The psychology of onboarding: Part 2
A previous article on ‘The Psychology of Onboarding, Part 1’ had the goal of understanding what is at stake for an employee starting in his new job. This second article suggests what you can do with this understanding, in order to make the best use of an organisation's resources when designing onboarding in practice.
In the first article, we identified three different dimensions of onboarding. We viewed the process of onboarding as a transition through which the organisation must support its new member to undergo three important psychological movements: the forming of the employee; the connection of the employee into the organization; and the unfolding of the person and the high performer potentially hiding inside the person. We drew a map of an undertaking that requires insight, and both an overview and a sense of the details.
Our first article considered the psychology of onboarding based on a premise that an organization actually has a structured process to execute its onboarding design in. That is not, however, always the case. So, before we look at how to design onboarding in organizational practice, let’s stop for a moment to consider the general readiness of organizations in relation to onboarding.
In the autumn of 2015, we carried out a survey in Onboarding Group to better understand how far Danish organizations have come with their onboarding efforts. We got answers from large as well as small businesses and across industries[i]. The study shows that 88 per cent of the participating organizations agreed to a high or very high degree that a structured approach to onboarding has a positive effect. On the other hand -- and in that light, it may seem paradoxical -- only 30 percent replied that they had such a structured approach to a high or very high degree.
On the positive side, many of the organizations already had to some extent a process in place to give their new employees the best possible start. However, the development of onboarding processes in most places was at a very early stage: Only 20 per cent of the organizations believed that they were good or very good at onboarding new employees. And only one in ten measured the impact of their onboarding efforts.
The overall conclusion is that these organizations, though they did focus some attention on onboarding, did not have sufficient structures or competencies in place to ensure its success. Only 3 percent had implemented a fully structured approach to onboarding. Very few, therefore, represented "best practice". No less than 79 percent had ‘little or no degree’ of the processes, structures, and competencies needed to ensure successful onboarding. Four percent had not started with structured work at all, while 75 percent had begun, but lacked concrete tools to support the work[ii].
It is important for every organization to create insight into where on the onboarding journey it is. It’s not necessary to be able to do it all at once, but it will be very helpful to come up with a plan to move towards best practice.
The Onboarding Model
So how do we lay this plan? How do we put it all together? How do we identify and prioritise the experiences we want to strengthen in our new employee? How do we design the specifics of our onboarding program? A good exercise is to start by creating a better understanding of what we are already doing. In the figure below, with which we ended the first article and which we call our onboarding model, we have gathered together the three onboarding tracks and their dimensions:
The six dimensions of the onboarding model can be used to map out where organizations have placed the emphasis in their onboarding programs, and conversely, where they could advantageously intensify their efforts.
We urge the reader to take a moment to complete this exercise: Write on a blank piece of paper all the activities that currently are included in your onboarding program, and place each in one of the six dimensions of the model (listed around the outside wheel). Some will be easy to place, others may be harder because they can represent more than one thing. However, try to place them in just one field. The pattern gives a first impression of how you have prioritized the experiences that you give your new employees. There is no right or wrong pattern. But you might realize there are areas that you prioritize very highly, and you probably see that there are areas with very little focus. The question is whether the current prioritization ensures a good enough experience for the new employee and whether the organisation's resources are being used optimally.
Designing an onboarding programme to be a good experience for the employee is, naturally, only part of the story. It must, of course, support the business objectives for this recruitment process and our ability to create commitment and retain people longer term. In order to find the best design, an organization needs to be clear what its ambitions are for the onboarding programme, in each of the model’s six dimensions.
These ambitions should always point in two directions:
- What emotional experiences do we want to strengthen in our new employees? What will help them best and quickest to experience the feeling of belonging with us?
- How should onboarding support the development of our organization? Where can onboarding be a channel for creating necessary and desired changes in how everyone works?
Onboarding can be a unique opportunity to "disrupt" the organization's status quo. We get a new member, who we can influence from the beginning, and if we are ready and sharp, we can, through the onboarding programme, create small changes in the behavior of our current employees. For example, onboarding can be an excellent way to bridge organizational silos by letting new employees solve tasks across functions before they grow into their own function.
Many organizations have had to learn that theory can be very far from practice in terms of executing a strategy. This applies, not surprisingly, also to an onboarding strategy. Let's pull the theory down to earth with an example from a public organization[iii]. It does a lot of on-the-job training as an onboarding method - and does it well. The concept is known and cultivated throughout the organization, both among managers and employees, and there are dedicated HR resources to handle the onboarding design. Nevertheless, the local onboarding manager did not find it difficult to give an example of a situation where things went wrong anyway. In that case, she had consulted the new employee’s line manager to make sure everything was ready. And received a clear affirmative answer. She believed with certainty that her design worked well in the organization. However, when she visited the department a week later, the new employee was just sitting passively at her desk. There was no one else present. As the onboarding manager caught up with the line manager, it turned out that they had simply forgot. The person who was originally set to keep track of the new colleague in the first days had been allocated to another task.
