Courtship Shouldn’t End at “Hired”: Driving Engagement & Improving Retention Through Onboarding


In this video, Kyle Lagunas, Talent Acquisition Analyst at Brandon Hall Group, discusses ways in which talent management professionals can boost employee engagement to improve performance and retention.

Watch this on-demand webinar now to learn:

  • Innovative ways to acquire, develop, and manage talent amid increasing competition and a widening skills gap
  • Effective new hire onboarding to prevent turnover and disengaged employees
  • Ways in which to bridge the gap between the candidate experience and the employee life cycle
  • How high-performing organizations are adapting their existing onboarding process to address today’s business challenges

Webinar Transcript:

Welcome, everyone, to today’s presentation, Courtship Shouldn’t End at Hired: Driving Engagement and Improving Retention Through New Hire Onboarding.

The acquisition and development of talent is a top priority for business executives today. As business priorities have changed in recent years, so has the scope and function of talent management. Although regulatory compliance and policy administration remain important, high-performing organizations are more concerned with something else entirely, and that’s employee engagement. As evidence is piling up that engaged employees perform better and stay longer than their disengaged colleagues, it’s becoming increasingly clear that traditional approaches to talent management are doing little to drive engagement. More innovative practices are in high demand, and many components of talent management have undergone a renaissance in recent years.

I’ll be hosting today’s session. As Scott said, my name is Kyle Lagunas. I am the Talent Acquisition Analyst at Brandon Hall Group. Throughout today’s presentation, I encourage you to check in with me on the Twitter stream by hash tagging TalentInsights and tagging my handle @KyleLagunas. I’m really excited to join you guys for some dialogue around one of the topics that’s nearest and dearest to my heart, which is new hire onboarding.

Disengaged employees are costing organizations billions annually. Competition for talent is at an all-time high. The skills gap is widening by the day. Today’s leading companies are combating these trends through rapid and aggressive changes in the way that they’re acquiring, developing, and managing talent. By creating work environments powered by collaboration, structuring development plans that foster innovation, and rewarding employees for discretionary efforts, they’re evolving the scope of people process far beyond the traditional human resources function.

There’s one area of talent management that has until recently been overlooked by pretty much everyone, and that is new hire onboarding. As you can see here, the state of new hire onboarding is not so good. What we’re looking at on this screen is a breakdown of responses from Brandon Hall Group’s State of Talent Acquisition Report. And in this survey that I ran, this benchmarking survey, I ran, I asked organizations to talk to me about the effectiveness level of their new hire onboarding process. On the left is a breakdown of responses from those organizations that’s self-identified as less than effective hiring organizations.

As you can see, 65% of these organizations rated their onboarding as less than effective compared to those who are on the far right, these highly effective organizations where 63% rated their new hire onboarding as highly effective. The correlation is no coincidence. In the healthiest economies weak points in people process can be a source of frustration, a tolerable annoyance and source of those Dilbert style anecdotes. But, in today’s volatile global economy where employee engagement is a major distinguishing factor between high performing organizations and those mediocre companies, it’s more important than ever that employees are aligned with business goals and company values.

For many organizations where administrative onboarding persists, high turnover and low engagement scores play a role in suboptimal business performance. For others, however, onboarding has become a top priority and is playing a critical role in driving organizational performance. For others, onboarding is pretty much just a talent acquisition afterthought. The main focus for these organizations is completion of compliance tasks and administrative workflows. New hire onboarding in these organizations does nothing to boost engagement, does nothing to foster collaboration or actually drive new employees’ performance, and has little to do with the day to day of a new employee’s actual job.

Many high performing organizations, on the other hand, have found onboarding to be vastly underutilized and long overdue for an overhaul. The reasons are many and vary from one organization to the other, but they often come down to two things. First, increases in new hire turnover have led talent management leaders to reevaluate what’s driving retention. What causes new hires to leave the organization prematurely? How can we successfully combat this growing problem? Many organizations have found that while lackluster onboarding may not be the direct cause of new hire turnover, getting new hires quickly connected to the organization, to their role, to their colleagues, and to the company culture is essential to improving retention.

