After recently going through her company’s onboarding process as a new hire, this HR professional saw room for improvement and took the initiative to make it happen.
When Celin Lam CPHR was thinking about what to do for her capstone project to achieve AHRI’s HR certification, she drew a blank. She had been working in a fairly operational HR role at an engineering firm, focusing solely on recruitment, and, just four years into her career, she felt she’d hit a wall in terms of her own learning and development.
“As much as I loved working there, I moved on because I was seeking a new challenge. There’s only so much you can learn in recruitment,” says Lam.
When she accepted a new role as the People and Culture Advisor with the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV), she had the opportunity to move out of the operational side of HR and into the strategic space.
This new working style also led her to the inspiration she was struggling to find. After going through the LIV’s induction process, she realised this was her opportunity to make an impact with her new employer and also pull together an interesting case study.
“There weren’t any formalised onboarding processes in place,” says Lam. “We’re a small team. My manager already had so much on her plate, so trying to help me settle in was just going to add more work for her.
“This was also happening during Victoria’s lockdown period, which made it even more challenging. It was really difficult for me to connect with people. So I took the initiative to set up a formal induction process.”
Making change happen
Lam had her own ideas about the gaps in the onboarding process, but like most strategic professionals, she sought other people’s opinions to learn more. She gathered sentiment from exit interviews and an employee satisfaction survey, and discovered she wasn’t alone in her experience.
“We had low levels of new hire satisfaction. It was sitting at about 60 per cent.”
Last year, the LIV also saw a 28 per cent voluntary turnover rate – 27 per cent of which were people who had recently been hired.
“[External research shows] that 51 per cent of people leave a job within two years and we didn’t want to be part of those statistics anymore. As a not-for-profit, we don’t have the budget to constantly retrain people.”
The cost of replacing an employee can be up to 33 per cent of the exiting employee’s salary.
“Our turnover costs jumped from an estimated $490,000 in 2020 to an estimated figure of $710,000 in 2021,” she says.
“It’s also a process that helps them understand how they’re going to contribute to the organisation’s success. If that’s not clear to them from the beginning, how can we expect them to be effective contributors?” – Celin Lam CPHR, People and Culture Advisor, Law Institute of Victoria
Existing employees told Lam they wanted more career development opportunities, and some felt the roles weren’t what they expected them to be. There was an opportunity to provide role clarity to new hires.
“My project quickly became about fostering great working relationships, and boosting new employees’ confidence and productivity. We needed to give them all the knowledge and skills upfront to become effective contributors in the organisation.”
The four Cs of effective onboarding
As a not-for-profit organisation, the LIV couldn’t offer flashy perks and huge salaries to appeal to new hires, so the culture had to be front and centre.
“What we offer employees is an experience. We provide products and services to support the legal profession of Victoria, such as professional accreditation and access to events. We use our culture and purpose as a way to connect with candidates and new hires early on.”
When figuring out the best way to do this, Lam came across the four Cs of best-practice onboarding, a concept developed by Dr Talya Bauer via the Society of HR Management (AHRI’s American equivalent). They are compliance, clarification, culture and connection.
“All the tools I created aligned with one or two of the four Cs,” says Lam. “I created a people and culture induction, an employee handbook, a buddy program, a probation development plan (PDP), an orientation session and a monthly check-in.
“Connected together, they all create a best-practice framework. For example, our people and culture induction now aligns with all the compliance points we need to cover off, as well as the culture side because that’s when people learn about what the LIV culture is all about.
“The buddy program is all about connection and clarification, because the buddies are in similar roles as the new hire, so the new starters can have informal discussions with their buddy if they’re not comfortable speaking with their manager.”
The PDP was a way to help managers to track new-hire performance.
“This is a formal process designed to track their performance, development outcomes, goals and any issues we’ve encountered.
It helps them to understand their role and generate goals that align with that position description,” she says.
“It’s also a process that helps them understand how they’re going to contribute to the organisation’s success.
“If that’s not clear to them from the beginning, how can we expect them to be effective contributors?”
The PDP also helps to maintain manager accountability, she adds.
“At the end of the day, it’s up to the managers to support the new employees. It’s on them to make sure performance doesn’t drop and that they’re achieving goals, and making sure they’re set up for success.”
Since implementing the formalised onboarding program, new-hire satisfaction rates jumped from 60 to around 90 per cent.
The LIV also saw a 30 per cent rise in people saying they understood what was expected of them in their role and what the organisation’s culture was all about.
“This project emphasised to me that employees play a crucial role in contributing to any organisation’s success.”
As well as providing Lam with her certification case study, and benefitting her employer, the project has increased her experience in aspects of stakeholder management.
“I’m still fairly early in my career, so I hadn’t done a project like this before. I’d also only been working at the LIV for about four months when I did the capstone unit, so I didn’t really have much influence at that point. The project’s framework definitely helped build my confidence to influence a lot of different stakeholders.”
One key lesson for Lam was the value of setting expectations early on.
“If you don’t help [incoming employees] from day one, when do you think it’s an appropriate time to help them – six months down the track when they’re unsatisfied? It’s always got to start from day one. It’s all about that first impression.”
This article first appeared in the August 2022 edition of HRM Magazine.
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