Workplaces are dynamic and busy places, and this example is not included to point fingers at those involved. But it shows in its simplicity the general challenge: that onboarding does not necessarily run according to plan. It does, however, take place in practice. And practice is dynamic and complex. Practice changes with the small fluctuations that occur in normal daily working life. We cannot change that, but we can be aware of it and use our resources based on this premise.
In the example above, the onboarding manager was well prepared to get things back on plan, but this is far from always the case. In some places, work colleagues are being given the role of trainer, who should never have had that task. Either because they do not know the organization well enough, are not good enough communicators, or are not familiar enough with the various rules, or some other reason. Likewise, some employees are being appointed to act as buddies, who have neither network, empathy nor communication abilities to carry out the role. Readiness for onboarding is all about ensuring that the necessary links in execution are working properly. The idea that the key people take onboarding seriously and prioritize it highly is more than just a design. Onboarding is a culture that must be cultivated and staged.
So, however well designed the onboarding programme is, it needs the organization, the managers and the new employee all to engage in it in order to be successful. They can all be considered as resources that are important parts of the process. In the figure above, we have illustrated four types of onboarding resources. We can imagine every resource as a kind of safety net that can catch the employee if the flight altitude drops. Here are some quick definitions of the four types of resources before, in the rest of this article, we unpack them further.
Onboarding resources are the level of activities and tools that we shoot into the organization in order to create the best possible onboarding programme for the new employee.
Personal resources are those that the new employee brings into their job: attitudes, personality traits, experiences, skills, existing networks and so on. Some employees are so resourceful, they need no support for their onboarding at all. They manage it themselves.
Leadership resources are the level of support available from both the line manager and the management structure generally. Even in organizations where there are few onboarding resources, a skilled leader with an understanding of onboarding can easily carry an employee through the process.
Organizational resources are needed so that both managers, employees and the onboarding design can be put into play at all. For example, if we have never explained strategy in our organizational culture, it will naturally be difficult for the manager to convey it further. Or if we have developed an advanced mentoring program, but our mentors have no idea what a mentor does or should focus on, it will probably also be a somewhat difficult process. Etc.
Finally, we will look at Onboarding in special situations. This section covers particular issues concerned with the onboarding of managers; onboarding in global organisations, virtual organisations and start-ups; and onboarding of interim employees.
Onboarding resources: What do we have – and what do we need
The first check of our onboarding program was to make sure that we prioritized the six dimensions in accordance with our ambitions. The second check that we should do is look at the types of activities we have put into the design.
The activity matrix here is a key tool in our onboarding design. Vertically, the matrix has six onboarding dimensions. Horizontally, the matrix is divided into five types of onboarding activities:
Welcome activities - basically dealing with meeting the new employee. They do not necessarily have actual content, and they can be physical meetings, written exchanges or even virtual meetings – for example, the ‘virtual handshake’ with new team colleagues, where everyone presents themselves to each other on video on an online platform.
Information activities involve giving the employee knowledge. The activities are designed so that the new employee must either be able to remember the new information or simply know where it exists and when it is relevant. Examples might be introductions to the organization's formal and informal network, or to the team's meeting structures and decision-making processes.
Learning activities - in which the new employee must acquire competence. This might include training in the use of certain tools, or in specific processes and procedures.
Support activities - where we are ready to support the new employee through the onboarding. Such activities might be designed to intervene or follow up where we know that the new employee can face challenges or more formal follow-ups on how the onboarding goes.
Output activities - are about the new employee having to deliver or perform something. The output can be in writing, verbal or through actual behavior. It can be a test result where we check the new employee. Or a task where we challenge the new employee to give us new solutions for problems.
We again encourage the reader to use the model to check the balance of your onboarding activities. Bear in mind that many organizations have a weighty load of information activities. Imparting information alone holds the risk that we do not sufficiently involve the employee and thus risk-reducing her motivation. In general, we recommend that you increase output activities as much as you can. They demand active attempts at new behavior by the employee, giving both us and her an opportunity to see how she understands and translates the things she has learned. However, one must be aware that the more you turn up the output requirements, the more you challenge the assumption that onboarding is actually a period where you still have to make mistakes and be "on the road".
Digital onboarding portals are a trend in onboarding. They are not in themselves activities, but unifying resource centres for the activities. Research has shown that a visual overview of the onboarding process helps the new employee[iv]. It gives her a perspective on how long the process is, and it gives her the opportunity to see the wider context that individual parts of the process fit into. Some systems are arranged with a "percentage indicator" that fills in more and more with each activity. This is in itself of small significance but can have the same emotionally motivating effects as achieving a "real" result.