The other major trend here is decreases in average employee tenure in general from entry level to C level have made time proficiency metrics a top priority. Today’s business leaders know that the sooner new employees are contributing to the bottom line the greater their overall contribution in the long run. As such, many companies are taking measures to ensure new hires have the knowledge and resources necessary to quickly reach a point of proficiency.

At the point at which new hires are introduced to company policy and procedure, resources and performance expectations as well as workplace culture, onboarding presents a unique opportunity to set the stage for the rest of the employee’s life cycle. Yet, very few organizations consider their onboarding programs to be all that effective. What’s interesting here is that for years business leaders and their partners in human capital management have known that, generally speaking, employee engagement is important to business performance. With competition for top talent higher than ever, employee engagement is more important than ever.

But, for all that, it’s rare to find a company that’s doing more than surveying employees and chasing resulting engagement scores year over year and then patting themselves on the back for a half a percentage gain. As evidence is piling up that engaged employees perform better and stay longer than their disengaged colleagues, it’s become increasingly clear that traditional approaches to talent management and new hire onboarding in particular do little to drive engagement. More innovative practices are in high demand, and many components of talent management have undergone a renaissance in recent years.

Most importantly, people are coming to understand that engagement isn’t a single project or initiative. Rather, it’s a moving target that carries over from candidate experience through new hire onboarding and on to the rest of the employee life cycle. As a result, one is never done working on engagement. It’s a continuous process. It’s something that requires ongoing effort.

In the healthiest economies, again, weak points in the people process can be a source of frustration, but today things are much more volatile. In today’s global economy where employee engagement is a major distinguishing factor between high performing and mediocre organizations, it’s more important than ever that we get employees aligned with business goals and company values from day one. Those organizations that are investing the time and resources to improve the quality and scope of their onboarding process, that 27% overall that rates their onboarding process as more than moderately effective, these organizations are consistently outperforming the rest.

We’re not just talking about talent management or talent acquisition KPIs. We’re talking about major business goals. As you can see here, I’ve shared some key findings from that same benchmark survey that we conducted last year at Brandon Hall Group. I found these pieces of information based on those organizations who rated their onboarding as more than moderately effective. Of those numbers, 78% saw increases in revenue in the last fiscal year. One in three saw increases of more than 10% in revenue. Additionally, 64% saw positive gains in the majority of their organizational KPIs, whatever those may be, and 54% saw significant gains in employee engagement including employee turnover, absenteeism, productivity, and employee satisfaction. These numbers are very hard to argue against.

You see, only a select few organizations realize that onboarding sits at this critical junction in human capital management. It’s bridging the gap between the candidate experience and the employee life cycle and has a huge impact on engagement. Transitioning from candidate to new hire to employee can be strenuous, as I’m sure any one of you has experienced. With an effective onboarding process in place, it’s much easier to get new hires connected to their new jobs, their new colleagues, and the company’s goals and vision.

Many high performing organizations are adapting their existing onboarding process to address today’s business challenges. While each has taken a unique approach, my research has found that there are common threads tying all of them together. Based on an examination of these stories as well as my own research and industry perspective from Brandon Hall Group, we’ve built a new model for excellence in onboarding that identifies five essential elements therein. These five elements are momentum, collaboration, enablement, assimilation, as well as connection. We’re going to be digging into each of these in today’s presentation.

First up is momentum. Momentum isn’t a word you often hear in the realm of people process, but in high performing organizations where engagement scores are high for new hires momentum is a major component of onboarding success. Preboarding, if you didn’t know, is where new hire forms and paperwork are completed, work stations are ready before employee’s first day. Preboarding is a standard practice in high performing organizations. New hires’ first days are well organized and orchestrated, and they’re often spent learning about the company and the workplace.

Of course, delivering a high quality experience consistently across a global operation poses significant challenges. That’s why having the right technology in place to support some of that administrative heavy lifting is so critical. For example, at DeVry Group they’re regularly onboarding upwards of 120 new employees every month in various institutions around the world, including Chamberlain College of Nursing and Ross University School of Medicine.

