Develop a successful onboarding strategy at your agency

Friday - 8/20/2010, 2:45pm EDT

Mark Stein and Lilith Christiansen, Kaiser Associates

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So you've successfully hired someone -- that's great!

But how do you make sure they stay with your organization past those initial first few weeks?

A new book, Successful Onboarding: A Strategy to Unlock Hidden Value Within Your Organization is chock full of tips to help you make sure you retain the best and the brightest once you snag them.

Authors Mark Stein and Lilith Christiansen are with Kaiser Associates and tell us more about successful onboarding, which Stein says begins from the moment of the acceptance of the job offer all the way through the employee's first or second year.

"We really see onboarding -- in order to have an impact -- to be a full year activity that's much more centered on cultural orientation, strategic orientation, early career support -- really long term activities that drive long term success with that new hire."

Onboarding within the federal government is especially important because it can be such a different overall culture for new hires, Christiansen explains.

"You're bringing in individuals that it may be their first job, period, or you may be bringing in folks who have had careers within industry and they're now moving to government. There's a whole new language and a whole new way of doing business. Taking advantage of the onboarding period to bring those new hires up to speed [with] those nuances and what's unique about their role, what's unique about their agency, and getting them really averse, not only in the culture, but also the mission of that agency and how they themselves can have a very specific impact on that mission is a really important component," she says.

The book outlines how to actually do this with what the authors call a program diagnostic for onboarding. Often, they explain, it's not treated as a process that is really important, and this is where problems can occur.

"It's not just people, but it's the organization itself. If you examine what most organizations have, [they] have a very strong recruiting process. They have a recruiting team. They have recruiting processes that are well defined. What they don't really have is an onboarding process that matches up, from a quality perspective, to the recruiting process," Stein says.

At the most fundamental level, a good onboarding process could help with your return on investment.

There are a lot of factors involved with a successful approach. One of the most important, of course, has to do with why you hire anyone in the first place -- to do a job -- and there are a number of ways your onboarding program can help a new hire perform to the best of his or her ability.

"There are a number of objectives that we typically go after. We go after time to productivity -- how quickly can we get that new hire up to productivity levels? We go after raising the level of productivity -- redefining, with proper onboarding -- what a new hire is capable of. We go after attrition, attrition mix. We go after knowledge transfer -- if you have a retiring class of employees . . . [we ask] how can we transfer all of that institutional knowledge to our newest workers to get the mission done?" Stein explains.

It might be good to point out that technology can help with some of the more mundane aspects of taking on a new hire, such as filling out benefit forms and making an employee aware of his or her rights in the workplace, but you should not rely solely on a computer program to make anyone feel really welcome.

Christiansen also notes that the onboarding process isn't just for the benefit of the new employee, either.

"Putting in place a comprehensive program blueprint that would lay out all of the elements that will be deployed over the course of the new hire's first year, and then, of course, making sure that you have a governance process in place and a very defined metrics process in order to evaluate the performance of the onboarding program. How effective is it for the new hires? How effective is it for the new hires' managers? Are you able to actually document that return on investment?"

It is also crucial to create an onboarding program that takes the different needs of different employees into account. Employees who have experience should be made to feel welcome, not talked down to -- and greener folks shouldn't feel overwhelmed.

"Effective onboarding programs do have programs that are tailored to different groups of new hires. So, there are different aspects of the program that you may need to teach a little bit differently, whether that new hire has years of work experience or is very new to the federal workplace."

Email the author of this post at dramienski@federalnewsradio.com