Want a Great Onboarding Experience? Understand Your Audience

Kris Dunn

The world is full of HR buzzwords. Onboarding is one of them.

The fact that onboarding is a buzzword in HR doesn’t mean it’s without importance or merit. It simply means that it’s hard to do, but we understand the importance. That means that a lot of people talk about it, but few do it well.

To get a real game plan together related to onboarding, you need to understand multiple angles – including the difference between transactional and transformative onboarding, generational differences related to onboarding expectations and how to use your ongoing employee onboarding process to your advantage in recruiting.

Tired of your onboarding feeling like a buzzword? Great – let’s map out how to make your onboarding experience relevant to your company without having to hire another full-time employee to handle it.

Transactional vs. Transformative Onboarding 

See what I did there? I added some more buzzwords! Transformative is a big word when it comes to onboarding, but it simply means that you’re doing more than handling transactions when getting new talent started with your company.

Most companies sit employees down, cover policy, benefits, payroll and get 109 forms signed in three hours and call it onboarding. This transactional side is important, but if that’s all you do you’ll never realize the full potential of onboarding.

The goal of any new hire onboarding process should be to minimize the amount of time spent on boring topics and doing paperwork. Get as efficient as you can with those items (use technology) and then move to things that can strengthen the bond new employees feel with your company.

Examples of transformative onboarding include the following:

  • Bringing in focused guest speakers to talk about your culture.
  • Linking new employees with guides/sherpas/mentors that will meet with them consistently in their first 90 days to provide encouragement/support.
  • Starting the goal-setting process of what each new hire wants to accomplish in their first 90/180 days with your company. Including the new hire’s manager in this is a great way to link onboarding with your broader talent strategy.

You’ve got your own examples for what “transformative” onboarding looks like. As long as you’re doing something besides popping a phone-book size of paperwork down in front of the new employee, you’re probably on the right track.

Generational Differences in Onboarding Expectations

As with anything talent-related, generational differences should be considered as you are building your onboarding platform at your company. Here’s what you need to know about generations as it relates to onboarding:

  • BoomersScared of their vulnerability based on their age. Sure, they may be easier to please because they’re happy to have found a job, and unless you truly run them off, they’re probably going to stick. But that’s not the path to engage this group. For best onboarding and subsequent engagement results, make sure boomers see role models their age doing interesting work and being valued as a part of your onboarding sessions (think guest speakers), and consider optional follow-up sessions on understanding benefits (because health care is top of mind for this group).
  • Millennials/ZHopeful that you don’t absolutely suck as an employer, but actively scanning for signs that you do suck. This group is most likely to make a quick change if their BS meter goes off and their needs aren’t met. For best results, you need to automate the transactional (signing paperwork) part of your onboarding process (they won’t respect you if you’re analog) and consider having follow up sessions that are delivered on demand. Those two things will go a long way with this segment (as will goal setting and mentoring programs), but you won’t maximize your street cred with this group without talking about corporate social responsibility. Knowing your company cares about something other than itself is huge toward this group sticking with you when the path becomes rough at work.
  • Gen X This group has no rights, and thus, no expectations. I kid – this is the group I’m part of. Managing to the tastes of Boomers and Millennials/Z will effectively paint the corners of what’s important to this group. Gen X has uploaded a lot of the tech habits of Millennials/Z, but is just old enough to feel some Boomer pain/fear as well. Do what you do to cater to the other generations, throw in a few clips from “Seinfeld” and you’ll manage the needs of Gen X effectively.

Cater to expectations of generations in this way, and you’ll automatically arrive at the 90th percentile of all onboarding programs.

Using Onboarding Programs as a Recruiting Advantage

Remember the Circle of Life in “The Lion King”? Of course you do. While I’d love to talk about Simba and company, I reference the song to make a simple point. If you ramp up your onboarding game, you’ve got to think like a marketer and play back what you’re doing to get new employees up to speed as part of your recruitment marketing efforts – think career site, social channels and more.

Think about the onboarding experience as a marketer, and you’ll realize the benefits are circular (thus my Lion King reference). Promoting what’s going on in onboarding shows future candidates you’re better than most, and there’s a vanity retention play for new employees – it feels great to them to be featured. It’s a big circle – of benefits to your brand.

Whatever you do, the first step is the most important. Make your onboarding more than transactions. Once you do that, you’ll see that you can provide tremendous value in your onboarding programs that impacts engagement, performance and retention – the reason you’re thinking about onboarding in the first place.

How to Use Technology During the Onboarding Process

Kris Dunn is the CHRO at Kinetix and founder of HR Capitalist and Fistful of Talent.
Who am I? That’s an easy question – I’m a VP of HR type who has led HR practices in Fortune 500s and venture capital-held startups. I work for a living, and believe that the key to great business results is to get great people, then do cool stuff to maximize their motivation, performance and effectiveness once you have them in the door. As it turns out, that’s my simple definition of talent management. I believe that all forms of HR administration should be squeezed down to the smallest amount of time possible, giving you more time to do stuff that matters. I’m also among the most transparent HR pros you can find, and here’s why. I care so much about the art of HR that I’ve started two blogs (www.hrcapitalist.com and www.fistfuloftalent.com) with the goal of building a community I could learn from. I’ve been putting my thoughts down every business day for over 7 years. 


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