Employee retention strategies start with the onboarding experience

Bill Gates is of opinion that the pandemic is here to stay until the end of 2021. If you thought you could get away with winging business by only planning for the here and now, I would advise you to think again and get the proverbial drawing board out of the cupboard. We need to accept this pandemic is part of our reality for the next couple of years.
Employee retention strategies start with the onboarding experience
It is at this junction that those responsible for leading people and processes within organisations should consider pivoting their people, resources and value propositions for long-term efficiency. That means change on every front is inevitable and making almost everything more complex – including the hiring and onboarding of new talent.

Ready or not, Covid-19 has forced organisations to go fully digital to the extent that digital transformation strategies are driving organisations forward. But parallel to that, this digital vehicle could not be driven without, well, its drivers. People.

Change at the very beginning

Career development strategies remain significantly important. Perhaps even more so during this time when our aim should be to keep employees motivated, fulfilled and forward-planning. During the pandemic, leadership is in fact less about managing talent to produce results and more about looking after the talent that produces the results.

More than ever, leaders are now tasked with investing in work wellness programmes to actively shape their employees to remain nimble and adaptable. Amorei Engelbrecht, Head of People and Development at ASL is a good example of one of our digital transformation clients that understands the importance of employee wellness, but stressed in a recent virtual chat with me that it can only be successful if this process is regarded by organisations and employees as a two-way street. She believes it is as much the employee’s responsibility to choose to buy into employee wellness from the start of their journey with the organisation and to assume accountability to leverage development tools provided to them by the organisation.

Engelbrecht says wellness strategies start as early as the first footsteps that a new or graduate employee take through the doorstep, be it physical, virtual or perhaps as I’ve argued before, a hybrid doorstep. A hybrid work model incorporates the best of both the physical and virtual workplace where employees work remotely some of the time and get together at the office whenever needed for collaboration or creative work as well as interpersonal ‘get togethers’.

The right way to start a new role

Cultivating people wellness mirrored by rockstar organisational productivity is a much longer change journey. As a change management specialist, I believe that the way in which we onboard new employees remotely – specifically graduates or first-time employees – can not only be the most obvious first step, but also the most powerful step taken.

Let’s face it, there’s starting a job, and then there’s a right way to start a job. Creating onboarding policies and guidelines during any time in history is by no means a defined process, but when implemented tailored to the needs of the individual (mainly the youngest work generation or generation Z) and the environment (a new way of working in a post-pandemic era), it leads to better defined organisational success and a more fulfilled employee.

These are my suggestions:
  1. Wrinkle-free introduction to company technology
Before your new employee’s start date, arrange for all cyber policy-approved digital and technological requirements to be delivered in time and remotely. Have your technology resources help new team members set up what they may need to do their jobs well. Help the team taking care of the prep to assume a customer experience-driven approach – as if this is your first day starting this job.

To effectively empower, train and onboard remote (or hybrid remote) workers, real time training via videoconferencing in bite-sized bits is most effective. And don’t forget to follow up with various ‘check-ins’ to answer any questions while they are finding their way learning a new system on a regular basis.
  1. Remodel company culture based on the generation you are onboarding
Framing an onboarding experience properly means starting with ‘the why’. Fully frame the organisation’s values and mission. When you expect new employees to swim in the deep end, it may set them up for failure. The actions that follow will make much more sense to the newbie on why you work and use technology in this particular way. Any process, platform or task requires why or purpose during an onboarding stage.

Today’s new employees are most likely the Generation Z-model. These employees have a heightened awareness of issues concerning environmental and social justice. Unlike Millennials who were raised during the boom times of the 1990s, Generation Z has had its eyes open from the beginning. They are entering the workplace in the aftermath of cataclysms such as wars, hardening of national borders, economic uncertainty, and more recently a global health pandemic.

This generation strongly wants to contribute with an increased need for understanding the ‘why’. They want to engage with society and try to make it better. It would be wise for organisations in the aftermath of Covid-19 to assess or find their reason for being. Then redesign company culture in such a way as to secure support from this generational model. Success to them lies not only in creating wealth but following their passions and trying to build a better world for themselves. Your onboarding needs to reflect that clearly.
  1. Leave no room for confusion
When it comes to the actual day-to-day work, the biggest chunk of responsibility lies with the remote worker. Encourage new employees not to wait until their manager or team members are online to learn what their next tasks are. The easiest way to ensure all team members know what they are doing when is to share a team task calendar. Define clear short and long-term goals and expectations. Also use this time to flag challenges they might be having or how they can jump in and help to resolve potential challenges.

Although different team members may prefer to communicate in different ways, it is advisable that organisations design clear policies outlining the best ways to contact team members (for example, your cyber policy may have a section on scenarios when we use email, instant messaging platforms or calls vs Teams or Zoom) and when to reach out to IT support.

It may not be a bad idea to have an open (but humane) conversation early on to specify which content is not appropriate to share via the different mediums. Use a camera-on policy when communicating with remote employees and use your photo in emails. These are unprecedented times that call for a whole new way of connecting while we are required to physically distance even in the workplace.

Shape your organisation’s future

On the journey aimed at buffering people wellness, ensuring adaptability of processes, and protecting the organisation’s profitability organisational leaders and employees alike have a responsibility to ensure these three variables are in balance.

Help your new and existing employees reach their fullest potential by engaging them in mentorship and coaching, counselling, career action planning and creating meaningful and strategic connections that benefit both their career aspirations as well as the organisation’s goals.

Use the pandemic as an opportunity to enhance the retention of your organisation’s most valuable investment – people.

About the author

Francois Kriel is the management consultant and director at Kriel & Co.
Kriel  & Co
Kriel & Co
Francois Kriel is an IMCSA accredited management consultant with change management and digital transformation as specialisation areas. He works full-time as director at Kriel & Co where he leads a dynamic team currently facilitating digital change at several high-profile organisations. Francois also supports Stellenbosch University as guest lecturer to business management honours students. He is an advocate for collaborative leadership, mentorship and LGBTQI+ inclusivity.

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