Seven Ways to Solve the Onboarding Puzzle

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 | Category :
    • Leadership Development

By Mike Saporito


Over the last eight years, I've worked with many clients with the common goal of integrating new talent into their organization quickly to deliver better results faster for the business. But I've noticed some onboarding programs create a far bigger impact than others.

Successful onboarding programs enjoy a strong internal brand with participants, line leaders and senior executives. Not surprisingly, these onboarding programs receive significant support and budget year after year.

Onboarding Puzzle Blog

At the same time, other programs seem to sputter along. They're not exactly hurting the business, but the participants hardly leave the experience inspired, let alone thoroughly equipped with the right mindset and capabilities to execute on the organization's strategy.

What's the difference between the high-impact onboarding experience and the one that fizzles? I've scratched my head more than once attempting to answer this question.

By interviewing thought leaders, conducting research in diverse industries, and good ole fashion trial-and-error, patterns have emerged. A common set of principles exist in "best-in-class" onboarding experiences. Success leaves clues.

Multiple Elements Each with a Purpose

The first step is to appreciate that high-impact onboarding often has complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you need to do is conduct a few days of training to jumpstart the new hire's career. Instead, it's the combination of multiple elements that will deliver meaningful results that individuals and organizations deserve.

What does that really mean in practical terms? Seven elements consistently show up in onboarding experiences that leave participants and business leaders wanting more:

  1. Sequence the learning with intent
  2. Balance general vs. role specific needs
  3. Match new talent with mentors
  4. Prioritize in-the-field practice
  5. Create a competitive environment
  6. Build a community
  7. Engage managers in the process

In addition, it's important to consider how you take advantage of cloud and mobile technology. However, don't mistake technology as a "quick fix". Instead, focus on the targeted outcomes of the experience and then determine how technology can be an enabler.

The Sum is Greater than the Parts

As it turns out, there isn't any one thing separating a good onboarding experience from an exceptional one. It's the proverbial "whole being greater than the sum of the parts." But it's certainly true. The tragedy would be to think one face-to-face training experience could solve all of the challenges. It can't.

However, it's not necessary to immediately and completely overhaul an existing onboarding experience. First, consider what's working well and what can be even better. Next, imagine what the experience would look and feel like if you had zero constraints like endless time, resources and money. You’ll shape a vision for what’s possible in the process. And then lastly, incrementally and intentionally start to improve your onboarding experience one element at a time.

Question: If you were to improve one of the seven elements listed in your onboarding program, which one would you select and why?

About the Author: Mike Saporito is a Senior Director at BTS. He’s worked with audiences ranging from senior leaders to new top talent joining Fortune 100 companies. He believes that enthusiasm, intentionality, and persistence separate the exceptional leader from the crowd.


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