In order to ensure that every employee is effectively onboarded and in a timely manner, they partnered with colleagues in talent management to overhaul their existing program. The new program which, by the way, is built on cfactor Works’ Vibe Onboarding solution, automates much of the administrative work that’s typically associated with onboarding. Following preboarding, new colleagues take part in a highly immersive virtual reality type environment called Virtual Day One. Here they’re introduced to the DeVry Group culture and values as well as company objectives and resources and their colleagues. In addition, they can chat live with the moderator for any sort of onboarding sessions and their colleagues as they work their way through a timed multi-venue experience. Altogether, this is creating a positive experience for new employees and keeping them exciting about the next chapter in their lives and motivated to contribute to the success of the organization.

That there captures the importance of momentum. All of the momentum that’s built up in the talent acquisition process where a candidate is interacting with their hiring manager and with decision makers in the organization from VP to chief executive, suddenly going from that to accepting their offer letter and building all of this excitement up in today’s administrative onboarding process, that momentum is completely lost. Candidates come to a complete halt after they’ve said yes I’m onboard and then they show up on their first day. They’re handed a binder that goes through company policies and procedures. They sign their name saying they’ve acknowledged that they’ve received these policies. Then, they drop the binder in the bottom of their new desk, assuming that their new desk is actually ready for them. As you can see, momentum is driving some real value in high performance onboarding today.

The next essential element that we identified in our high performance onboarding model is collaboration. Collaboration is increasingly important in integrated talent management process. Whereas administrative onboarding only involves other departments and business units as needed – leaving the bulk of the action items on HR’s to do list, many high performing organizations are trying more collaborative methods. The goal is to show new hires how your company works, how it makes money, and how the different parts all fit together.

Cross instruction often in groups is a widely popular method of fostering collaboration in onboarding. Many invite individual department heads or high performers in each department to give a presentation of their role and their expertise. They also give an overview of the products and services that they oversee. Not only does this approach to onboarding deepen new hires’ understanding of the disparate parts of the organization and their role in everything, but it also builds a sense of camaraderie from their first day.

Online collaboration methods provide opportunities to support new hire in person collaboration activities. By deploying role program or tenure-based online communities, it’s supporting a new hire’s ability to collaborate with peers while creating connections outside their immediate work location. Online collaboration methods vary widely, of course, ranging from social media like interest specific blogs and forums, wikis, peer-to-peer document sharing, to instant real time consultations like instant message and team message portals and role-based chat rooms. Indeed, whenever you show new employees and remind current employees how they matter in driving the organization’s goals and objectives, you tap into a deep well of product passion and [inaudible 00:14:56]. This fosters that culture of collaboration that can improve an organization’s ability to operate at maximum capacity.

The next essential element is enablement. It’s hard to get excited about an endeavor that no one virtually knows anything about, but more so employees need to know explicitly how their jobs make the mission and vision possible. Unlike a lot of the regulatory instruction that persists in traditional new hire training, enablement focuses on providing new hires with the knowledge they need to get started and connecting them with resources they need to be effective in the long term. The idea here is to empower learners by providing them with access to information and resources that are necessary to ongoing success.

To drive engagement and knowledge retention, Travelport deployed a gamification-like approach to their onboarding portal. Given their roots in the travel industry, Travelport devised a clever strategy of leveraging a passport concept. The new hires virtually collect stamps for their online passport as they interact with the varied information and activities on their new hire onboarding portal. They can view an interactive map that shows the progress of their onboarding journey demonstrated by the various stamps that they’ve received.

Travelport, which is a leading travel commerce platform [inaudible 00:16:28] Its new hire onboarding here was a challenge, specifically around consistency. Travelport operates in 70 different countries. The company employs many remote workers. As a result, there was a gap between the new hire experience in the corporate headquarters and new hire onboarding in regional locations. Now, having rolled out their new talent management system, new hires are now given access to the onboarding solutions specifically tailored around the Travelport culture and environment.

By taking their onboarding online, they are able to centralize all of the information that new hires need to be successful in their new roles and giving them access to that information on demand from any location. The portal features seven different categories of learning from about Travelport, which includes the company’s history, strategy, and vision, all the way to your career, which introduces new hires to learning and development and the performance management process. The concept here around enablement isn’t just instruction but actually empowering new hires to be successful in a long term career within the organization by providing them the tools and technology they need to navigate their new career.

The next essential element from our model is assimilation. When it comes to company culture and work environment, of course every organization is different. Though all your new hires may have aced their training, they’re going to struggle to contribute if they can’t navigate the operational and social nuances that exist in every workplace. Oftentimes, the only way new hires learn about these nuances is after they’ve done something wrong or not quite right. Failure to assimilate isn’t just frustrating for new hires. A poorly assimilated employee places stress on an entire team.

