The journey of talent retention starts from day 0

Sam Neo, HR Business Partner, Changi Airport Group, shares why the employee onboarding process should start as early as the negotiation stage.

About the author

Sam Neo

Sam Neo, HR Business Partner, Changi Airport Group

Based in Singapore, Neo is currently serving at Changi Airport Group’s People Team as a Business Partner and Scholarship Engagement Officer.

Sam is an HR professional with over five years of accelerated HR experience in market leading companies such as Keppel Corporation and Changi Airport Group.

His passion for HR has seen him take on a diverse range of roles in the areas of Talent Management, Business Partnership, Talent Acquisition, Corporate Social Responsibility and Staff Engagement among others.

Your appointed recruiter spends months tracking down the best candidate through LinkedIn, recruitment agencies and other hiring channels. You and your line manager take weeks to review the shortlisted candidates and thereafter, arrange to interview them.

After endless rounds of interview, you finally nail down the perfect candidate that portrays the best combination of competency and organisational fit. Now, you put together the perfect pitch and salary proposal to lure the star candidate over to your side. Finally, he agrees to sign on the dotted line and you got yourself the talent you need.

But little did you know, that’s only the beginning!

Very often, companies complain about losing talent even though they seem to have the best remuneration package, the strongest employer branding and more. Salaries and managers at work are often perceived as the usual suspects, but is the loss of a good employee only due to those factors?

It could be a combination of reasons, but the most important thing is if you start engaging the talent on the wrong note, your chances of retaining them is probably close to zero. Therefore, the importance of an onboarding programme should never be underestimated. In fact, the onboarding process starts even before the new hire steps foot into the company on the first day. You should start impressing right from Day 0!

That said, what are some things to consider when building a good onboarding programme? You would probably have read that such programmes require the common standard procedures, including: explaining the organisation chart, briefing on company policies, assigning a buddy and introducing them to the management team.

These are important components to take note of, but what else can be done to build on these foundation items? What can HR and employers do as soon as the candidate decides to join the company?

Prior to day one for the new hire, there are many things that could be worked on to create a positive experience to keep them eager. You will be surprised by how the pre-commencement preparations and engagement efforts matter. When done well, it can be at least as important as how you engage the employee after he joins the team.

There are several touch points that I wish to share that might seem to be run-of-the-mill processes. These areas are often overlooked, yet, can be very powerful tools to enhance your company’s image in the new hire’s mind even before they join your company.

Signing the letter of appointment

You can either take it as another contract signing session or make the best out of it to keep your “sales pitch” going. After all, the candidate can still choose not to pen his signature on the dotted line if he smells something fishy.

Not only should you go through the contractual terms clearly, it is also important to pre-empt what type of questions the new hire might ask and be thoroughly prepared for them. Tailor your approach according to the type of candidate you are meeting rather than read off a script.

You also want to be as transparent as possible to ensure there are no false expectations created as that can result in a quick downward spiral when they join the company. Ask yourself, how would you feel if important information was intentionally left out only to be discovered after joining? Will that keep you focused on delivering good results or does it leave a bad after taste that affects your commitment in the long run?

Regular and relevant team updates

New hires typically take one to three months before they join the company depending on their notice periods or personal plans. During this time, many things can take place within the team depending on how dynamic things are. You want to keep him abreast of the relevant updates to create an impression that he is already on board.

However, do strike a balance between spamming the person with too much information and not doing it at all. It might seem like a non-essential for most teams but imagine this, wouldn’t you get up to speed faster if you already know what is happening within the company before you join? Mentally, does such information become a constant reminder that can help psyche the hire up about their new role?

Preparing for the grand introduction

Getting inputs from the new hire to prepare for an introduction is one good way to engage them before they come on board. If possible, focus on some basic personal questions that can help others know them better since the work-related experiences could be easily extracted from the individual’s resume. That said, it’s important to not make the person feel uncomfortable because we all have our own comfort zone when it comes to sharing, especially for the more introverted ones.

Simple topics such as hobbies could be a good starting point. Ask yourself, wouldn’t the feeling of a “grand arrival” make you feel special and not think that you are “just another new hire”? After all, you would want the team to have a preview of who to expect, allow them to know the individual better and understand areas of commonality to help them embrace the new person into the team’s culture as seamlessly as possible.

The final preparation note before day one

After putting in so much effort to ensure the series of positive engagements before the official first day, the last thing you want is to lose steam after a strong start.

Consider getting in touch with the new hire one to three days before their first day. Send a simple reminder on things to bring or a short note to reinforce how your team is looking forward to their joining. It will also be great if the onboarding programme for the first day is included to reduce the level of anxiety while creating some anticipation. After all, don’t we all feel a little uncertain about things that we are unfamiliar with? Wouldn’t it be nice to reduce a little of the question marks and increase the positive things that we can look forward to?

The onboarding journey continues and in the next issue, I’ll be sharing more on how to create an awesome onboarding experience for the new hire on Day One. Till then!


Sam Neo is the host of HRM Asia's Millennial Insights forum, and regularly contributes articles on the ways Generation Y is impacting the workforce, and HR, in Asia-Pacific.

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