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Onboarding: Creating the lasting first impression

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Onboarding: Creating the lasting first impression 

In any setting, personal or professional, first impressions have always been important for setting the tone. It takes a matter of seconds to form an opinion of someone upon first meeting, and in a workplace it is no different. When an employee joins a business, it is not only the initial impressions of their new colleagues, but all the other facets that holistically describe the onboarding process which will, more often than not, decide the fate of longevity and productivity. Employees with a positive onboarding experience are 18 times more committed to their employer. The onboarding process undoubtedly has a huge impact on new joiners and is a crucial stage of the employee lifecycle for companies and People functions to get right. With this, it is remarkable that just 12% of employees believe their organisations have a good onboarding process.

In light of this, our last roundtable of the year was centred around onboarding, challenging attendees to come with initiatives and solutions. Whilst many attendees admitted the onboarding processes was a perpetual task of correcting imperfections, there was a stance of defiance around employee feedback for onboarding. ‘Feedback’, as a generic term, incites negative opinions or constructive criticism, rather than positive response. Therefore, data and insights that aim to quantify the success or failure of onboarding must be taken with some caution. Nevertheless, everyone around the table realised the benefits to an impressive onboarding process and the challenges they continue to face.

Conversations initially focused on where the ownership of the onboarding process should sit after a number of global clients have recently shifted the responsibilities away from central HR and instead to Learning and Development functions. However, there was a cohesive understanding that the generalist HR function should have oversight over the onboarding process as they remain the figurehead for any employee or employer related questions throughout the process. Nevertheless, the intricacies of this debate soon showed. There was an onus placed on the recruitment team to set the tone of the process to demonstrate commitment, transparency and structure. Particularly in candidate markets as we had in 2022, candidates were far more likely to accept counter offers or continue other interview processes if they weren’t fully sold on the role offered during the interview process. One professional took it one step further and placed emphasis on the job description as a focal point for the onboarding-related and recruitment actions. Indeed, a job description should provide a clear and measurable list of experiences and qualifications required for the role alongside soft skills whereby the measurables have been pre-determined with the line managers to limit unconscious bias and again improved transparency within the process.

There was a neat transition here from the impact of wider People functions on onboarding to more widely the importance of effective communication between teams in creating a seamless process.

Within this, a common frustration was around the lack of engagement or commitment from line managers around their onboarding duties. HR can create templates, build schedules using tools such as Notion to block times and activities for managers to complete, despite this, ensuring managers take the right approach is not guaranteed. A couple of HR Managers in attendance highlighted some useful principle and behavioural profiling tools to complete as employees and managers during the interview process to more effectively align the working styles and management approaches. Julie Harrison’s disc profiling, or Principles YOU were highlighted as useful tools that can be implemented in the hope that matching working styles will ensure the onboarding structure will reflect this, and also take their personal motivators into account. For example, some may be motivated hugely by progression and money so setting a very clear and transparent path and expectations they need to meet from the outset is very important. Whilst for others, it may be that the 30, 60, 90 day touch points focus more on providing recognition. Of course, it must be mitigated here that if motivators and values are vastly different to the company it may be a reflection on the recruitment process and the unsuitability of the new joiner, not the onboarding process. Nevertheless, the setting of clear boundaries, both company wide and personalised, were agreed to be extremely important for future development and satisfaction. Manager mapping, setting separate and equally-respected managerial and individual contributor pathways helps mitigate poor management in future and sets a visible option for development from an employees first day, and can be used as an indicator in touch points moving forward. Charlie HR’s blog on the stages of development for individual contributors was lauded as a brilliant insight on this aspect.

There was also attention placed on the merits of set induction days. Of course, for larger or rapidly growing firms the need for set induction days is obvious – to ensure there is not a burn out from teams with continual onboarding duties, provides consistency of the process, and gives new joiners the opportunity to be ‘in it together’. However, this limits the possibility for bespoke onboarding processes to mirror how individuals or teams work best, and also can mean candidates are out of work for a number of days or even weeks whilst they wait for the set induction day.

Conversations naturally led to further solutions and thoughts around onboarding. A ‘one pager’ or FAQs page which details not only the best points of contact but also includes details such as what should I wear on the first day, what should I bring on the first day, good lunch spots around the office etc. This puts a genuine people-first perspective on the onboarding process and helps alleviate some of the typical pressures people can feel prior to joining a new firm. Often, it is these small actions that employees remember most!

Interestingly, when questions were posed around the personal experience of onboarding processes for HR professionals, there seemed to be a sympathetic tone, whereby they recognise the effort which goes into onboarding and treat them as uncodified templates designed to grow and adapt. The onboarding process then, is seen more as an indicator of the current People function’s capabilities and infrastructures when it is HR employees on that journey, and is perhaps less of a measure of future longevity.

This roundtable provided some of the most interesting insights yet into not only the challenges People functions face, but also how they view the merits and impacts of their roles. Onboarding will always be an unfinished process however the success remains to be centred around individuality, the commitment of line managers and the coordination between all teams involved.

As ever, a huge thank you to all those who attended and came with honesty and solutions! Our next roundtable will be on Menopause in the workplace, and how HR can ensure the fastest growing demographic in work can be supported. Reach out to if you would like to join us!