Portals that act as the employee's primary door of access to everything in the onboarding period, with links and access to all the other processes, can also be helpful and experienced a bit like a Bible in the early days with the organization. Finally, we have also seen portals that are integrated process control tools. These follow the progression of the new employee and point out when there are activities to be completed. They also warn their immediate manager and colleagues about their responsibilities and timing.
Another trend we have witnessed is the use of games in onboarding activities. Gamification is a term used when people "play" either existing processes in the organization, or "play" learning and competence components that belong to the processes. For example, this might happen by giving points for completed activities or by translating knowledge search into the organization into a board game, quiz or the like. Gamification is proven to be a strong strategic tool for recruitment, engagement, performance and retention[v]. Organizations using gamification have, on average, a 20 percent better overall onboarding experience score than organizations without, and also have an average retention rate of 11 percent better. In Onboarding Group we’ve developed a game to reconcile the initial expectations of the manager, colleagues, and the new employee. Some organizations have used gamification more ambitiously, for example by setting up the entire workplace as an information treasure hunt, which can take a few days to get through.
Another trend is to put more emphasis on measuring the success of onboarding, and Onboarding Group has developed a method for doing this[vi]. It is becoming especially important within the HR function, where the requirement to demonstrate effectiveness increases all the time.
It is central to ensure that such measurements are used in a constructive manner – both generally in the organization as a whole, and specifically in the onboarding process. The power relationship between employee and manager is already unequal, and in the onboarding period, this is, even more, the case, at least until the new employee finds his or her own position and base. Measurements may risk increasing the imbalance in an unconstructive way, but on the other hand, they can also be designed in a way that encourages a co-operative dialogue between the new employee and her line manager or the onboarding manager.
We have developed our own measurement tool, which continuously collects data about the organization's onboarding results. It gives both line managers and the onboarding manager an overview of how both the individual onboarding programmes and the overall design are working. The local department can use the measurements to find out when an individual onboarding process is running off track. Those with overall responsibility for onboarding can keep an eye on whether there are managers in the organization who need help with a particular aspect of onboarding. Using this system, in 2015 we had enough data to establish the first real “norms” in Denmark for onboarding activity.
Many organizations take on a large number of new employees every year, and when onboarding takes place in large volumes, it is effective to establish rhythms of activities in the calendar[vii]. This could mean having monthly or quarterly introductory meetings or other activities that are repeated so that new employees can be collected continuously in teams. It is, of course, crucial that a new employee does not lack important information because they have to wait for the next planned activity. But certain activities are suitable as rhythm activities, and there can be money savings and quality improvements when the activities can be repeated and refined in this way.
It is essential to make the activities as concrete as possible in a plan, or as we call it: An Onboarding Roadmap ©. A very central factor in onboarding is actually time. Many onboarding programs are too short. The biggest number of organizations, as the figure below shows, have programs that are over after three months. Many don’t continue beyond 14 days of the new hire’s employment. Research on time-to-performance and break-even on recruitment suggests that onboarding programs should last for six to twelve months for maximum benefit, but most are already ebbing out during the first month.
Four critical periods
Organizations should have a strategic plan for how to navigate critical periods in the onboarding process. Critical periods here must be understood as periods when we must pay extra attention to the new employee's flight height.
Four critical periods are:
- From contract signing to the first day
- The first day
- After the first 30 days
- After the first 90 days
In our experience, these are key times when new employees are more likely to “jump off” if we haven't got them onboard properly. It can be a benefit for organizations to have a design that spans a whole year, but it is the first three months that, according to the retention statistics, are most critical. Therefore, we should use them as onboarding milestones.
In the example below, we made an Onboarding Roadmap © for the first critical period from contract signing to the first day. This period is also called pre-boarding, and there is a great, often untapped potential at this time to get onboarding off to a good start.
Personal resources: What does the new hire bring himself?
The people we hire always come with a lot of resources themselves. If we are lucky, our new employee potentially can cope with the entire transition him or herself. Several times in our research, we met new employees who had virtually no help in their onboarding process but had in no way experienced that as a problem. People like this seem to have the resources to search for information themselves and to seek out and if necessary, challenge the key people. We have come across employees who have just landed in an organization that has matched them and where they wanted to be. But we have certainly also met the opposite.
There are many things we can take into account in relation to people's personal resources in our onboarding design. Many recruitment processes involve personality profiles and tests which, though rarely used after the recruitment stage, can actually give quite a few hints about what the workplace should potentially be aware of in onboarding the person. [viii].
One perspective becoming increasingly important is to take into account which of the three generations currently active in the workplace that our new employee comes from. Below we have summarized a number of features it is helpful to be aware of for each of the six onboarding dimensions when we have to relate to the employee's generation:
Baby Boomers (born 1946-1960)
We can expect “boomers” generally to start with an optimistic perspective in the workplace and a relatively high work ethic.
