John Way, President & CEO
“When leaders throughout an organization take an active, genuine interest in the people they manage, when they invest real time to understand employees at a fundamental level, they create a climate for greater morale, loyalty, and, yes, growth.”—Patrick Lencioni
An organization’s workforce is its greatest asset and competitive advantage. Therefore, having defined, well-crafted employee onboarding plans that continuously cultivate, nurture, and uplift the workforce are crucial to ensuring the company’s longstanding success.
However, the sobering truth is that employee onboarding does not seem to get the attention it deserves for most companies. Indeed, industry surveys show that 35 percent of companies do not have any type of formal onboarding plans. Of the remaining companies, 60 percent indicate that their onboarding plans do not contain any concrete milestones, goals, or reviews. Hence in most companies, new-hires are plunged into jobs without having a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities and are forced to learn through trial-and-error. It is no wonder that it can take as long as six months for new-hires to get fully acquainted with their jobs.
Furthermore, the problem is exacerbated with the rise in job-hopping. According to Gallup, 36 percent of millennials will look for a new job in the next 12 months. If every team in a company incurs extended periods of productivity loss due to frequent staff turnover, it becomes a real drain on the business.
"Pipeline not only helps you systematize the onboarding, cross-training, and offboarding processes, but it also gives you a way to measure and refine these processes over time"
“That is why onboarding cannot be an afterthought,” says John Way, president of Innovative Way—a Texas-based business process consultancy. “It is too important for that, especially with today’s workforce.”
For many companies, employee onboarding is simply a checklist of administrative activities: sign HR forms, set up payroll, attend a welcome lunch, etc. There is very little job training involved. For other companies, onboarding is an avalanche of tasks and meetings that leave the new-hire dizzy with information. Neither of these approaches are effective for onboarding. As Way states, “Successful onboarding should not be wholly dependent on how well the person takes notes.”
Instead, Innovative Way encourages their clients to map out a plan and timeline for onboarding. “We usually recommend a 90- day approach,” Way states, “with discrete check-ins at: 1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month, 2 months, and 3 months.” At each check-in, the new-hire meets with their manager to collect feedback, review lessons-learned, and clarify goals and objectives for the next check-in. That way, new-hires are constantly kept up-to-date on their progress. If they are not assimilating quick enough, root causes can be identified, and changes can be made.
Thinking Beyond Just New-Hires
In addition, when most leaders think about onboarding, they tend to focus only on new-hires.
Onboarding is a process, not just an event, because transferring knowledge should be a continuous activity. It starts when the person first joins the team and ends when they leave and pass the baton to the next person
“But, what about job transfers, project transfers, or promotions?” Way asks. Goals, objectives, processes, and tools vary greatly from team-to-team, project-to-project, or department-to-department. Yet according to Human Capital Institute, only 27 percent of companies have onboarding plans for position changes or promotions. “It is a missed opportunity,” reflects Way, “because without an onboarding plan, all you have is trial-and-error, and that is not a recipe for success.”
In addition to onboarding for position changes, Innovative Way recommends a continual onboarding of new skills and talent through cross-training. As Way points out, “A key characteristic of high performing teams is that they learn and grow as a team, with the key phrase being ‘as a team.’ For example, if one team member figures out a better, more efficient way of working, they do not keep it to themselves. Instead, they share that knowledge with everyone else for the betterment of the team.” That is why cross-training increases team productivity, morale, and versatility because team members continually train and uplift each other’s skills and talents.
Finally, Innovative Way recommends creating defined offboarding plans, because when someone leaves the team, their knowledge capital must be captured. This can seem like a difficult task to accomplish in a short amount of time but having a concrete plan will make the process manageable. “Avoid crash-course sessions,” Way advises, “because that quickly leads to information overload.” Instead, Innovative Way recommends scheduling daily meetings to map out key deliverables: what they are, when they are due and to whom, how are they supposed to be delivered, and common pitfalls to avoid. Start by addressing daily key deliverables, then expanding to weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual deliverables. Furthermore, if the team regularly cross-trains, offboarding will be smoother, because there will not be a large knowledge or skills gap between team members. “This is why onboarding is a process, not just an event,” Way states, “because transferring knowledge should be a continuous activity. It starts when the person first joins the team and ends when they leave and pass the baton to the next person.”
