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Welcoming new talent into your organization is always an event to be celebrated. That’s especially true because the time, energy and effort to hire a new recruit can be substantial—up to two to three months, on average.

After such an investment, you’ll want to empower your new hire to be productive, build organization-wide relationships and, ultimately, succeed in their new role as quickly as possible. Helping them achieve that goal is your organization’s responsibility, one that means delivering an impressive employee experience and helping to leverage the employee’s talents within their first 90 to 120 days on the job.

It’s a process that was once referred to as ‘employee orientation,’ and was often little more than a brief administrative exercise. New employees would complete TD1’s, benefit enrolment forms, emergency contact forms and payroll direct-deposit forms, would often be granted a tour or meeting with HR staff or their manager and—if they were lucky—would be introduced to a few new colleagues along the way. Not surprisingly, orientation programs are a thing of the past, at least among progressive organizations.

Recent studies have confirmed that those old approaches are not only ineffective, but can have a significant negative impact on the bottom-line performance of the organizations that use them. A report by the Washington, D.C.-based business consultancy The Wynhurst Group, for example, found that 22 per cent of employee turnover occurs in the first 45 days of employment, largely because so many organizations continue to use traditional, engagement-weakening orientation programs.

Hence the new focus on employee onboarding, a process by which new hires are gradually and strategically trained and provided ample opportunity to acclimate to their new environment—an important step forward when you consider that organizations spend upwards of $11,000 simply to re-fill positions when unexpected turnover occurs. That excludes costs associated with training, salaries, benefits and other perks.

Onboarding is a slower, more deliberate process that traditional orientation. As Hank Jackson, President and CEO of the U.S.-based Society for Human Resource Management remarked in the organization’s 2012 Allied Workforce Mobility Survey, almost 30 per cent of companies surveyed reported time spans of one year or more for a new employee to reach full productivity. At the same time, 25 per cent reported that their onboarding program didn’t include formal training and 60 per cent indicated a lack of milestones or goals for their new hires. A whopping 35 per cent reported spending nothing on the onboarding process at all.

It’s fair to say that progressive organizations have embraced an entirely new, and engagement-driven onboarding philosophy designed to help employees develop a profound connection to the organization and its people—and that kind of determination typically pays off. As the Wynhurst Group notes, new employees who participate in a structured onboarding program are 58 per cent more likely to remain with the company three years later.

Not sure how to build an onboarding program for your organization? Focus on these three key areas:

Engaging and motivating new talent

The orientation practices of the past are boring, lack creativity and are ineffective for today’s rapidly-changing business world. They fail to energize today’s talent and are often completely overwhelming. Your program should embrace the realities of our fast-paced, digital culture and focus on building a strong first impression that engages new hires. Organizations need to be leveraging the technologies of today for welcoming talent to their business. Platforms like Yammer, a private social network can bring teams together so new hires can collaborate, have conversations and build relationships.

Immediately developing key talent

Creating a culture of development starts during the attraction phase of the employee lifecycle, but comes into full effect when the candidate accepts your job offer. True development starts by enforcing fundamental compliance basics to ensure organization- wide consistency and training. In discussions with clients, we’ve learned that many legislated compliance requirements are being missed during the onboarding process including:

  • Health and Safety Awareness training (OHSA)
  • Anti-Harassment, Discrimination and Workplace Violence training (OHSA—Bill 168)
  • Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities training (AODA)
  • Workplace Hazardous Information Management System training (WHMIS)

Many organizations deem their workplaces low-risk because of their service-based business model and office work environment. But it only takes one visit from the Ministry of Labour, an employee complaint, or an injury to shine an unwanted spotlight on your organization. Demonstrating that you take employee health, safety and professional success seriously is a critical step towards engaging and retaining your new talent, building trust and reducing potential liability risk.

Communicating with new talent

One of the greatest shortcomings of most onboarding programs is the lack of continuous feedback during the first 120 days of employment. We assume that people will simply understand their role and fit in, when in fact it’s the manager’s responsibility to maintain communication and provide the tools, resources and opportunities a new employee needs to be successful. That should include regular manager-employee meetings with opportunities to coach, mentor and highlight opportunities for career development within the organization—a deciding factor in reducing employee turnover rates.

The important lesson here is that business owners, managers and HR professionals need to stop treating onboarding as a one-off event. Instead, it should be regarded as a process designed to build trust and attract, retain and motivate talent.