Onboarding new employees is one of the most critical functions of HR and training departments. Whatever their impressions, insights, or knowledge of the hiring company before their start dates, new employees’ onboarding is their first in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at how the company operates—its culture, internal tools, processes, etc.
Onboarding is the best chance a company has to set the tone for employees’ tenure in the organization. It’s much easier to learn something new than to later unlearn processes and habits gained after months or years on the job.
In other words, it’s important to get onboarding right. But how do the staff tasked with onboarding know whether they’ve done a good job? Every onboarding team should have checklists of onboarding tasks to complete and processes they follow. But how do they know what works and what doesn’t?
One of the seemingly easiest ways to do this is to ask the employees themselves. We say “seemingly” easiest because there are many factors to consider, such as what format feedback should be provided in, when and how often it should be solicited, and how to incorporate that feedback. In this feature, we explore these questions, along with input from industry experts.
Regular Check-Ins from a ‘Neutral Third Party’
Typically, the person a new hire has the most regular contact with is his or her manager. This might not always be the best person to collect feedback from regarding onboarding, as the employee might feel awkward giving negative feedback to his or her boss.
Jillian Lukas Rodriquez recently featured Connor Lynch, executive vice president of Rescue Agency in San Diego, in a blog article highlighting the company’s thorough onboarding program. He advises: “After initial onboarding is completed, it’s a great time for feedback—on how you’re doing. Reverse the direction of traditional feedback and invite new hires to share thoughts on what they’ve learned, what they’re still missing, and what you could do better.”
At Rescue Agency, says Lynch, someone from HR reaches out to new hires on a weekly basis throughout onboarding to gain feedback. “Especially because new hires might not feel comfortable approaching supervisors with feedback just yet, it’s important to have multiple channels of communication. Plus, you’re likely to pick up a few tips along the way to improve your onboarding program for future team members,” Lynch says.
Other organizations use a similar approach. “Whenever we onboard someone new, we survey them a few times,” says Ian Sells, CEO and founder of RebateKey. “We ask new joiners how they feel after a week, a month, and three months. This seems like a lot, but our surveys are designed to capture snapshots of different moments in the employee’s onboarding with us.”
Multiple Feedback Channels
It can be very difficult for employees to give useful feedback on their onboarding experience, simply because they are new employees, of course. It’s hard for them to know whether what they’ve just learned is going to be relevant to a job they’ve never done. With this in mind, onboarding staff should make it as easy as possible to provide feedback using multiple channels and formats.
Surveys are, of course, a very common tool for gathering feedback that can have many benefits. For example, surveys allow for some standardization in the feedback process, as each employee can be asked the same questions. But surveys aren’t the only way to solicit feedback, and onboarding staff should be open to many forms of input.
“Be mindful to collect both qualitative and quantitative feedback,” says Chelsea C. Williams, founder and CEO of College Code. “Both are essential pillars in measuring impact.” Williams recommends ensuring that surveys include rating questions for easier analysis and short-form responses to “gather soundbites and validate quantitative responses.”
‘What I Wish I’d Known’ Questionnaires
Onboarding teams often stop tracking staff after they’ve completed their onboarding. This is problematic for multiple reasons. For one, it can take a year or more for a new team member to be fully integrated into a team, depending on the complexity of the role and industry and the dynamics of the organization. Additionally, if you lose track of employees after they complete their onboarding, you miss out on a key source of input.
Gathering “what I wish I’d known” input from employees a year or 2 into their tenure with the organization can provide some insightful input. By that point, many employees have had a chance to find their rhythm, including figuring out on their own the information that wasn’t covered in sufficient detail or wasn’t covered at all in their onboarding.
As noted earlier, new hires may have a hard time recognizing what they should know before having performed their new job with the organization that just hired them. By contrast, employees who have been on the job for a couple of years have that added experience but are still not too far from their onboarding to be able to identify areas where they wish they’d had greater training.
Ongoing Value from Onboarding Feedback
The onboarding process can be a crucial point in a new hire’s overall career. When done well, an onboarding program can allow the new hire to hit the ground running and enable the person to start contributing at a high level early in his or her tenure.
A well-planned onboarding process should be dynamic and adapt to changing circumstances and adjust methods to focus on what works best. A key factor in that iterative process should be feedback from new hires themselves, and HR and onboarding staff need to think about the best way to gather and utilize that feedback.