Culture: They grew up in the information age. Expect them to be engaged in pursuing competitive wages, stable employment, meaningful work, and prospects for a pleasant retirement.
Rules: Expect a skeptical relationship with rules but beware of an authoritarian enforcement of the organization's rules. Boomers were young in the 1960s and 1970s. They have grown up in the battle between great world forces and in a time of revolutions. If changes are to occur, they would rather create them themselves.
Network: Expect them to seek satisfaction by creating personal relationships. We should support this where we can.
Collaboration: Expect a hate-love relationship with authority. They mostly believe in democratic leadership, consensus, and congruence. We should help them quickly to get the influencing dimension of collaboration.
Competencies: Expect them to be most loyal to their own careers and to work hard to live up to their expectations of themselves. We should give them as much responsibility as we can. We can advantageously "deal" with them: if they give something, we also give something.
Performance: Expect them to be competitive. We can use competition to motivate them, and they respond well to challenging work and decision-making tasks.
Generation X’s (born 1961-1980)
We can expect generation X employees to have a skeptical perspective on the workplace and a fairly balanced work ethic.
Culture: They regard work as a kind of self-fulfillment mission, and want a coherent narrative that promise wealth, work-life balance, and early retirement.
Rules: They were young in the 1980s and 1990s and have witnessed profound social and political upheavals. Expect them to thrive on rules that constantly transform and evolve. They have grown up in the age of technology, and welcome change as something that works for and supports them.
Network: They may be reluctant to commit too closely to their relationships and may be selective in their loyalty. We should support them by creating breadth in their networks.
Collaboration: They are not much impressed by authority and believe most in leadership through competence. We should support them by clarifying roles and competencies in close cooperation with them.
Competencies: Quick access to interesting and meaningful work/life choices and development opportunities is important to them. We should support them by opening the career door explicitly.
Performance: Expect them to deliver results, but remember their deep desire for, and understanding of, work-life balance when you put pressure on them.
Generation Y’s (born 1981-2000)
People born in the late twentieth century are likely to have a hopeful workplace perspective and a determined work ethic. Time magazine calls them "the me, me, me generation", but not necessarily as a negative thing.
Culture: Expect them to seek to build wealth and devote themselves to their special interests and passions. Expect to meet someone with a very "compelling", ecological and meaningful story. Keep in mind that in the world they have grown up in, the consequences of activities on a global scale have become increasingly visible. Expect them to view the workplace through the same technological lens that they use for all other parts of their lives: immediate, open, and without limitations. The era of their youth has shown them that nothing is guaranteed. Instability and rapid change are the norm.
Rules: “Gen Y” employees, because they have grown up in an age of integrated technology, see change as inevitable, pervasive and accelerating. Also, expect that they have a different relationship to many traditional rules. In their world, physical presence is "optional". Just as one does not have to "go" to the bank, physically download a rented film, etc., it is also not necessary to be physically present to work. According to a survey carried out by PWC, many will prefer more flexible working time over promotion. Training that only exists to support "compliance" may also be challenged by this generation. On the other hand, rich learning experiences that support the employee's own interests and passions, and which can be considered as a personal investment, will most likely be popular.
Network: First, expect that they know more about what a network is, and what it can do, than you do! You should also get used to a completely different degree of voluntary sharing and connection, and that they use networks in a more project-oriented way. They need to be able to access networks navigate them both physically and in their "native" digital media. Expect this generation generally to be inclusive in their relationships and that they expect loyalty to go both ways. We should support them in forming social networks that can be the foundation of their other networks.
Collaboration: As children of the baby boomers, they often have a polite perspective on authority and believe that leadership is positive if it promotes a common goal. Expect them to work well together. They have grown up in school systems that have required co-operation and conflict resolution, and they are not afraid of it. They should thrive on teamwork, but you need to support their various collaborations by ensuring that the objectives and goals are always clear.
Competencies: Expect them to see work as an opportunity for continuous learning and change. We should support them with an environment where even mistakes are the source of learning and development. Despite their self-confidence, they appreciate support, so be. prepared with the whole package of buddies, mentors and coaches. And close management. Also be aware that they expect to have many careers throughout their lives. They will know what they can get from being in your particular organization, and in general, they will be very honest about what their own intentions are.
Performance: Expect Gen Y’s to thrive on fast decision-making, stimulating work, continuous feedback and very frequent recognition. They need confidence in performing - and are used to "posting it". Also, expect them perhaps to have a different relationship to financial results than you – and also to time. For this generation, time is no longer money. It is yet another limited resource to be used wisely.
Leadership resources: How much do our managers master?
