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Onboarding; not induction: Welcome new staff members in style

Research and conventional wisdom suggest that employees get about 90 days to prove themselves in a new job and so employers must give them an accelerated start

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With online technology and better understanding of behaviour change, onboarding activities don’t have to be costly.

It’s time to consider a different approach to welcoming new staff members to your organsation. One that is increasingly gaining momentum in modern business. It’s called onboarding, and we should forgive the American business-speak because the alternative expression is even worse: Induction.

Induction is a term used in midwifery to signal the forced delivery of a newborn baby. It’s often traumatic and sometimes creates long-term damage. Wikipedia has this to say about ‘induction’ in the business sense:

“A form of training for new employees that should include the development of theoretical and practical skills, and also meet the interaction needs of the new employee. It is usually focused on the particular safety issues of an organisation and will include much of the general information delivered to the employees.”

Some wag at Wikipedia has this: “Induction involves officially endorsed business processes; it does not include unofficial and frequently clandestine initiation practices such as hazing.’

By contrast, Wikipedia defines Onboarding like this: “Also known as organisational socialisation. The mechanism whereby new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills and behaviours to become effective organisational members and insiders.”

Semantics apart, this whole matter deserves more focus. Both current research and conventional wisdom suggest that employees get about 90 days to prove themselves in a new job. So employers must give them an accelerated start. My own Chairman, Professor Nader Tavassoli (www.nadertavassoli.com) is of the opinion that unless a new hire is onboarded within 30 days, the opportunity is as good as lost.

And the number of people starting new jobs at any one time is significant. I’m not aware of any measures of employee fluidity in East Africa but in the United States 25% of the workforce are organisational newcomers coming to terms with new working environments. In the same country 50% of all senior outside hires fail within 18 months, and 50% of all hourly workers leave new jobs within 120 days. Just imagine the cost to business.

So, what can we in East Africa do to make onboarding “the way we do things around here?”  First of all we have to decide whether our business is best served by informal or formal onboarding. The first is probably more appropriate to small enterprises, or to larger businesses with a well-developed culture.

In informal onboarding the new employee benefits from around-the-job conversations with managers and peers.

Colleagues who are very clear about what the business is trying to achieve and what behaviours are therefore required. You’ll see it in successful restaurants where waiting and kitchen staff know exactly what they are about – and are therefore able to mentor new members properly. They also tell them in plain language when they need to pull their socks up, or praise them when they deserve recognition.

The Society for Human Resource Management tells us that formal onboarding is more structured and refers to a set of coordinated policies and procedures that help the employee to adjust to her new job – both in terms of tasks and socialisation.

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The global cosmetics brand L’Oreal runs a two-year, six-part integration programme called L’Oreal Fit. It includes training and roundtable discussions; meetings with key insiders; on the job learning; individual mentoring and activities outside the office such as shadowing assignments and product experiences.

Now, we’re not all global cosmetic giants with deep pockets, But I’m pretty sure we can all think of ways to help new employees become company insiders more quickly. And with online technology and a better understanding of behaviour change, such onboarding activities don’t have to cost the Earth. Or distract valuable resources.

Here in East Africa we’re working with a number of major companies to make onboarding an online interactive process, ensuring that every new member of staff gets an identical welcome to the business and becomes truly effective within 30 days of hire.

Join the conversation with Chris Harrison at Compay Cultures blog


Chris Harrison has 30 years’ experience of building brands. Most of them spent in Africa. He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside, an international company that helps organisations to deliver their brands and strategies through their people. (www.thebrandinside.com / www.companycultures.guru). Email: [email protected]

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