Making onboarding better, faster and safer

At a recent HR Grapevine and Sterling roundtable, senior HR and talent acquisition practitioners discussed how to improve onboarding so it delivers for both the organisation and individuals...

Words by Dan Cave

For many in HR, they might be focusing their employee experience efforts on the incumbent workforce. This makes sense. A great employee experience, as Red Branch Media recently concluded in an article on the topic, “is foundational to business performance... if you want to build your brand, foster innovation, and sustain engagement.” Two of these elements, brand and engagement especially, are increasingly wholly owned by the people function; driven by an awareness that if these elements are managed well they result in a measurable organisational performance uptick.

However, there needs to be serious questions asked about the experience of future talent, too – especially in the recruitment process and in onboarding. Recent Allied research found that for companies that focus on the experience of incoming hires it can help circumvent major pitfalls as well as creating benefits for both the business and those set to join. Yet, the current state of play for the general onboarding experience is not that great. Worryingly, companies lose 25% of all new employees within a year and, according to Gallup data, 88% of organisations don’t onboard well. In fact, SHRM data shows that companies on average only really focus on onboarding for a week or so.

Retail and hospitality know the importance

Yet, those in retail and hospitality know all too well that a great onboarding experience can be important. Especially so given the current difficulty in getting and retaining talent with over nine in ten retail leaders currently worried about hiring, according to stats in a recent London Loves Business article, whilst The Independent reports that a quarter of pubs, restaurants and hotels have had to close due to lack of staff. It makes focusing on onboarding seem even more crucial.


How to get better at onboarding

Improving this integral part of the hiring process was what a recent, and timely, round table from HR Grapevine and Sterling focused on. Titled 'How to enable safer, multi-site, friction-free onboarding in Retail and Hospitality', the session focused on how to improve some of the more administrative but necessary parts of onboarding – Right to Work checks etc – as well looking at how using digital tools can improve the process, consolidating and streamlining a crucial element of hiring that can sometimes be cumbersome.


‘Mission critical’ process

A large part of the early discussion focused on why onboarding has become even more ‘mission critical’ in these difficult times, with retail and hospitality experience a less straightforward process than many other industries. Couple that with increasing demand from candidates of a seamless digital experience that begets a safe working environment and there’s a lot of pressure.

In fact, whilst the ‘safety’ element of onboarding might have previously been something that employers focused on to ‘cover their own backs’, that understanding is changing. It is now about doubling down on delivering a people-first onboarding process that enables candidates to feel they were joining a trusted environment, a key part of attracting that talent into work.


Need for efficiency

This wasn’t the only challenge that attendees were experiencing. Whilst there was brief discussion of the complexities around data protection, this dovetailed into a talk about time pressures when hiring. There was discussion around how outsourcing parts of the process could make it more efficient, and enable a better focus on cultural elements as a result. This then followed onto a talk about the need to deliver the talent the business needs in a critical time, at a quick pace; whilst all the time being consistent. In fact, with many retail and hospitality businesses having multi-site, location-specific hiring needs, many noted the difficulties in keeping it all consistent.


Technology has a role to play

However, there was discussion of how digitalisation could help solve that – although there may be some initial reticence over using a new system, which would require some culture tweaks – which could speed up onboarding processes and even time-to-hire by using AI and even looking at legal background checks using automation. Whilst there was concern about implementation in this area, many agreed that the pandemic had sped up implementation, and acceptance, in these areas. Yet digitilisation wasn’t seen as the panacea: with trust and in-person assessment a crucial part of these very public industries, attendees raised concerns over how to replicate this if someone went completely digital in their onboarding.

Looking at different talent pipelines

Elsewhere in the round table discussion, attendees looked at different ways they could meet their own talent needs on what is a difficult landscape. Second chance hiring was discussed, not only as a way to meet an employers immediate talent needs but as a way to make the workforce more inclusive and diverse. This is where attendees agreed that excellent background screening could help them make the right decision by their people and business.

Building new models of onboarding

And, looking forward, as these industries grapple with the need to get talent in the business immediately, the discussion looked at where to go next. Yes, outsourcing, automation, cultural shifts and digitisation were all excellent options, those in attendance agreed, to improve onboarding but a template and roadmap would be needed. There was discussion of how the gig economy’s hiring practices could be seen as a useful blueprint, especially around creating cultures of trust and having much more efficient screening processes.

In fact, this led many to talk about what a utopian hiring and onboarding process might look like: it would be seamless, fully integrated and easy to use for all users – candidates, hiring managers and recruiters alike – whilst giving trust and burnishing the brand. Although cultural and operational shifts would be needed to get there, many were open to shifting towards a model that delivered a lot more to them in this crucial process.


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