We have all met them during our work or organization life: Leaders who inspire and move us. Who want us to achieve something. Who see things in us, we didn't know we had. That changes our careers and our lives. Such leaders can carry an organization's onboarding without any particular tools or activities, without the organizational resources ready and in place. They can make us feel like we belong, just because we want to belong with them.
On the other hand, we have all met the opposite. Managers who have had all the resources available; who are surrounded by HR and other functions that help and take care of everything for them yet fail to connect with us. They do not inspire us, we will not sacrifice for them, we don’t want to go into work with them. The managers we have to leave again quickly.
Onboarding requires management resources. Having a good onboarding design is not enough - it is vital we also have the leaders to convey and support the intentions of the design. We have studied how each of the six dimensions of the onboarding model requires support from the leader. Specifically, we have linked the onboarding model with six management styles, as defined by Daniel Goleman. According to Goleman, a leader typically has one to two styles that fall most easily to her, but in reality, the management task requires us to switch between all six. Leadership is not just what comes most naturally, but a reflected and considered choice. In onboarding, the leader must be able to make use of all six styles to optimally support his new employee. [ix]
This is not the place to explore these styles in more detail. But it needs to be emphasized that in order to adequately cover our onboarding process, we have a task as an organization to ensure that the local manager and the management cadre as a whole have the competencies to support all the different onboarding dimensions.
Organisational resources: How capable is our organisation?
If we haven’t formulated our values, it will be difficult to require our new employee to know them. If we don’t know what networks make up our organization, it will be difficult to introduce the new employee to them. If we don’t have firm control over procedures in the organization, it will be difficult to demand that the new employee follow them. Etc.
In other words, it is clear that our onboarding design is based on a number of assumptions about our organizational readiness and maturity. These are preconditions for successful onboarding. Let's look at some of them:
It is important not to ignore the importance or scope of the administrative task that comes with onboarding. Large organizations often have designated staff allocated full time to the administrative part of onboarding, which can easily include up to ten different roles in different departments. An organization's administrative checklist will depend on its complexity, but we can generalize some guidelines for the administrative process:
# Keep administration centralized. It may well be that responsibility for content is located in local departments and with individual managers. But there is no doubt that the administrative task should be standardized and centralized. It ensures execution.
# Designate an onboarding administrator. Place this centralized responsibility with someone who has the resources (skill, time, experience etc) to execute the process. They should then have the responsibility for checking that, for example, the IT department carries out its tasks in the onboarding programme. Having a central administrator keeps the focus on one or more people who have onboarding at the top of their agenda.
# Prepare checklists for the most important roles involved in the onboarding: the department manager, the line manager/team leader, closest colleagues, HR, other support functions and the new employee.
# Build checklists into your roadmaps (as explained above) and use your roadmap structure to organize them so that all roles involved in the onboarding have a checklist for the period from contract signing to first business day, a checklist for the first working day and so on.
Knowledge, structure, competences
We strongly support the principle of keeping onboarding practice as simple as possible. It may well be that the conceptual framework is complex, but practice must be kept simple, to manage and structure the effort - and keep it updated. One of the most important things is to find a good place to start. It's not about doing everything at once, but about finding out what's most important to get in place to live up to our onboarding ambitions. We have divided the organizational resources into three categories: knowledge, structures and competencies. In the model below, we offer an example of the resources for a number of key onboarding initiatives:
Organisational resources: In personalized form
Since it can be an unrealistic ambition to expect our entire organization to have the competencies in place to support onboarding, it makes good sense to designate and train special roles for it.
Each of the six onboarding dimensions can be personalized in a single role or person.
Culture’s "grand old man": This denotes a person who has been in the organization for many years and may no longer be full-time but has been given a special onboarding role[x]. It may include introducing new employees to the culture, but also conducting less specialized technical and introductory courses. The role gets its power in the symbolism the person represents: This is an organization that she has invested much of her life in, and still wants to vouch for.
The compliance officer: Makes sure new employees know and comply with the rules. Many workplaces have a head of compliance[xi], who is responsible for working with regulatory compliance throughout the organization. We have seen in several cases how having a separate focus - not just on the rules, but on compliance with them - brings benefits to the onboarding programme. If you have a compliance function, it needs to be involved in onboarding. Control and compliance are not always negative things but depends on how we market them. If the compliance function is, in fact, the place employees can approach to get answers to their questions or have their work evaluated according to the formal rules, the role can have positive and helpful associations.
The network buddy: Buddy programs work well in many organizations[xii]. However, who we choose for the role is important. Ideally, this will be employees with good relationship-creating abilities and a high degree of empathy. It can also help if such people are relatively new to the organization, so they can still recall the onboarding process themselves. It’s good to involve buddies at an early stage of onboarding and to keep the scheme voluntary.
