Curing Onboarding’s Ailments

How long should a new employee’s onboarding take?

Some say it should last as long as a year–Michael Gretczko, a principal at Deloitte, says onboarding should be an “acculturation” process that, by necessity, should be spread out over months, if not a year. This way, he says, the organization will build stronger bonds between itself and hew hires and sharply cut new-hire quit rates.

Rephael Sweary, president and co-founder of WalkMe, has a different view on how much time onboarding should take: as little as possible. Given the rapid changes in cloud-based software and the volume of job-changing occurring in today’s workforce, much of the existing training and orientation that take place during onboarding may be a waste of time, he says.

“Training is dead–all the research says training is typically forgotten within three days,” says Sweary.

Differences aside, both men agree that the typical onboarding process leaves much to be desired–and they’ve got plenty of company: A recent survey by the Human Capital Institute and Kronos finds that 76 percent of the 350 HR leaders queried said their organizations underutilize onboarding. And, while 62 percent of respondents said onboarding’s primary goal is to integrate employees into the office culture, in reality that “people” focus only accounted for 30 percent of onboarding for managers and just 27 percent for non-managers.

“When you think about all the time and money that’s spent on hiring people, it’s unfortunate that so many people feel their onboarding programs are falling short,” says Malysa O’Connor, senior director of the HR practice group at Kronos. Only 47 percent of respondents said their onboarding program was effective in retaining new hires, she adds.

Walkme, a software company with offices in Tel Aviv and San Francisco, specializes in using “prompts” to help its clients’ employees use systems that they don’t have time to be trained on. WalkMe is promoting what it calls “zero-time onboarding” to help companies eliminate what Sweary says is a time-consuming, expensive process.

“Thanks to the cloud, software is being updated all the time, which means the training you receive one day may be outdated the next,” he says. Meanwhile, people change jobs so quickly that a longer onboarding process is often unnecessary. “The average call-center position turns over every six months,” says Sweary.

Rather than having an HR staffer, boss or co-worker guide a new employee through the onboarding process, WalkMe’s software can steer the new hire through everything from filling out forms to the basic steps for doing his or her job, using prompts for each step, he says.

“It’s like having a digital expert sitting next to you,” says Sweary, who says his clients include at least 30 percent of the Fortune 500.

Onboarding is often considered “the last mile” in the candidate journey by most organizations and as such, tends to receive relatively little funding, says Gretzcko, who oversees Deloitte’s ConnectMe HR service-delivery platform. At many companies, onboarding remains largely transactional and doesn’t address how to connect new employees to the organization via their hearts and minds, he says.

Last year Gretczko co-authored a piece on titled “Why Onboarding Should Last One Year.” In it, he argued that the common market definition of onboarding–to get new hires to their desks as soon as possible–isn’t the right one.

“The process of getting new employees to be productive, contributing members of the organization needs to happen over time,” he says. “We often see dramatic turnover rates for first-year employees, but you can impact that by acculturating them during their first year.”

By “acculturating,” Gretczko means helping them understand the often-unspoken rules that govern how an organization actually works: Who to go to for information, for example, or getting a deeper understanding of the business strategy beyond what you see on the company’s website.

But wouldn’t onboarding that lasts as long as a year be expensive and time consuming? On the surface, perhaps, says Gretczko. However, by embedding what they’ve learned about their culture into the onboarding process in order to minimize employee churn and connect the dots between HR and their needs, organizations will most likely see a significant return-on-investment over time, he says.

“When you think of all the money and time you’re spending on recruiting new employees, only to have at least 24 percent of them leave within their first 30 days, that should tell you that your onboarding program needs work,” says O’Connor.

Companies also need to spend more time on “transboarding,” or helping internal transfers adjust to their new roles, she says.

“Different parts of a company may have their own culture and guidelines–things may work differently from the area where the employee transferred from,” says O’Connor. “You don’t want people to feel brand new and lost at the company they’ve been working at for five years.”

However, HR should be wary of overburdened managers pushing back against a more-comprehensive onboarding program, she says.

“You could be asking already-busy people to take on yet another thing,” she says. “That’s why it’s important to delegate onboarding activities to a cross-functional team to relieve the burden on managers. It could be people working in the same department as the new hire or people working on the same projects. It’s getting them familiar with the ecosystem of people they’ll be working with and will impact the new employees’ success from day one.”

Andrew R. McIlvaine
Andrew R. McIlvaine is former senior editor with Human Resource Executive®.