Article: Onboarding challenges in SMEs

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Onboarding challenges in SMEs

How early should an SME get a structured on-boarding process? Or should it just ignore till the business is established. Read here some of the onboarding challenges which plague the SME industry.
Onboarding challenges in SMEs

On-boarding is a collaborative approach that equips new hires with the requisite information, knowledge, tools and resources to understand about organization’s culture, people, processes and practices. It is no longer merely completing a tedious paper-work and attending lengthy orientation sessions rather it has emerged as more of a strategic approach to prepare new hires as early as possible so they can start adding value to the business. A ‘new hire adjustment’ is directly related with employee satisfaction, commitment, turnover, and performance. A study suggests that by adopting a successful on-boarding approach, companies can enjoy a higher rate of employee engagement and retention.

However, on-boarding especially in a SME set up can be a challenging task -- inadequate on-boarding can result in underperformance or even a quick exit from an organization which can prove to be an expensive affair.  Let’s delve into some of the on-boarding challenges faced by the SMEs:

Unstructured On-boarding Process

Research revealed that employees who attend a structured onboarding program were 69% more likely to remain with the company after three years. A structured onboarding program involves communicating about organization’s vision and mission, different policies and processes. At the same time, it also focuses on the expectations, key skills and knowledge, a new hire is expected to possess. A well-planned on-boarding program imparts role and goal clarity to the new hires and lays out clear cut objectives and its measure. However, it has been observed that owing to the lean structure and resource constraints especially on the HR side, SMEs do not always conduct highly structured on-boarding programs.

Usually a large amount of information is crammed into a few hours, monotonous, session which can be really overwhelming for the new hires. Expediting the assimilation of new hires so that they become productive in the shortest amount of time becomes the most urgent need of SMEs. Most of the orientation happens on-the-job which is not sufficient for the new hires; they want greater clarity about the organization, their role, responsibilities and the resources available to them before they actually start their real work on the job. 

Lack of coordination between new hires and new managers

Onboarding introduces a new hire to the organization and the people working in it. Apart from the CEO and HR, it is very important that new hires spend good amount of time with their respective supervisors especially in the first few days. Managers are the best people to impart clarity around what are KRAs and how their success will be measured. Managers should be trained to discuss topics such as key business drivers, strategies, customers, and motivators for the new hire. By understanding about new hires’ motivators, managers can discuss different assignments that can be given to them and the competencies that new hires must demonstrate.

However, it is not always feasible in the SME set up to follow the aforementioned approach. In SMEs, managers are mostly not trained to hold the onboarding sessions and are mostly tied up with multiple roles and responsibilities-- taking their precious time out for onboarding sessions is challenging. Without managers, the new hires will lack engagement and will not adapt well to both what is expected of them and what they expect from the company.  

Managers in SMEs mostly prefer on-the job orientation where they don’t have to spare a separate time with the new hires. This however is not a desirable approach, as according to Aberdeen Group, 86% of new hires make their decision to leave or stay within the first 6 months. It was further found that 79% left because of a lack of appreciation from their manager. The costs of a new-hire turnover can be immediate and significant.

Achieving ‘Culture-Fit’

Culture, especially in SMEs is mainly driven by founder’s preferences, behaviours, attitudes and values. During SME’s nascent stage, there often remains some ambiguity regarding organization’s culture and its various elements however as organization matures, the concept of culture becomes more firmly entrenched in the system. Onboarding acquaints new hires with the organizational culture to enhance their ‘culture fitness’, however, in SMEs, owing to initial ambiguity, process owners often struggle to clearly define the organizational culture and its various elements which might confuse new hires and often lead to conflicts. The need is to ensure that new hires are all committed to the same cause and carry the same culture by the end of their onboarding.

Apart from the aforementioned challenges, the other challenges can be in terms of not been able to provide requisite formal training during the onboarding period mainly owing to the budget constraints and managing onboarding of new hires in a limited time especially when they are huge in number. This case is more rampant at the junior and mid levels.

A well planned, well timed and well structured approach to onboarding will increase employee engagement, improve performance and reduce turnover rates. There are plenty of ways to make this entire onboarding experience more exciting and fruitful; some of these can be:

Make it fun and engaging on Day 1

Welcome new hires nicely and don’t bog them down with unnecessary, monotonous paper work, rather aim at making the entire experience more fun, engaging and memorable for the new hires. Try to secure some time from the senior leaders/founders to briefly address the new hires. 

Create a checklist

Create a detailed plan (6 months plan) and a checklist of the things new hires must essentially know. Keep a track of those things.

Use multiple modalities to deliver the message

Use videos, links or interesting graphics to talk about various aspects of the organization. Request subject matter experts to spend some time with the new hires.

Block Managers time well in advance

There should be a close coordination between new hires and managers. Managers should have regular conversations with new hires during the first one to three months to incorporate new employees to their job, the organization, the culture and the work environment. 

Provide formal trainings

Provide requisite training/s to the new hires to get them up to speed.

Provide formal and informal feedback

This is to keep their performance on track and suggest improvements during the onboarding period.

Topics: #SMETalent

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