The guardian of collaboration: This is someone who is vigilant that the organization has a focus on co-operation. Among other things, make sure that resources are available to facilitate collaborative and team processes, to ensure engagement and take care that conflicts do not undermine teamwork. To personify the resource for collaboration is more of a challenge than the other five personifications because co-operation takes place both in a local, close team environment and across organizational barriers. In the local team, the guardian of collaboration should be the closest leader.
The coach of competency: A role that falls somewhere between the on-the-job-trainer role and the mentor role. The coach will typically be focused on developing the new employee's competencies. Professional coaches may well help with instruction, but they can also help the new employee to reflect through questions and techniques. Coaching adds an extra loop to learning when the new employee both learns and also reflects on how she learned it.
The mentor of results: A mentor is an experienced person who, through counseling, sparring, guidance, coaching, and feedback, shares his experience and competencies to support someone else's development[xiii]. We should train our mentors and give them the resources to prioritise the role. Mentors can be given wide responsibilities, from evaluating the employee's tasks and their strategic prioritization to solving collaboration challenges and designing development plans. We should also give them responsibility for the new employee's results. This ensures that they support the performance dimension in our onboarding model.
Onboarding in special situations
We have used the term "the onboarding manager" in several places in the articles. This is on the basis that it is not always the closest manager who is responsible for the new employee's onboarding. Just as it is not always HR or another department. Organizations place responsibility for the onboarding task in different places[xiv]. There is no data available to show where the onboarding program is best located, but there is evidence that it is crucial to place it[xv].
Below are our key guidelines for anyone who wants to establish what we could call the onboarding organization:
# Focus on standardization, consistency and repeatability in the onboarding design. Execution in practice is usually located elsewhere in the organization, and this will support it.
# Evaluate and standardise feedback about the onboarding program.
# Take the time to bring the right stakeholders into the design process.
# Continuously develop the onboarding program. Create the program, set goals, adapt, reach out to others and involve them.
# Assign responsibility. Create an informal and voluntary organization that can support the work in practice.
# Measure the onboarding. Visualize the measurement results. Get the results on the agenda of senior managers at regular intervals. This, and the previous article about onboarding psychology have considered onboarding in general terms and from a broad angle. In a variety of situations, however, one has to think in more detail to create the conditions for success.
Onboarding of managers should in practice be arranged differently from that of other employees[xvi]. Leaders must certainly go through the same onboarding tracks as their employees, but there are important additional factors. Obviously, getting top executives up and running quickly is important because these leadership positions are visible and make a significant impact on strategic decisions and the bottom line. Although onboarding programs for this caliber of management position are generally higher priority, up to 32 percent of global top managers report that their onboarding experience was poor.
Onboarding of managers is different from onboarding employees in key respects. Managers usually have several stakeholders, all of whom they need to keep track of and manage. Leaders need to be quicker to understand their organization and role because they are very promptly tasked with interpreting and communicating it to others[xvii]. Onboarding of managers should, therefore, involve an independent roadmap setting out priorities for the manager's collection of information and knowledge, as well as any communication initiatives needed. Leaders more often than employees are faced with unique and challenging situations that require unique solutions. The higher up in the organization a manager sits, the more tailor-made the onboarding usually needs to be.[xviii]
Even when an organization doesn’t think of itself as ‘global’, it can easily be operating globally and recruiting and moving employees and managers across national borders. We can advantageously use the onboarding model in global organizations, but we must pay extra attention to the different cultures we are operating in. When we onboard someone from another country or culture, we need to have a special focus on training in the local culture. Cultures are strong, and in particular, management culture and power distances can be very different from country to country[xix].
Second, in global organizations, you need to be clear what aspects of onboarding will be the same everywhere, and what will be handled locally. Both legislation and working conditions can be very different, so the local onboarding programs need to reflect this. Universal solutions are rarely viable in a global context, and often it can seem like a struggle to implement the onboarding ambitions because they are too focused on a concrete practice rather than on the deeper intention behind them.
Organizations are becoming increasingly virtual, and many employees can in practice work remotely and meet with their colleagues and stakeholders primarily online. In general, the virtual environment presents us with a challenge in supporting a large number of the emotional experiences on which onboarding is based[xx]. We have a challenge to create an experience of different frames and of the environment. ‘Virtual onboarding’ requires that we do something extra using our virtual platforms - right down to taking pictures of the physical offices. When employees do not come to the office, we must bring the office to them.
Of course, networks and relationships also require a special effort in the virtual environment, such as requiring that all members of the virtual team always meet using live video. Learning is generally more structured and modular than in normal onboarding. Career development as well. Virtual collaboration also demands a higher degree of sharing of unfinished products. You need to be able to ‘work out loud’[xxi], as it is called. Share things that you are not completely finished with and maybe not yet completely proud of. In the physical office, we can see our new employee, track her performance and her well-being, provide immediate feedback and take immediate action, all of which has a number of obvious benefits. In the virtual environment, we need to invest more in the employees' ability to handle the tasks on their own. We also need to invest more in concrete follow-up and evaluation of the process.
