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It’s time to dust off those dreams of onboarding

by Shannon Walsh


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It’s almost certainly possible that the world of work will change forever once this situation has blown over.

It’s highly likely virtual working will become part of the norm and, what’s more, employers will actually start trusting their employees to work from home without the constant suspicion of someone taking a ‘Duvet Day’.

Ironically, the world has become incredibly connected during this period of isolation thanks to the ongoing role technology has been playing, regardless of broadband limitations. We also seem to be fitting more in – work, leisure, fitness, family, reading, watching, teaching, learning and finally getting those jobs done around the house that we’ve put off for so long. What’s more, we’ve become kinder. We’re checking in on one another more frequently. We’re being there for each other, even though we can’t ‘be there’.

So, when we see it in that perspective, it’s a gift. A positive outcome amid all the negative news, pressures and anxieties. It’s an opportunity for the business world to fully embrace it and make their organisations stronger, more relevant and future-fit.

We’ve discussed employee engagement previously, and that is still a huge opportunity in the post-COVID evolution of business, but there’s engagement of another kind that’s ripe for the evolutionary revolution. Onboarding.

I’m not talking about Candidate Experience - perhaps that’ll be covered in another blog. Here, I’m talking about your selected, offered and accepted candidate – your new starter.

Or, in this case, your starter-on-hold.

Presumably, throughout the selection process, you’ve had to do this from afar via a screen. All correspondence has been done through email. Verbal offers have been delivered on a call and formally sent electronically to speed things up. Hopefully rejections have also gone through the same process, with feedback (kinder, remember!). Resignations have been sent electronically (which is bad form but, in today’s climate, the only option) meaning your new starter now has 4-12 weeks, or longer, before they can start. Mix into that the fact that there is a logistical issue of getting the relevant IT and kit out to any new starter – not forgetting that the employee has to return their hardware to their current employer. The point is there’s time to be proactive about stuff.

The question is, what could happen in those twilight weeks? How can we heighten the desire to start? How can we get our starter-on-hold ready to hit the ground running? To feel like they’ve become a fully-fledged member of the team, the business and part of its purpose before they’ve even started?

There are numerous software solutions available for managing an onboarding process, but this blog isn’t a platform for marketing any of them, it’s more about what ingredients to consider.

How can you immerse someone into your culture, your environment and your teams? Not to mention your surroundings and your knowledge. And, perhaps more importantly, how can you get someone who is new to the business, and has barely had any experience of you, prepared and ready to make a massive contribution straight away?

A few years ago, at a different organisation, a colleague and I delivered a seminar at a few locations around the country, challenging the normal, default way of onboarding new starters. Our slant, however, was to look at the opportunity to introduce Learning and Development much sooner, to remove the usual length of time it takes for a new starter to get to grips with processes, systems, teams, language and the overall organisation - such as structures, reporting lines and the obligatory vision, mission and values.

By doing this upfront, there’s an opportunity to remove at least 3 months of learning from the start date, making your new employee contribute quicker to the profit and reputation of your organisation. It’s a simple concept, right?

Back then, there were perceived obstacles in the way, mostly from a funding, cultural, tech and process-driven perspective. But… isn’t now the ideal time? And, isn’t now the only way you can fully bring someone onboard? The fact that tech is now an enabler makes it much easier to imagine.

To help illustrate the concept, during the seminar, we showed a video of Teddy Tamgo, the French tripple jumper, during his quest to win the event at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow.

The video focused on his relationship with the crowd, asking them to clap in order to enhance his performance. The video showed that he wasn’t getting the reaction he needed, culminating in a couple of failed jumps. On his last try, Teddy wouldn’t jump until he had the crowd clapping to his rhythm. He needed to hear it. He needed it to be loud. He needed their focus amid all the other events happening on the field. Only then would he turn to the track and begin his sprint.

The claps became his superpower, a force pushing him to accelerate at the right pace. He finally hit the board square and produced a legal jump that went beyond 18 metres – only the third person to exceed that distance in the history of the sport.

He pulled it off. Against the odds, he won and secured a new best for himself. But the fact that he needed the assistance, the will of the crowd and the power of their commitment to him is something we can learn from and adopt in business.

Rather than the robotic process of onboarding new starters, we are now faced with the glorious opportunity of clapping them in. Giving them all they need to hit that first day squarely, thrusting them into higher levels of performance and making them excited about the prospect of working for an organisation, for longer. An organisation that has invested in them, committed to them and has effectively become their personal career cheerleader, elevating them to superstar status before they’ve even stepped foot past reception.

Imagine that.

You have video, Google Maps, virtual reality, augmented reality, online tours, chatbots, social media content, employee testimonials, reviews, e-learning platforms, collaboration hubs, video conferencing and more, all at your disposal. Now is the time to embrace the potential of what tech can bring to the relationship between you, your employees and your pre-employees. And, in some cases, your alumni, but we’ll hold that back for another blog.

That’s why this current situation could be a game-changer in terms of how you choose to nurture and welcome your talent - even at the very early stages of pre-employment.

And, seeing as the whole nation are clapping the efforts of our frontline key workers, could this small but powerful change make your employees clap for you? It could strengthen retention, increase engagement and help create a reputation that truly delivers on the age-old desire to be an ‘employer of choice’.

It’s time to leap into action. And, I for one, am ready to applaud from the side lines.

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