I sat down with Patrick Rooney, Chief Marketing Officer of Click Boarding, to discuss the concept of long-term onboarding in detail. Here’s what we talked about:
Meghan Biro: We’ve been looking at onboarding not just as a fast, temporary phase but a far longer-term process. Let’s talk about what that longer-term process looks like.
Patrick Rooney: Right. As you think about modern onboarding, you can distill it down to three different functional elements: preparation, immersion, and then enablement.
So, preparation – all the things you do to prepare someone to become an employee, getting them ready and legal to work. There’s the administrative side: tax forms, benefits, the things that typically get handled in the first day or two. It’s mundane stuff — time consuming, but important for administrators and for HR, since there’s some level of hazard from a compliance perspective. If it’s not done right and there’s an audit, there could be consequences.
MB: But here, preparation is just one part of a much larger and ongoing process.
PR: Yes. Then there’s immersion: immersing new hires in the culture, in their team and in the group, so they can absorb the ethos and start working within the cultural parameters of the organization. When you think about immersion, companies are investing in all of these cultural initiatives: special interest groups, intramurals, coffee talks.
MB: To me these all look like activities to support better employee engagement.
PR: Immersion really is another word for engagement, true. But everybody wants to get away from talking about engagement as a generic term. What we’re talking about from an onboarding perspective is this: How can we immerse someone in the culture of the organization so they can become a good and productive citizen?
MB: Yes — and that’s a good term: immersion. It implies you can move people into the culture, get them involved and engaged in the organization — using the right tools, the right technology and approach. So then we have that third element.
PR: The enablement. We want to prepare someone to come into the organization and do well. But then we also want to enable them to do well. So there’s some training in there, as well as feedback and reviews at regular intervals. There’s the hiring manager care: the new hire’s communications with their hiring manager and their team. There’s also a networking component. And it’s about giving someone the tools to do their job well — to get them off to a good start.
So functionally, modern onboarding goes beyond that first part of preparation, which is really the legal and administrative component, and extends to immersion into the culture —who to talk to, the legacy of the organization, the institutional knowledge. Then the onboarding continues to actually enable someone to get to work, with regular feedback, check-ins and reviews at regular intervals, training.
MB: Let’s talk about that networking component. That’s a great approach — a powerful way to connect the new employee into the company. But there’s even more to it than that, right? It’s a way to connect the company to the new employee as well.
PR: That’s true. The networking component is about networking within the organization, building a peer community. It’s about making friends and creating a social situation. From a social bonding perspective, new hires don’t have a social network when they come in. If you don’t have a social network within your own organization, then the relationship between employer and employee becomes just a transactional relationship — and that social contract is broken. That makes turnover far more likely. So there’s an emotional component here. But from a practical perspective, it gives someone the ability to far better navigate the organization efficiently, so they can get their job done.
MB: There’s this whole other perspective as well, as you’re saying: by enabling new hires to start building those relationships, the employer is holding up their end of the bargain, the social contract. To put it positively, that will likely reduce the prospect of turnover.
PR: Absolutely: The networking part of this does start earlier, during the immersion part of onboarding, when a new hire is starting to develop that institutional knowledge. But customarily it takes a long time for people to develop those networks, so making it part of onboarding enables them to get connected so much faster. They can be connected to people with similar interests, or fellow alums, or otherwise, whatever the parameters.
MB: But I can also see where these connections could start earlier, right? So in a sense these three elements of modern onboarding aren’t really in chronological order, but they can begin and then keep extending.
PR: These connections can start even before Day One — people can reach out ahead of time and say, “Welcome, it’s great to know you. We’re both from College X.” That’s especially important when it happens cross-organizationally. If I’m a new hire in marketing, and I’ve already made connections with somebody in engineering, somebody in finance and somebody in facilities management, that’s really valuable. I’m starting to know the organization, and know there are people like me here. Those multiple touch points help reinforce the culture. And as I do my job and need information from engineering or another department, I already know somebody I can go to. So it really does help me do my job better.
MB: So here’s where onboarding is actually enabling people to get truly on board.
PR: That’s exactly right. That then helps to accelerate productivity. And at the same time, because I’m making these connections, it helps reduce turnover. That’s a tertiary benefit: if I have these connections, and I have this sense of institutional knowledge along with it, I’m probably going to be happier to be here, and far more engaged. Because I’m dialed in. I like what I’m doing, I like the company. That means I’m probably going to be a pretty good advocate as well.
MB: Which leads us right back to the issue of retention, turnover, and engagement. As well as to recruiting: you’ve got people in the company able to be company ambassadors a lot sooner, and more effectively. Because the way they encountered the company, via their onboarding, was to become connected into the company right away and be able to build on these connections. So these three functional elements of modern onboarding all work together, and provide a far more connected candidate as well as employee experience. I think that’s a key differentiator a lot of companies are going to want to know more about. It’s really to their advantage to provide this kind of preparation, immersion, and enablement for employees — for all the reasons you just described.
PR: Yes. In essence, modern onboarding is a bridge — between talent acquisition, all the reasons that somebody said yes, and then with that person’s being able to be a truly successful employee. That means providing the things that they need to do their job: administrative, legal, training, but also those communication and interaction tools that facilitate connections, well into the employee journey.