the importance of their role in setting up a balanced onboarding path by discussing objectives and responsibilities, creating a career map, building a social network for a new comer, getting all the equipment ready on time and giving feedbacks timely. It is said that an average amount of time for a normal person to get used to a new function is approximately 6 months so managers’ training will help them have the right expectations and evaluation of their employees and at the same time, release the newcomers from the stress…

3. Assign buddies

A buddy is normally a volunteer or assigned employee who accompany the new hires in their first days for any questions regarding day-to-day topics. The role of a buddy is to smoothen newcomers’ arrivals and integration by acting as an informal resource on policies, procedures, norms, work rules and to help socialize and involve the new employees in workplace activities. This approach is a good way to drive a culture of integration by involving everyone to participate in the onboarding program and increasing sense of engagement.

However, a buddy is not manager, tutor, trainer or a coach. He or she is not responsible for the newcomer’s entire onboarding process or any questions related to job or performance. These questions should be raised to the managers directly. The role of a buddy also does not require specific professional knowledge nor expertise to provide support because they are here to help on the day-to-day topics. Understanding the nature of a buddy program is important to prevent responsibility duplications and false expectations.

4. Digitalize onboarding

To make onboarding strategic, it is important to turn it into a competitive advantage for a company, facilitate the workflow and enhance employers branding. As the workforces has been filled with millennials who are technological natives, companies will have to digitalize their onboarding to stay competitive in the labor market. Integrating fun, creative and digitalized onboarding module will excite the newcomers and leverage their thirst to learn. Company can diversify their approaches to their onboarding content such as departmental overviews, company policies, technical skills training to secure time for valuable face to face training and discussions.

5. Standardize onboarding

Last but not least, it is recommended to standardize this process in order to harmonize the experience for all employees, especially important for multinational companies with complex cultural diversity, country administrative technicalities and geographical difficulties to manage.  Standardization enables companies not to miss any essential steps in their process and ensure a coherent experience. 

Guidelines, templates, and modules must be formalized and made accessible to all stakeholders and newcomers should all be aware of what they are entitled with when they start. However, standardization should not hinder the involved actors from making changes and adaptations that are suitable to the newcomers’ positions. The HR, the team, the managers can always come up with new ideas to welcome their new members under the foundation of a solid and sufficient guidelines.

Hang Tran

Talent Development Specialist


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