Engagement and The Art of New Employee Onboarding
Acculturation onboarding, those business processes that focus on reducing the productivity curve for new employees, often focuses on concepts such as engagement, enablement, and assimilation. Unfortunately for most organizations, these concepts are more art than science and are a challenge—to say the least—to systemize and measure for continual improvement. The most effective organizations will find a way around this challenge and implement systems to execute, control, and quantify the ethereal process of new employee engagement.
The root of the problem is that acculturation and engagement are immersive in nature. Furthermore, they are not one-time events and cannot be achieved even with the best and most comprehensive orientation programs. The organizations that struggle with achieving the goals of employee onboarding initiatives and suffer from outcomes like poor retention likely fail because they don’t consider engagement as the pervasive and ubiquitous process that it necessarily is. Whatever systems and processes are put in place, they must be continually and readily accessible to the new employee. New employee engagement must be immersive, not an event.
Immersive Engagement Cannot Be Limited to New Employees
The conundrum for orientation programs is that these engagement systems and processes should be available to all employees. The value of the principle objectives of a strategic acculturation onboarding initiative—achieve productivity quicker and retain key employees longer—has been long established. No matter how an organization defines productivity, all organizations want to maximize it. The most successful organizations, however, recognize that this is not just a new employee question. Business goals change, strategies evolve, resources fluctuate, technologies come and go, all resulting in constantly shifting changes in productivity.
The dynamic nature of business and markets means that employers can’t just focus on achieving productivity for new employees, they must provide the tools to maintain productivity perpetually. Engagement as a tool for new employee acculturation must, therefore, become a lifecycle tool, not just an onboarding tool.
Employers Should Focus More On Lifecycle Engagement Than On “Day One”
In the world of new employee onboarding, so much is written about helping the new employee “hit the ground running” that the real process of converting a candidate into a productive employee can be lost among the “on day one” clichés. Achieving productivity is a process, and even if that process begins before day one it’s unrealistic and often counterproductive to expect full productivity on the first day.
As previously established and often patently obvious, achieving productivity for some jobs can be accomplished in minutes but full productivity in other jobs might take years. Furthermore, productivity must be maintained in addition to being achieved.
So what’s the efficiency-minded organization, particularly those with lengthy acculturation processes, to do? It’s clear that both the organization and the new employee benefit when the new employee learning curve is minimized, and it’s widely accepted that engagement is a useful tool in new employee onboarding (and vice versa) to achieve productivity. But what, exactly, is engagement, and how is it differently and specifically applied to new employees?
What Is “Engagement” And Can It Be Measured?
The Corporate Leadership Council (CLC) defines engagement this way:
“Engagement is the extent to which employees commit to something or someone in their organization and how hard they work and how long they stay as a result of that commitment.”
While the definition makes sense, it might seem nearly impossible to measure, but the CLC goes on to provide a framework for quantifying engagement. A framework to establish engagement in hand, the actual implementation of an acculturation and lifecycle engagement process—what an organization must do to improve engagement—is left to the organization and continual process improvement techniques.
Typically, engagement tools are implemented through a mixture of business activities and technologies. An orientation program is the “old standby” acculturation engagement tool applied by human capital managers, but as the CLC and others point out, it must be implemented with continual measurement and improvement in mind. In a lifecycle sense, company meetings and strategy definition sessions and top-down alignment (the gamut of conventional engagement processes) all rely on effective communications for implementation of engagement. Corporate communications being a cornerstone of IT automation, it seems ironic that engagement is not already a key objective of any organizations’ communications tools.
Isn’t New Employee Engagement Different Than Ongoing Employee Engagement?
Managers and human capital strategists tasked with the onboarding activity might wonder how engagement in the new employee acculturation process differs from that of the employee lifecycle. As Lagunas points out, onboarding sits at a unique, critical junction in the lifecycle. This is because the new employee is coming from an initial state of no measurable engagement. Good recruiting processes, however, will have brought the applicant to a measurable state, one where both the candidate and the organization have made an informed decision on the employment relationship, but it’s up to the acculturation process to leverage engagement to achieve a productive state.
Importantly, Lagunas points out that engagement is not about happiness but about employees understanding their role in achieving the goals of the organization. With business goals constantly shifting, this implies engagement is as important for maintaining ongoing productivity as it is for initial employee productivity. Indeed, as a new employee is fresh with the buy-in achieved in the recruiting process, maintaining lifecycle engagement may be the most challenging task for HR and brings acculturation engagement in line with lifecycle engagement. They are, in effect, the same process, equally important and with similar objectives, only applied at different phases of the employee lifecycle.
Achieving Engagement Is Entirely Dependent On Communication
If we have adequately established that communication is at the heart of lifecycle engagement, then we can also establish that communication is at the heart of new employee acculturation. With onboarding’s other objectives—assimilation and enablement—being the key differences for new employees, pervasive communications becomes that much more valuable a tool. In Lagunas’ high-performance onboarding model, enablement is achieved through self-guided and social learning; assimilation is achieved through mentorship and interpersonal connection.
Ideally, any communications tools and acculturation engagement processes made available to the new employee are intuitive and accessible even as early as their acceptance of the offer. They should be as ubiquitous as email and as intuitive as social networks and wikis. But from the strategic human capital management perspective, they should be dynamic to adapt to the company’s changing business environment and they should inherently measure engagement.
But, and perhaps most importantly, as engagement is a lifecycle process the tools and processes must be immersive: they should be the same tools the new employee starts with upon accepting the offer as they are when retiring from the organization.
The Benefits And Call To Action
The benefits for organizations that do a good job of implementing immersive lifecycle engagement are clear. The CLC cites significant increases in individual and corporate performance and dramatic improvements in retention (reduction of probability of departure by 87%). Lagunas points to increases in organizational Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and even dramatic (78%) increases in revenue.
Human capital managers should first recognize that engagement is a lifecycle process that begins at the earliest points of new employee acculturation. The goals of engagement should include collaboration, both formal and informal, and enablement to disseminate strategic communications throughout the workforce. Availability of engagement tools should be pervasive and ubiquitous, available to employees at any time they desire it and anywhere they might want to access it. Mobile engagement is no longer nice to have but a strategic differentiation.
Human capital managers should also recognize the opportunity to partner with IT to support business processes and engagement initiatives with technology. With communications as the foundation of engagement, the opportunity to automate and control engagement processes might begin and end with enterprise software.
For organizations evaluating engagement platforms, the following features checklist should be referenced.
|☐||Mobile availability (responsive web or platform-specific apps)|
|☐||Engagement before, during, and after onboarding|
|☐||A successful track record of high adoption|
|☐||Access to dynamic org chart|
|☐||Access to enterprise knowledge base (KB)|
|☐||Ability to populate KB with diverse business topics|
|☐||Ability to contribute to KB topics|
|☐||Availability to enterprise social activity|
|☐||Intuitive, “Facebook-like”, social media interface|
|☐||Publication of formal and informal data and events|
|☐||Access to formal and informal instruction|
|☐||Access to formal and informal business processes|
|☐||Ability to implement feedback collection, i.e. surveys or assessments|
|☐||Integration with performance assessment|