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Dear Workforce Who Has a Good Blueprint for Creating an Onboarding Program?

September 7, 2011

Dear In the Dark:

It is great to see an organization that takes onboarding seriously. After all, you get only one chance to make a good first impression.

Onboarding is a critical—but often overlooked—aspect of talent management. As you suggest, good onboarding can drive employee retention. It also improves employee satisfaction and engagement, productivity and performance.

For best practices, you may want to refer to Getting On Board: A Model for Integrating and Engaging New Employees, produced by the Partnership for Public Service. The report outlines a strategic onboarding model, based on best practices from both the private and public sectors.

Good onboarding actually begins when the new employees accepts a job offer—even before the person reports for a first day of work—and extends to the end of the new employee's first year. The Getting On Board model outlines five specific onboarding phases (before the new employee reports, the first day, the first week, the first three months and the first year) and lays out specific steps for each phase.

Although this report was written with the public sector in mind, it applies to all organizations. It outlines four fundamental principles that help ensure onboarding is: comprehensive and integrated, reflects the organization's needs and, most importantly, drives positive outcomes.

1. Align to mission and vision. Onboarding should highlight to new employees how their jobs contribute to the organization's mission.

2. Connect to culture, mission and strategic priorities. Onboarding must paint a realistic picture of culture, enabling new employees to understand the organization they've joined. And onboarding goals should be built around organizational priorities. If a goal is to reduce turnover, for example, the onboarding program should reflect this in a measurable way.

3. Integrate activities. While human resources is traditionally the main onboarding process owner, other key players include security, information technology, facilities, managers/supervisors—and the new employees themselves. All must be accountable for meeting shared onboarding goals.

4. Apply to all employees, regardless of location and level, and also tailor to specific types of employees. New hires entering the world of work for the first time have different needs than experienced professionals who are switching jobs.

"Best practices" organizations also focus on the role of the manager/supervisor in onboarding. All managers should:

• Welcome new employees and meet with them as early as possible.

• Cleary communicate job responsibilities.

• Explain and set cultural expectations (for example, decisions that can be made without manager approval, communication styles).

• Develop individual performance plans with performance expectations.

• Assign meaningful work as soon as possible.

• Discuss career development.

• Monitor performance and provide frequent formal and informal feedback throughout the employee's first year.

Leading organizations also assign new employees a sponsor (or "buddy"), a peer who can help the new employee understand the organizational culture. The buddy can help the new hire:

• Understand the written and unwritten elements of the culture.

• Learn how to navigate the organization.

• Meet colleagues.

• Get answers to key questions.

While the model in Getting On Board provides an overall framework, individual onboarding programs must be adapted. Specific recommendations:

1. Know where you want to be—define onboarding goals and attributes. Strategic onboarding programs help integrate new employees into their jobs and the organizational culture. Beyond these broad goals, onboarding should map directly to specific organizational goals: reducing turnover, changing culture and improving employee engagement, for example.

2. Know where you are—baseline your current onboarding program. Before making changes, it is important to understand and document current practices and responsibilities. In other words, assess your current approach, scope and effectiveness).

3. Seek quick wins. For many organizations, small improvements pay big dividends. Activities that can be implemented quickly and inexpensively include:

• Sending out welcome emails to new employees after they accept job offers.

• Assigning a sponsor to help new employees before they start and during their first days and weeks.

• Developing new-employee checklists—both for new employees and managers/supervisors—and posting them electronically (Getting On Board includes an onboarding checklist).

• Ensuring orientation programs contain information about organizational history, mission and core values.

Involving senior leadership in orientation and subsequent onboarding activities.

4. Tailor onboarding to type of employee. Organizations that have the onboarding basics down can move on to tailor onboarding to specific new employee groups (e.g., executives, midlevel managers, more junior employees and transfers).

As our organizations face increasingly complex challenges, employees need to be fully productive and en¬gaged as quickly as possible. Stra¬tegic onboarding provides a framework to integrate new employees to maximize their productivity, engagement and retention.

SOURCE: Bob Lavigna, director of human resources, University of Wisconsin at Madison

LEARN MORE: Assigning new employees to a "caring manager" plays a key role in onboarding.

Workforce Management Online, April 2011 -- Register Now!

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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