Regardless of industry or seniority, virtually every member of the workforce shares one commonality: onboarding.
When done correctly, the process can create a sense of immediate belonging; absorb new employees into workplace culture; and help ensure a high-achieving, long-term worker. When done poorly, however, onboarding can create a negative cycle of turnover, cost significant resources, and ultimately drain morale across the organization. Getting onboarding correct can be one of the most effective strategies in recruiting and retaining workers in today’s environment.
Onboarding was the topic at hand during the second installment of the “Build for Now, Build for Future: Workforce Strategies for Manufacturers” webinar series. The three-part series, hosted by MiBiz and The Right Place Inc. is dedicated to providing actionable, real-world information and strategies to help West Michigan manufacturers grow and develop their workforce.
Reframing the definition of onboarding was one of the primary themes during the discussion. Instead of viewing it as a costly human resources procedure, it is important to see onboarding as a cost-avoidance strategy and part of a manufacturer’s quality system, said Terry Hossink vice president of manufacturing services at The Right Place Inc. Hossink also linked onboarding to an organization’s placemaking – the method of connecting a person to their work environment. Enhancing a person’s sense of place can make that individual feel more purpose in their work, Hossink said.
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“The people you hire have a direct effect on your product quality,” Hossink said. “Like every other quality system it has to be scalable and be met with the same rigor and effectiveness as you move forward.”
Cori Anderson, a talent experience advisor at consulting firm, Become Unmistakable, believes it’s important to view employees as customers when contextualizing the importance of onboarding. According to Anderson, only 12 percent of employees report having a great onboarding experience. Likewise, 50 percent of employee turnover occurs in the first 90 days.
“If we lost 50 percent of our customers in the first 90 days, we’d be in quite a bit of trouble,” Anderson said. “A lot of people are leaving because of disillusionment. Whether they thought your culture was one way and now it’s another, they thought their responsibilities were one thing, now it’s another.”
Anderson recently consulted with a manufacturing company suffering from a 60 percent employee turnover rate in the first 90 days, resulting in $265,000 in additional annual expenses.
“When we think about the cost and time it takes to retain someone, it’s a lot more sustainable than the cost of constantly rehiring,” Anderson said.
CRAFTING QUALITY ONBOARDING
While the specifics of onboarding will be unique to each company, the experts pointed to a few fundamentals that can help build a strong foundation for the onboarding process.
For Holland-based JR Automation, one of the most important fundamentals comes down to forging those strong connections with new employees even before they start on the shop floor, said Russell Hicks, a senior talent acquisition manager at the company. The automated systems integrator and designer begins by emailing each new hire a week prior to their start date with each of their team members and key human resource personnel copied on the email. After their initial onboarding, human resource professionals at JR Automation continue following up with the new employees at the 30, 60, and 90 day marks. That’s in addition to the regular interaction new hires have with their managers, Hicks said.
Additionally, the webinar participants noted that it’s critical to differentiate between “orientation” and “onboarding.” Whereas orientation is typically led by the human resources team over the first week, onboarding is a process conducted closely with a manager over the first nine months to a year of employment. To encourage manager involvement, JR Automation created a system of procedures managers are required to follow with new hires, Hicks said. JR Automation also created a “battle buddy” system, which pairs new hires with colleagues who are available to answer questions, take them to lunch, and otherwise help ease their transition into the team.
“The manager can’t sit with you all day, everyday for weeks on end,” Hicks said. “So we’re going to set you up with someone who can be there to help you… That’s one of the biggest things and it’s pretty simple to implement. You have plenty of people on your team who want to bring others on and it’s just using those people who want to participate in building your team.”
While revamping an organization’s onboarding strategy may seem like a herculean effort, it can be started simply and one step at a time, the experts said.
“It starts with keeping it simple and doing one thing at a time,” Hicks said. “Whether that’s doing a welcome email or training for your hiring manager to welcome them the appropriate way. Start with the small steps and just add to it. You’ll start to see someone will naturally pick it up and then lean on those individuals and take the volunteers.”
The manufacturing workforce – and workforce in general – is undergoing a paradigm shift which has transferred much of the power dynamic to workers. For better or worse, if an individual finds the circumstances of their employment do not meet their expectations, they will simply leave, regardless of if they have just started work or not. Creating a workplace culture where new hires feel immediately connected and where they understand the competencies and tasks expected of them will help ensure a lower turnover rate. And it all begins with onboarding.