By: Christel van der Werff and Jan Meijning
Onboarding, along with candidate experience and employee experience, is one of the buzzwords of the moment. That makes sense in a market where it’s difficult to hire people and especially difficult to retain them. If (after a lot of obstacles) you’ve found the right person, you would also like for this candidate to still be right person after a few weeks, months or a year.
These days, every organisation has an onboarding programme. But not every organisation has clearly embedded development and performance management in this programme, even though this is the perfect time to start for both the employee and the organisation.
Onboarding is more than just attention and a warm welcome
Most onboarding programmes are built on multiple pillars. At a minimum, these are: social (quickly getting acquainted with your colleagues and feeling like a you’re a part of the whole), operational (you have the right equipment to get started, at least a laptop, and you know what's expected of you in your work), and strategic (you’re aware of the organisation’s mission, vision and culture, and these elements suit you). As a rule, the first two pillars, social and operational, are one-way traffic heading towards the new employee. Sometimes they operate more from a marketing perspective than actually focusing on onboarding. Put in more cynical terms: just look at how great our organisation is and how well we’re taking care of you. This may or may not be accompanied by free lunches, ping-pong tables, beanbag chairs and parties. In short, attention and a warm welcome. This may sound a bit silly, but in many cases, that about sums up what happens.
The third pillar, the strategic one, serves another purpose. To what extent is the new hire aware of how and why the organisation does what it does? And even more importantly: does that suit the employee? A straightforward and essential interaction between the organisation and the employee. Make no mistake: the first two pillars are important and certainly not something the organisation should ignore. But in the end, it's the third pillar that accomplishes real onboarding.
It goes without saying that pillars 1, 2, and 3 need to complement each other, form a whole that makes sense. A new employee intuitively figures out whether the ‘warm welcome and attention’ is genuine. Does the personal approach really suit the organisation, or is it being done because it's what’s expected?
From candidate experience to employee experience
Strategic onboarding starts in the recruitment phase: are the applicant and organisation a good fit for each other? Not just in terms of the qualities the organisation is looking for and what the employee has to offer, but in terms of culture and goals as well. This is something that already emerges during the selection assessment when interviews are held. The moment of truth is when the employee is hired: is it the right match? And how do you sustain this, even if circumstances change? The onboarding process begins…
The way it was and the way many still do it...
The way organisations often still do it: during the selection process, there's a comprehensive assessment of the candidate along with multiple interviews. The next step is that someone is hired, and the onboarding process commences, in some way, shape or form. The knowledge acquired about the employee’s qualities during the recruitment phase is filed away. The end. So that’s that. This acquired knowledge only resurfaces when it's time to meet and discuss a contract extension. Sometimes after a half year, sometimes after a year. It’s a missed opportunity for both the new employee and the organisation. This means that what should be a natural step from recruitment to development is missing from the equation. The follow-up step from recruitment to development almost seems more like an obstacle that has to be overcome. Time that could have been better spent.
Onboarding: the natural roadmap from recruitment to development?
So logical it goes without saying: you've found a new employee and from day 1 (well, maybe not day 1, but soon) you’re going to discuss what this employee is doing and how he’s experiencing the job and the organisation. This shouldn’t be one of those run-of-the-mill meetings. Instead, it should be a meeting that focuses on performance and development specific to that employee, the opportunities offered by the organisation, and the organisation's objectives. After all, you already know (thanks to the selection assessment) someone’s strengths and areas where they need development. Everybody has areas they need to develop. That highly sought-after employee who ticks all the boxes is simply very rare. So this is the ideal starting point for development, and that makes it the ideal starting point for the development department.
Continuous performance management – a component of onboarding
Many organisations have already abandoned the assessment interview held with the employee once or twice a year. In a time where changes are the order of the day, it makes more sense and it’s more productive to maintain a continuous dialogue regarding performance and development. Shaping a new performance management system is complicated, especially in large organisations or for managers of large departments. Where are you supposed to find the time for the meetings, what exactly will you discuss, and how do you keep the whole thing clear and structured? In the end, the benefits are obvious: increased agility, the ability to quickly make adjustments, more attention for individual qualities, and a better focus on development.
Starting with performance management in the onboarding process not only sounds logical, it is logical. Both the organisation and the employee immediately know where they stand and what’s expected of them. With clearly defined moments to discuss whether the direction chosen and the employee’s efforts and the organisation’s objectives are still a match.
Development: a process of give and take for the employee and the organisation
It’s by quickly initiating and maintaining a dialogue that you create clarity in expectations (on both sides). And by doing so, you create scope for targeted development right from the start. What does an employee need or want to improve, and what are the needs of the organisation? Getting to work right now to prepare for the future. As an employee you quickly figure out how the organisation works. You see what the organisation can teach you and what you can contribute to the organisation’s objectives.
It’s give and take for both sides. With nothing but benefits: an employee who’s immediately enthusiastic and gets to work on the areas that he or she needs to improve, and an organisation that gets the most out of the employee’s qualities. Keep in mind there’s more to it than just the position or job role someone is hired for; think about what the future holds as well.
An added incentive is that the current generation sees attention for personal development as something very positive. Newcomers to the labour market see personal development as one of those things that motivates them. So that’s why they choose organisations where there is ample scope for qualitative feedback on their personal qualities and learning potential.
Key development point - focus on Learning Agility
Not everyone learns at the same pace Learning Agility is the ability to develop new effective behaviour quickly based on new experiences, and then demonstrate this behaviour in practice. In other words: people with high Learning Agility are able to more quickly learn from their experiences. There are multiple benefits to focusing on Learning Agility during the onboarding process (and by extension during the selection process as well). Knowing how quickly someone can learn, and how someone learns, gives you something tangible to work with right from the start. And normally speaking, personal development is at the top of everyone’s agenda.
For example, if someone learns by learning from others, you can make sure this person is placed in a situation where this kind of learning is an option. And if someone likes to learn through experimentation, there’s no point in saddling this person with routine work or well-defined tasks. That’s the person who will rapidly grow bored and quite likely leave the organisation. By knowing how someone learns and at what pace, you get the results you want more efficiently. By finding the right balance in someone’s duties, the results that are to be achieved, and through creating a structure in which someone can develop quickly and effectively, you create benefits for the development of the organisation and the employee.
The familiar counterargument: development costs time and money and at some point they’ll leave the organisation
Let’s turn this claim around and rephrase it: they’ll leave at some point because there was no opportunity for development. Now that is an unfortunate situation. A mis-hire or an employee who leaves after a short time because the match just isn’t there costs more than you’d think. Going back to the drawing board with recruitment and onboarding is not an enjoyable experience. All the more true at a time where things can change faster than we think or realise. So that’s why it makes sense to immediately invest in development and in the opportunities employees see in and for the organisation. And yes, that costs time and money (but so does starting from scratch J). In the end, open and straightforward dialogue on both sides regarding expectations and investing in development are the keys to mutual success.
Conclusion: onboarding is the starting point for development and performance management
The perfect interplay between recruitment and development
It sounds easier than it often is in practice: together, recruitment and development are responsible for the ideal onboarding of new employees. And doesn’t it seem right when this onboarding process feels like a natural pathway from recruitment to development? Right for the organisation and right for the employee.
Recruitment finds the ideal candidate who is a match for the vacancy to be filled and for the organisation’s values and objectives. Development and the new employee both get to work in order to get the most out of the collaboration - by immediately investing in development - and through give and take - brought about through straightforward and open communication with the manager and/or HR. To put it another way: by investing in development at the outset of the onboarding process and creating clear expectations about the performance expected from the employee, you create a win-win situation for everyone.