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Employee Onboarding Should Be Ongoing to Help Advance Careers

image for nd3000/Shutterstock
nd3000/Shutterstock
  • Employee onboarding is largely used to help new hires hit the ground running, but 78% of HR professionals polled said the process "isn't just for new employees."
  • Only 11% of HR respondents said their onboarding plan continues beyond the initial training period for new hires.
  • 65% said their company's onboarding program helps existing employees prepare for the next step in their career.

The onboarding process can make or break a new hire's transition into a company. When done right, it prepares new hires to be successful in their positions. A new survey of more than 200 human resources professionals suggests the same processes for onboarding newcomers are not used nearly enough to help prepare existing workers for advancement within companies.

Commissioned by SilkRoad Technology and conducted by The Harris Poll between March and April 2019, the online poll surveyed 203 HR "decision-makers" about how their companies handle onboarding. Researchers found that most companies today fail to ensure their employees' competency after the initial onboarding training.

"These results paint a picture of a corporate environment that is not utilizing the full potential of its greatest assets – its people – through onboarding, learning, and performance programs for employee development and training," said Robert Dvorak, president and CEO of SilkRoad Technology.

While the survey found that 91% of respondents felt onboarding was an overwhelmingly positive thing that benefits employees and "could drive culture change and business innovation," there were other takeaways as well.

According to researchers, 90% of the HR professionals polled said their onboarding programs include efforts that help new hires, but 94% said they believed the process should continue to help existing employees better understand their roles. Despite those vast agreements, 77% admit that their company's onboarding efforts focus almost exclusively on new hires.

Additionally, roughly 68% of respondents said their company's onboarding efforts were treated as a "static event" rather than a continuous process. Of those polled, only 11% said they had onboarding efforts that never ended, though 65% said they felt the process worked well for helping existing employees.

Lilith Christiansen, vice president of onboarding solutions at SilkRoad Technology, said those findings highlight a commonly missed opportunity. "Companies have tremendous opportunities to ... strengthen the bonds they have with their employees through strategic onboarding that's continuous, intentional and employee-centric," she said. "Many companies see onboarding as a finite process with a beginning and end. Done properly, onboarding never ends. It supports employees through their entire lifecycles with the company."

As emergent technologies like artificial intelligence and automation disrupt the way companies hire and onboard employees, the HR professionals polled said their companies were ready to meet the changes. However, when asked if those same technologies were ready to help assess current employees, respondents were not as confident.

The main issue behind that lack of confidence, according to Dvorak, is that companies don't measure the efficacy of their onboarding and employee development programs against how they mesh with the company's operational and financial goals.

"During the next three to five years, businesses in every industry are expected to experience massive disruption and opportunity through automated, digital, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning advances," Dvorak said. "Companies must adopt strategies to monitor these changes, prepare their entire workforce – not just new hires – with the skills they need, and continually 'onboard' them to new roles of business value and relevance."

With the coming technological changes in mind, 83% of respondents said they were confident their company was "extremely prepared" or "somewhat prepared" to handle AI and automation in the workplace. However, just 37% of that group said their employee onboarding software was prepared to teach workers skills, and only 36% said they were ready to address overall company success. Similarly, 36% of respondents said their onboarding software was ready to help ensure employees worked well together, and 33% said it was ready to help transition employees to new roles.

While nearly every HR professional polled agreed that onboarding has a positive effect on a company, they told researchers they didn't believe most companies will focus on it in the future. Approximately 35% of respondents said "understanding and addressing onboarding issues" was a high priority at their company, while 45% said it was a medium priority and 20% said it was a low priority or not a priority at all.

Just 28% said they anticipated their company's focus on onboarding to increase over the next five years. Only 19% said they expected their company to do nothing to change its onboarding strategy.

To better adapt onboarding to a rapidly changing workforce, HR professionals have to be able to measure the outcome. According to the survey, approximately two-thirds of respondents said they usually measure things like employee retention (70%) and employee engagement (66%) as key performance indicators (KPIs). Fewer gauge revenue performance (30%), cost reduction (29%), customer retention (23%) and increased market share (21%) as KPIs.

With that in mind, 33% of respondents said measuring their onboarding program against the right KPIs is one of the "top three biggest onboarding challenges" they face. Personalizing the new hire onboarding experience (31%), improving new hire engagement (30%) and quickly implementing changes (29%) were the other top priorities.

Christiansen said the survey results "show companies have much work to do – that the C-suite needs to pay closer attention to the issues surrounding onboarding and development and recognize the business impact of doing so."

Andrew Martins

Andrew Martins is an award-winning journalist with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Ramapo College of New Jersey. Before joining Business.com and Business News Daily, he wrote for a regional publication and served as the managing editor for six weekly papers that spanned four counties. Currently, he is responsible for reviewing tax software and online fax services. He is a New Jersey native and a first-generation Portuguese American, and he has a penchant for the nerdy.