Onboarding in start-ups
Onboarding in start-up companies also requires separate attention. Start-ups are very often chaotic, high-energy ventures. Much happens. Continually. And for many start-ups, growth in itself is the main focus and can create dramatic changes, which any HR function or onboarding programme may find it difficult to keep up with. If that is, an HR department or onboarding programme has been established at all. The start-up company lives in uncertainty, and this is also the case for its employees – including the new ones. It can, however, still be a good idea in onboarding to have very clear communication about what that uncertainty entails. New employees should understand how important their onboarding is to the company's ability to reach its goal and ultimately survive. In order to thrive in a start-up environment, it is often also necessary for new employees to take much greater responsibility and a strong sense of ownership for the company's success[xxii].
As a start-up grows, so does the complexity. This may mean we need to communicate more frequently and in a much wider range of changed contexts and conditions than in a well-established business. The whole company may have changed in a week because of some basic decisions. New employees can quickly face challenges because what they just learned is no longer valid. Start-up companies must remember that people have not chosen to work in the company because of its name and brand, which is not yet visible in the market. New employees in start-ups have already made clear that they do not want to be a drop in the ocean in a large and established company. Therefore, it is also important that the start-up company does not treat them as such.[xxiii]
There are also employees who are not really employees: the interim employees, temporary staff, consultants and other people[xxiv]. They also need to be on board if we want the maximum out of them. In fact, one could point out that onboarding of ‘short-term employees’ is more important because of the short length of employment. We do not have so many chances to correct any difficulties that may arise Onboarding of interim employees is a special area because, among other things, there are often requirements and expectations for such employees to be able to onboard themselves, and it’s important to be very clear about this[xxv].
If we use a lot of short-term or fixed-contract staff, it is a good idea to start making life in the organization easier for them and by doing so, increase their efficiency. We can develop specific information collection procedures that ensure such employees quickly become well-informed to the exact level required to perform the tasks. We can ensure they get support from the right stakeholders in the organization. We must remember that the information for such employees need not be complete. It just needs to be sufficient. We must develop good follow-up and acceleration tools to ensure that the temporary employee retains their value and vigour throughout the period.
In the many years we have been working with onboarding, we have learned to understand and respect the complexity of the subject. Of course, we have also learned that everyone - all organizations and all new employees - is unique. Everyone has their own unique features, their own unique story. The same is true of their objectives, and their set of resources. In the two articles, we hope to have offered some useful images and frames across all of these unique features, and we hope you can use them to guide and inspire your own investments in onboarding.
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[i] Onboarding Readiness© 2015. Source: OnboardingGroup.
[ii] See note 1.
[iii] OnboardingGroup and Moment Professionals in 2012-2015 conducted extensive qualitative interviews in a large number of organizations and gained insight into their onboarding programmes. For privacy reasons, we have chosen to anonymize them in our cases.
[iv] The most effective onboarding programmes are documented in writing and visually, communicated to everyone and are systematically followed over time. Source: Bauer, T.N. and Elder, E: "Onboarding newcomers into an organization", invited presentation at the 58th Annual Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Conference and Exposition. Washington, D.C. (2006).
[v] Gamification is on the way into the onboarding and talent management world. Especially where simple games can be used to train and test social and cognitive abilities. In recruitment, we also see it moving in the form of simulations of life in an organization. In performance management in the form of played leaderboards, etc. Source: HR Trend Institute: "210 Talent Management Trends for 2016", http://hrtrendinstitute.com/2015/05/13/10-talent-management-trends-for2016 (2015).
[vi] In order to adequately assess its onboarding design, it is important to measure its effectiveness. This can be done, for example, through onboarding surveys (33 percent of respondents have done so in a survey from 2014) and by tracking the implementation of the organization's onboarding activities (28 percent of the organizations surveyed have done so in the same survey). Source: Laurano, M .: Engaging your New Hires on Day 1. Aberdeen Group (2014).
[vii] More and more HR departments have in recent years adopted the thinking about an HR year wheel. A strategic one-year planning model that ensures that specific tasks are taken care of, and ensures that resources are optimized, for example by keeping activities at fixed intervals and ‘collecting’ the employees who need to participate in the activity. Source: Insight into the insights: "Plan the coming year with an annual wheel", http://lederindsigt.dk/vaærkoejer-skabeloner/ledelse-og-organisation/virksomhedens-aarshjul/.
[viii] Bauer, T.N.: Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success. SHRM Foundation (2010).
[ix] Christian Harpelund has since 2003 been working on the development of Daniel Goleman's original description of six management styles. In 2004, Christian Harpelund published the management concept 6styles with the focal point of the style and their underlying emotional skills. In the book here we have processed from 6styles in relation to the six dimensions in the onboarding model. Source: Goleman, D .: "Leadership That Gets Results", Harvard Business Review (March-April 2000).
