Employee Onboarding: An HR Function or a Team Sport?

employee experience employee onboarding employee orientation employee retention

Employee Onboarding is NOT an HR Function. 

There, I said it. 

As we enter a new year with continued recruitment and retention challenges, it's time that we reframe our thinking around employee onboarding. As I talk to our customers all over the country, most of them have one thing in common. They are still struggling with employee retention - especially within the first 90 days. Some of their recruits don't even last a week. 

There can be many reasons for that (a poor hiring decision, better opportunities coming up elsewhere, etc.), but one of the big ones is the way companies are onboarding (or not) their new team members. Too many of us think of onboarding as a job for the human resources department, and while they certainly play a significant role in the process, they cannot do it all. 

Members of our Red Carpet Culture Club recently lamented, "We've developed a very effective orientation that's getting great reviews. However, once they get into their job, it all goes downhill because the warm welcome we laid out isn't carried through. Our recruitment team is spinning its wheels, bringing people in only to lose them in the first 30 days. 

Sound familiar? 

It's time to let go of the old notion that onboarding is an HR function and realize it's a team sport! The team comprises human resources, managers, supervisors, mentors, and co-workers. Once your new hires go through their initial orientation, there are several more phases of their initial onboarding experience, and they are just as, if not more, essential. They include: 

Job Skills Training: More than one of our members has mentioned that the main complaint in exit interviews is that the departing employee did not feel they got adequate training to do their job. Studies show that 59% of employees think they received no workplace training and that most of their skills were self-taught. 

If you're throwing people out on the floor on day one or two without a proper introduction to their job because you're short-staffed and need warm bodies, you're shooting yourself in the foot. You're doomed to repeat this cycle over and over again. The learning and development specialist on your team and those they are teaching should be 100% exempt from regular working duties, no matter what. It's hard at first, but it will get easier when you stop losing people because of the lack of training. 

It's also critical to understand that when someone isn't fully training, it impacts the rest of the staff negatively - which may be why it sometimes feels like they "eat their young." Provide everyone with a better experience by committing to giving everyone the knowledge and skills practice they need before entering the regular workflow. 

Warm Welcome, Personal Connection: I'm often shocked at how many people tell me they've been working somewhere for a week, and they aren't even sure who their direct supervisor or department manager is. When I talk to those in leadership positions, they tell me, "It's a waste of time  to meet them; they aren't going to stay anyway." It may very well be that defeatist attitude that is part of the problem. Prioritize the warm welcomes you give new hires and check in with them regularly throughout their first couple weeks. 

Partner Them Carefully: Perhaps you have a "mentoring program" on paper. The question is, how effective is it? So many companies have one in name only, but it isn't structured, nurtured, or evaluated regularly. Being a mentor should be an honor that includes a pay raise, continuous learning & development, regular meetings, evaluation, and a succession plan. Only then can you be sure you are partnering your new employees with someone who will enhance their onboarding experience. 

Check-In: There should be regular check-ins built into a new employee's first 90 days-6 months by the entire onboarding team: HR, Department Managers, Supervisors, and Mentors. Some of these can be conducted one-on-one, in group settings, and through online surveys. A combination of methods is helpful, but that personal connection is always best! Bottom Line: It's the relationship you have with a new team member that will help you keep them. 

What do you think? How can you bring a team approach to onboarding, and what has been the number one practical way you've found to provide a red-carpet experience for your new employees? Comment below and let me know. 

Donna Cutting is the Founder & CEO of Red-Carpet Learning Systems, Inc. and the Creator of the Red Carpet Culture Club. She's the author of 3 books, including Employees First! Inspire, Engage, and Focus on the HEART of Your Organization. 


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