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iStock 1305416680
iStock 1305416680

Onboarding doesn’t need to be a headache for fast-growing companies

By Joshua Wohle, CEO and co-founder of Mindstone

Joshua Wohle, CEO and co-founder of Mindstone

Onboarding is a thorn in the side of many fast-growing businesses. While many other aspects of the business may be moving at warp speed, bringing on new employees and getting them up to speed is a perennial challenge. Onboarding is mission-critical: when done right, an employee quickly builds up a detailed understanding not only of their role and what is expected of them, but also of the company’s culture, vision, and ways of working. The impact can be profound: employees can feel as much as 18 times more committed to an organisation if they receive effective onboarding. However, achieving this is undoubtedly easier said than done. 

Let’s look at the outstanding challenges of onboarding: time, costs, maintenance of training programs, and delivering a holistic understanding of the company. 

Balancing the books

Onboarding new employees is expensive. The average organisation spends around $1,300 per employee during the onboarding process, according to the Association of Talent Development. For large and established companies, this is a cost that can be accounted for in budgets, and of course costs can be reduced by creating formal training programs for multiple new employees. However, for early-stage businesses, the role of organising training will often fall to senior management, or even the founder, and it can be difficult to calculate how much this costs a growing business. Although budgets are obviously tight at small businesses, time is even more so, and ineffective onboarding can be a major drain on resources. 

Time is money

The costs for onboarding go beyond the financial: time is a precious commodity at fast-growth businesses. With “departments of one” commonplace, balancing onboarding with day-to-day delivery isn’t easy. The general consensus among HR professionals is that the onboarding process should take a minimum of three months, and that any less than this will hurt companies in the long run. With 90 per cent of new employees making a decision about whether or not a company is a good fit in the first six months, training must strike a balance between being thorough enough to give a new employee the confidence to execute their role, and not having a detrimental impact on other business operations. 

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The other drag on time is keeping resources up to date – fast-growth companies by definition move at speed, and what may have been relevant before can quickly become redundant. Developing and maintaining evergreen training materials can play an essential role in reducing the time required to onboard. There are a wide range of solutions out there, applying the best technology to the onboarding problem, but it’s important to make sure these are able to iterate and grow with the company. Learning should be built into the foundations of any onboarding process, with a view to training being something required of all employees, no matter what position they hold and for how long. Finding effective methods for recording knowledge and passing it on is imperative for all growing companies: businesses must build training programs that accrue information over time, so that knowledge is not lost when a particular employee leaves. This means training materials must be “living” sources that continually update and iterate, ensuring each new employee is given a wealth of knowledge derived from across the business – as soon as they begin their role. One way to achieve this is by using solutions that have in-built question and answer systems, as this reduces the time constraints on updating resources and creates a perpetual feedback loop within all training materials. 

Culture is critical 

In a highly competitive job market, working culture is an increasingly high priority for incoming employees. Obviously it’s important an employee understands their specific role and its requirements, but a clear understanding of a company’s vision, team, and wider operations can often be critical to reducing churn and creating not just good employees, but true advocates for the business. Culture is a major driver of engagement and performance – while this may be more fluid at fast-growth companies, making sure a baseline culture is communicated effectively ensures that employee and employer are much more aligned. 

What good onboarding looks like

There will obviously be variations in the training programs for different companies, but there are several areas which apply to all fast-growth businesses. Using a blended learning process is a must: by marrying practical and vocational learning with training programs that actually demonstrate that knowledge has been acquired means that employees start with their best foot forward, meeting the team and understanding the business. In addition, implementing multi modal content in training is enormously beneficial: there is a wealth of evidence to show that through using a variety of learning sources, such as podcasts, videos and articles, we learn faster and remember more. 

You’ll know onboarding has worked when an employee has a rigorous understanding of the company goals and vision. The value of this is simple: employees equipped with an understanding of ‘the bigger picture’ make better decisions when conducting their day to day role. Decisions made without this context inevitably have a higher failure rate, and so a limited understanding in this area can have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of an employee. In addition to this, onboarding should result in an employee that has a firm grip on how the business operates and the tools it uses, the team, their role and expectations, and – crucially – the company’s culture. The benefits of onboarding done right are huge: there are practical outcomes, such as increased retention, productivity, and revenue, but there is also the ultimate goal for high-growth companies: creating an employee that feels valued, motivated, and driven by a desire to realise the company’s ambitions. 

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