Onboarding presents a great opportunity to gain competitive advantage by creating a committed talent pool that gives desired performance for years. Yet, it remains an untapped area of bottom-line impact. Organizations are often more willing to place money and direct retention efforts at employees located closer to the top level of management, but may tend to overlook opportunities that a new employee presents, in shaping talent that helps meet the organization’s business objectives.
While organizations do baseline investments in streamlining their recruitment and selection processes, talent that is brought in as a result of these processes is often unable to perform optimally for a long time. This could be due to lack of required workplace skills to hit the ground running. The magnitude of this problem can be inferred from a scenario where this skill deficit holds true not only for new hires but also for current employees that have been in the organization’s ecosystem for a considerable period of time and are now transitioning to new roles.
The problem of skill deficit, while not readily observed in new hires with past work experience or current employees, is more pronounced in fresh hires – college graduates on to their first jobs. Several reports, including those from NASSCOM, highlight that most graduates are not corporate–ready, resulting in an employability gap that organizations sometime have no choice but to ignore, in order to fill positions. A similar expectation-performance gap may exist when an employee is transitioned to the role of a first-time manager from an individual contributor or a role that requires more people contact, problem-solving and decision-making skills. A couple of examples could be the cases of an engineer promoted to a consultant or a salesman becoming a manager – roles that may require communicating with clients and other stakeholders, collaborating in global teams, cultural sensitivity, creativity and the ability to think critically for client problems. The lack of such abilities and skills impacting bottom lines is something organizations struggle to understand and adapt to. Harvard's Michael Watkins, author of The First 90 Days, has revealed that a staggering 58% of new executives - those hired from the outside - don't succeed in their new position within 18 months. The cost per failure is more than a million dollars. Such statistics may indicate the need to scrutinize the learning experiences of new employees in the initial months of their jobs.
The pace at which organizations function today, requires accelerated and holistic learning for employees. Simply put, employees need to hit the ground running. However, this is possible only when they have the desired skill set to do so. HR is increasingly realizing the importance of a structured and comprehensive enterprise wide learning framework that can address the most important skills and competencies required to make new and existing talent take off in their given roles.
As Watkins points out,“…as talent management experts have long asserted – employee onboarding, the orientation or mainstreaming process of a new position, is a crucial element in both individual and organizational development and establishes a foundation for future success.” Many researches and articles corroborate the contention that one of the prime reasons for a newly hired or promoted employee to leave the organization is a lack of skills to do the new job. A recent study* involving over one thousand professionals revealed that one in six employees quit or consider quitting a new job due to ineffective onboarding. Another important revelation of the survey was that the first 90 days of the job are most critical for long term success, something Watkins talks about in his book, as well.
While companies do focus on building technical skills and enough is taken care of this in the selection stage, more critical and decidedly fundamental aspects of being able to deliver on the job may get neglected, both during the selection as well as onboarding stage. If an employee performed well in a previous role or excelled in academics in college, these indices may not necessarily be strong predictors of success in new roles and first jobs, respectively.
Often in organizations, onboarding is seen as a quick ‘tour’ of the organization – a mandatory albeit cursory process of induction into the organization’s history, mission and values and an elaborate description of the business, that leaves new hires overwhelmed. An onboarding process that helps reduce the learning curve for a new hire so that this individual can become an effective and contributing member of the organization in a reasonable period of time, is what is required for effective onboarding.
Some questions come to mind at this point. What are the skills that can help an employee excel at his/her job, once the technical skills are in place? How can the onboarding process become comprehensive enough to equip new hires with fundamental and across-function skills for success in their roles or enhance the skill set of current employees taking on bigger roles? An important survey by the American Management Association (AMA) offers insights every organization could use. The survey identified four workplace skills (today commonly known as the four Cs), viz. critical thinking and problem-solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation as those required to succeed in the contemporary, twenty first century workplace.
These skills can constitute a generic framework that an effective onboarding process can integrate across functions. While onboarding focuses on new employees, existing employees who transition into new roles that require new skill sets should get ‘onboard’ as well with fundamental skills they may not have possessed previously. New employees and first time managers are both the present and the future of an organization. A carefully planned and executed onboarding and transitioning approach to create excellence in these employees can hand hold them in the initial and crucial months of their first jobs or transitions, leading to short and long term benefits organizations can reap from their investment.
* Bamboo HR, Onboarding Survey, 2014
** American Management Association 2010, Critical Thinking Skills Survey