Our research shows that success in assimilation is highly dependent on the involvement of hiring managers. These key players in the onboarding process are the ones most likely to help or hinder a new employee’s success. While weekly check ins and monthly one on ones are an important part of any manager-employee relationship in terms of operations and job performance, these one on ones related to onboarding serve an entirely different purpose: to aid the employee’s assimilation into the work team, the department, and the organization as a whole. By dedicating time outside the daily operation to answer questions small and large and discuss topics that weren’t addressed in orientation as well as providing guidance, like how to become an integral part of the organization, hiring managers can ensure new employees are more deeply and more effectively assimilated.

Zions Bank Corporation, one of the premiere financial services companies in the US, operates approximately 500 banking offices in 10 western states under local management teams and community identities. As you can imagine, at Zions it is key for employees to feel connected to not only the company as a whole but also to the specific location where they work. Through role based workflows in their onboarding process, Zions has the ability to automate not only the collection of key employee data but also connect them to direct resources and policy acknowledgments at a corporate level and to branches and divisions and locations. Employees are also presented with branding that is reflective of the bank that they work at. This is all occurring on a single platform that enables that deeper assimilation but also connecting them, again, to those resources they need in order to navigate their new workplace.

The fifth and final essential element of high performance onboarding is connection. Establishing meaningful connections with the people your new employees are working with serves two purposes. First, it reinforces a sense of belonging and gives them access to subject matter experts who can guide them through the first months of their tenure. Employees who are connected to the greater organization, its culture, its purpose, its goals, they’re far more engaged than those who are not.

All told, I would say that connection is arguably the most important piece of our model, as it has the single largest impact on employee tenure. Employees who have a strong connection to the organization and good relationships with their colleagues are vastly more likely to stay beyond their first year.

At California Pizza Kitchen, where new hire turnover is certainly a challenge, getting employees connected to the company is critical. For this reason, every new employee participates in a Be Our Guest day. I love this. New employees sit down together for a meal at their restaurant, and they’re encouraged to order several things as an introduction to the food. Specifically, they’re encouraged to be adventurous, to try new things. If more than one new employee starts on the same day, they order family style and share a meal together. For your first 90 days, new hires can’t order the same thing twice.

From an operational perspective, this makes sense. Successful servers and food service employees need to know the menu back to front. They need to love the food and talk to guests about it from a personal experience. More than that, it turns an aspect of learning into a meaningful experience while giving employees the opportunity to build relationships with their new teammates.

In person onboarding activities at California Pizza Kitchen are also augmented by giving new hires access to a robust and highly adopted online employee community called Calibrate. Calibrate serves as an engagement hub that connects California Pizza Kitchen employees across their many diverse locations. To drive engagement and knowledge retention, a wide range of interactive video and informational resources are provided. At the same time, to promote the unique CPK culture and foster connections between employees and the organization, Calibrate delivers a host of engaging content and programs.

Although there is no skeleton key that will magically unlock the mysteries of employee engagement, it’s clear that new hire onboarding plays a serious role in driving desired talent outcomes. By effectively leveraging drivers of engagement in onboarding, companies big and small can foster engagement from the beginning of the talent acquisition process on through the rest of the employee life cycle.

For new hires, having technology that supports connection, enablement, and collaboration can go a long way in fostering lasting engagement well beyond the first 90 days. However, when onboarding is limited to those administrative to dos and a walk through the office, engagement is going to be a problem regardless of the fancy tools and technology that you’ve invested in. That’s why it’s critical to understand exactly what you hope to accomplish before you invest in a new system and before you begin to attempt some sort of all-encompassing overhaul of your new hire onboarding process.

Of course, today’s presentation is rather short. I could probably talk about new hire onboarding 24/7 and still have more to discuss. As such, I encourage anyone who’s participating in today’s presentation to join me on the social web or connect with me on LinkedIn or through Twitter in order to drive the conversation further. My contact information is here. Again, I invite you to reach out to me with any questions or even just to talk shop. Again, I want to thank Scott and the team at HireVue for having me on today’s presentation and bid you all a farewell.