Onboarding: Hit the ground running

The first few months in a new job are critical in determining an employee's long-term success with an organisation. Effective employee onboarding can provide the necessary knowledge and support for staff to meet the demands of their new roles

Imagine arriving at your new workplace, being shown to a desk and then being left to your own devices to figure out what your job description and work environment should be like. Such a scenario is not uncommon but often results in the new employee starting off on the wrong foot. The person ends up gaining primary knowledge of the organisation through co-workers only, and might not form a clear idea of what is expected from the company itself, particularly in terms of job goals and performance targets.

A 2008 study, commissioned by Cognisco, found that UK and US employees who do not fully understand their jobs can cost businesses up to US$37 billion a year. The study weighed the costs of actions taken by employees who have misunderstood or misinterpreted company policies, business processes, job functions of a combination of the three.


How onboarding helps

A well-thought out employee onboarding programme can go a long way in ensuring that new staff member hits the ground running. William Chin, Director, Staffing, Asia-Pacific, Qualcomm, says the “runway” (time needed) for getting a new employee integrated into the job is getting shorter. But it’s wise to invest some time early in order to ensure that the process is full and effective, as the faster an employee gets acquainted to a new role, the more productive he or she will be.

“A well-designed and implemented programme can help new hires build an internal network of colleagues to get the job done,” Chin says. “The new employee is (then) aligned to the corporate direction and business objective.”

An effective onboarding programme also makes good business sense from a financial perspective. If a new employee is not well adjusted to his work environment, there is a greater likelihood that he might leave for greener pastures. According to Chin, a resignation can effectively double the original recruitment costs, as the company goes back to the labour market to rehire someone for the vacant position. The interim period also results in a loss of productivity and additional training time is needed for the replacement hire.

Successful onboarding also makes the transition period a lot smoother for the new recruit’s co-workers. The incoming employee arrives ready to work with the skills and knowledge required to get the job done, reducing lag time.


The right execution

What constitutes an onboarding programme? At the most basic level, it involves sorting out the paperwork involved in hiring a new employee. Some organisations let their HR departments handle this, while others turn to specialist service providers.

Brunel International, which recruits for the energy industries, looks into medical requirements, the processing of work passes, travel and accommodation requirements as well as the administration of the work contract. New recruits are given a starter pack containing information about living in Singapore. They also undergo a short orientation session where they learn things like how to open a bank account or submit their timesheets.

However, at many organisations, onboarding is evolving to become more than just these basic but important administrative processes. These employers view it as a ripe opportunity to educate the new recruit on the company culture and way of work. It is never too early to get a new employee acquainted with these aspects of the organisation, Chin says. Indeed, he says an onboarding programme should ideally kick off right after the employee accepts the job offer, even before the start date. “By the time the new employee starts on day one, they will know the company vision and product roadmap,” he suggests.

Onboarding should also not be a purely HR initiative. Instead, it is often best to work together with line managers to identify common pain points as well as areas where new hires need to get up to speed fastest. “Onboarding programmes will be more effective if line managers take responsibility,” Chin says.


Going further

In many organisations, onboarding stops after a series of orientation activities during the first week of work. However, experts say an onboarding initiative should last at least six months to be truly effective.

Take the welcoming efforts of Procter & Gamble for example. Its Singapore onboarding programme takes place over a full year. Amrita Singh, Talent Supply Manager, Procter & Gamble says the company hires people at the entry-level and only promotes people from within, making onboarding a critical step in the success of each individual. “Twelve months is a good period of time for a person to become fully equipped to do his job,” she says.

The programme is spread out over four phases. The first phase kicks off two to three months before an employee officially starts work. During this period the recruit is given reading material about Procter & Gamble, useful weblinks and logisitical help. The employee is also connected with a line manager who can help answer any queries.

The second phase lasts just one week at the beginning of the recruit’s employment. During this period, the employee picks up basic functional skills and gains a better understanding of their role and what is expected. They then move on to the third “Connect” phase, where more in-depth business knowledge and skills are shared. In the last phase of the programme, called “Empower”, the employee is equipped with all the capabilities to succeed and is also encouraged to develop a stronger sense of belonging within the organisation.

Training during the full 12 months is a mix of web-based learning, on-the-job training and classroom sessions, Singh says. Depending on their job functions, some employees are also sent out to the foreign markets that they are slated to manage to get a sense of how things are on the ground. They meet up with consumers and conduct research to gain a better understanding of the product lines involved.


Tips for successful onboarding

The first few months of an employee’s time on the job can map out many more years of success within the organisation. Here’s how to get that orientation progamme right

»        Find out what are the “pain” points experienced by line managers when introducing a new employee into a team and come up with effective solutions

»        Break training up into phases and keep it ongoing through the duration of the programme

»        Pair up the new employee with a buddy or mentor who can help show the ropes

»        Embrace technology. Offer key information about the company structure and policies through an online website or a multimedia video that employees can view in their own time

»        Sell your employer brand right from the beginning so new employees have a clear understanding of what they now represent

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Sandeep Aggarwal, Chief Financial Officer of Aon-Hewitt Asia-Pacific, shares his thoughts on the Workday finance and HR analytics platform. He says the cloud-based system is intuitive and easy-to-use, but still provides powerful insights across the functions.

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