[x] See note 3.
[xi] The chief compliance officer (CCO) of a company: a manager with overall responsibility for managing and coordinating compliance within the organization. The CCO will typically report to the CEO or COO. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chief_compliance_officer.
[xii] Surprisingly, when you consider how central networking is in onboarding, a survey from 2014 shows that only 32 percent of the organizations surveyed offer networking opportunities such as a buddy scheme for their new employees. Source: Laurano, M .: Engaging your New Hires on Day 1. Aberdeen Group (2014).
[xiii] New employees who receive a mentor are more knowledgeable about their organizations than employees who do not receive a mentor. Source: Ostroff, C. and Kozlowski, S.W.J .: "The role of mentoring in the information gathering processes of newcomers during early organizational socialization", Journal of Vocational Behavior 42 (1993).
[xiv] When there is an owner of the onboarding process, the decision-making process is clearer, and responses to change and trends from any main organization are faster. HR is most often the owner of the onboarding process, followed closely by learning and development units. Interestingly, the onboarding process is rarely owned by an onboarding specialist. 43 percent place responsibility in the HR department. 25 percent place it in learning and development. 12 percent in the individual business units. 3 percent in recruitment departments. 14 percent in other types of functions. Only 3 percent have placed the responsibility with an actual onboarding specialist department. Source: Laurano, M .: We’re off. Entrepid (2012).
[xv] Placing a clear responsibility for and ownership of the onboarding program is a crucial tactic for the success of the onboarding. Source: http://blog.silkroad.com/index.php/2013/07/aberdeen-group-onboarding2013-report/#sthash.sBAXHilR.dpuf.
[xvi] Leaders and managers should be brought up-to-speed faster than employees because their positions are more visible and affect the bottom line more clearly. Source: Bauer, T.N. and Elder, E: “Onboarding newcomers into organizations”, presentation at the Society for Human Resource Management Annual Meeting, Washington, D.C. (2006); Van Velsor, E. and Leslie, J.B .: "Why executives derail: Perspectives across time and culture", Academy of Management Executive 8 (1995).
[xvii] Leaders are often brought in to manage strategic change, and therefore the onboarding of them will be different. Source: Dai, G., De Meuse, K. and Gaeddert, D .: "Onboarding externally hired executives: Avoiding derailment - accelerating contribution", poster presented at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), Atlanta, GA (2010).
[xviii] The higher a leader's level in the organization, the more the onboarding program should be tailored. Source: Conger, J.A. and Benjamin, B .: Building leaders: How successful companies develop the next generation. Jossey-Bass (1999); Fulmer, R.M. and Conger, J.A .: Growing your company’s leaders: How organizations use succession management to sustain competitive advantage. Amacom (2004).
[xix] Geert Hofsted's famous description of the differences in dimensions of different national cultures remains the basis of much of the international cultural and organizational research. Source: Hoftstede, G .: Culture's Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values (Cross Cultural Research and Methodology) (1984).
[xx] In the theory Visual teams it is described how different means of communication support different parts of the realization formation and team formation process. Some processes can be supported by pure virtual media and asynchronous in the interaction. Others must necessarily be face to face in order to achieve optimal performance. Source: Sibbet, D .: Visual Teams. Wiley (2011).
[xxi] John Stepper is quoted for coining this term. Working Out Loud is an expression that we increasingly make our work visible, just as we make ourselves visible on social media. John Stepper puts it this way: Working Out Loud = observable work + the story of your work. However, it also covers a working method in which a team makes work that is in process and which has not been completed to a greater extent, in order to invite others into the work with their contributions and continuous feedback. For virtual teams, the visibility of some of the work processes that you benefit from compensates for the lack of being physically close to each other in everyday life. Source: Stepper, J .: Working Out Loud: For a better career and life. Ikigai Press (2015).
[xxii] The thoughts in this section are written from the authors' own experiences as entrepreneurs over the past 15 years.
[xxiii] As an example of the start-up environment in Denmark, DTU can be taken. The number of start ups at DTU has grown explosively in 2014, when students and employees have established 51 new companies. Source: Tækker, C .: Record year for startups - again, http://www.dtu.dk/Nyheder/2015/05/Rekordaar-for-startups---igen?id=d559193c-0e74-4a5c-91ca-ca8ce7bfd0f0
[xxiv] Interim employees refer to an employment situation where the employment is limited to a specific time period determined by the needs of the hiring organization. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temporary_work.
[xxv] The interim employee is often employed as a consultant and usually gets paid a higher time-based salary as a counterweight to the fact that he or she does not have any job security. It often causes a high level of expectation about the person's competencies and abilities to solve the task in a consultative and independent manner. Source: http://cronos.dk/Interim_onboarding (2014).