Jump-starting with Pipeline
Designing well-crafted onboarding plans can be a challenging task, especially if one is creating them from scratch. That is why Innovative Way created their award-winning, flagship product, Pipeline—a cloud-based, workflow management platform. Pipeline helps managers and leaders jump-start their workflows, because it comes with pre-built templates like onboarding so that clients do not have to start from scratch. These pre-built templates can be easily customized to create 30-day, 60-day, or 90-day onboarding workflows with concrete checkpoints to ensure that people are making progress. In addition, clients can create structured workflows to manage the cross-training and offboarding of employees. Furthermore, Pipeline’s advanced analytics gives managers and leaders a way to measure how well these processes are performing. As Way says, “Pipeline not only helps you systematize the onboarding, cross-training, and offboarding processes, but it also gives you a way to measure and refine these processes over time.”
Moreover, because Pipeline is a workflow management solution, it can serve as the knowledge repository central to any training plan. Pipeline makes it easy for new people to understand how processes work and how they fit into the overall picture by clearly identifying everyone’s roles and responsibilities and the order of operations. “Providing that level of clarity is critical for anyone new, because it eliminates confusion about who does what,” Way asserts. In addition, Pipeline enables clients to embed bite-sized instructions and details about how each task is supposed to be executed. As he explains, “Imagine a new team member is being trained on how to create a quarterly report. Where will they get the data? Is there a template they need to use? Where can they find this template?” Trying to capture and remember all these details during onboarding just leads to information overload. “Now, imagine if you could store all those details with the task as instructions,” he continues. “This time when the new team member is asked to create a report, they have the link to the data source and the template along with instructions on how to use it. This means, there are less details to cover during onboarding, which means shorter onboarding times.” This is how Pipeline can lower the learning curve for onboarding and accelerate the time-to-productivity at the same time.
Citing a success story, Way describes how they helped a company transform its onboarding process. He recounts, “They had an onboarding plan, but it was the typical approach: lots of activities and meetings packed into the first couple of days. The common feedback was that people were overwhelmed and overloaded with information. Most people ended up having to learn through trial-and-error. It took more than 6 months before they were as productive as tenured staff.” And because onboarding was not effective, management could not assess the quality of the hire until almost 9-12 months into their tenure, compounding the cost of bad hires. As Way states, “Everyone was frustrated, because they felt trapped.” With the onboarding problem identified, Innovative Way deployed Pipeline to start systematizing processes and workflows, capturing key details, and clarifying roles and responsibilities to lower the learning curve. Once the processes were clearly defined, onboarding plans for the company, the teams, and the projects were systematized in Pipeline complete with concrete milestones for measuring how well new people are progressing. With this new holistic approach, onboarding now takes only three months, and at the end of the three months, managers can confidently assess the quality of hire. In addition, cross-training is now a regular team activity with top-performers sharing their tips-and-tricks with others to continuously cultivate, nurture, and uplift talent. As a result, team productivity and morale have dramatically improved. “It’s truly a game-changer,” says one executive.
A Company That Breeds Innovation
Successes like these constantly propel Innovative Way forward, and looking ahead, it intends to roll out additional, sophisticated features for Pipeline. The company aims to extend its onboarding best practices beyond just their clients’ employees to also cover the broader team, which often contain external team members, like outside contractors, vendors, suppliers, and partners. “Cross-company onboarding is becoming important,” Way explains, “because many teams today are distributed. In order to be successful, everyone has to work together, even team members from other companies. And, that is what makes Pipeline special—the ability to serve the needs of both internal and external team members.” With such a remarkable product like Pipeline, Way and his team are poised to transform the realm of onboarding in the coming years.