Tackling new onboarding techniques

HR leaders discuss new approaches to onboarding in this week’s CHRO Community Conversation.

This week’s CHRO Community Conversation, which was hosted in partnership with Workday, focused on digital onboarding and how companies’ recruitment processes have had to move online due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Onboarding is key to ensuring success for employees and helping them quickly learn the ropes of your company and the team members they’ll be working with. Until recently, many medium-sized and large corporates had smart onboarding modules that included training programmes, cultural immersions and head office visits,” said CHRO South Africa MD Joël Roerig, who introduced the discussion.

TalentSmith chief business officer Roland Glass delivered the opening remarks wherein he explained how their organisation – which specialises in helping companies to improve recruitment performance, enhance candidate journeys, uplift and engage employees, and bolster their onboarding processes – has had to change the way it does things.

“This has been one of the most accelerated areas of change within the talent acquisition space. The onboarding programmes that we were working towards and implementing in 2019 lost a significant amount of their relevance as we moved into a period of crisis with what has become the world's largest work-from-home experience ever,” said Roland.

TalentSmith’s technology partner is Enboarder, which is among the founding technologies within the space of experience-driven onboarding. They work with more than 250 organisations globally, primarily across UK, Europe, Australia and the US.

“Our relationship with them has allowed us to accelerate our learning regarding the rapid changes in this space over the last six to nine months,” said Roland. “We had to learn very quickly and have hosted many webinars with Enboarder, engaging with their customers and clients in efforts to understand how they were evolving their pre-boarding and onboarding programmes.”

Following Roland’s opening remarks, HR leaders went into separate breakout rooms to share ideas and experiences on how their organisations had adapted their onboarding in 2020.

Complete overhaul

“With the current Covid-19 environment, we had to review our onboarding processes to be compliant with the new norm, and Covid-19 health and safety protocols,” said Large South Africa HR director Tshidi Dabula. Tshidi said their onboarding programme was previously a three-day programme, where day one included an overview of the business at head office with new recruits listening to presentations by various heads of department. Days two and three included site and plant visits to expose employees to observe the manufacturing and business processes. So their onboarding programme has had to evolve quite significantly.

Said Tshidi: “We have subsequently reviewed our programme and now we have online sessions where, for executives, individual online engagement sessions with peers are arranged, as well as direct report engagement sessions. Then the plant visits are arranged on an individual basis, facilitated by the HR or plant manager, with absolute strict adherence to Covid-19 health and safety protocols.

“We also do Covid-19 onboarding and medical screening for new employees. This is done either through the onsite clinics, or using the nearest medical facilities where there is no onsite clinic. We have not yet mastered this process, but we are definitely on the right track, given the positive feedback received by new employees joining us. We are on a continuous improvement journey, given the new normal in our lives.”

Missed out on travelling

Workday Business Development Lead Zama Gwebu joined the company in the midst of the national lockdown in July and she says the process was seamless. The only thing she missed out on was international travel, but otherwise, her onboarding went on without a hitch. Under normal circumstances, she would have travelled to Dublin, London, and California as part of Workday’s training.

“The silver lining is that I was really able to focus on completing the demanding training course material without having to worry about figuring out where I was going to eat or adjust to new time zones,” she said. “I'm happy to have joined a company that is people-centric and has the technology to back it up,” said Zama.

Similarly, Andisa Liba, HR Lead for Africa at Cisco, said they already had already been giving new hires a fully virtual onboarding experience so they didn’t have to deviate too much from what they normally do. “The only thing we had to really apply our minds to was the drop off of physical assets like cell phones and laptops and that sort of thing to people's homes,” she said.

One thing they have not been able to solve is travel for things like their Sales Academy, which happens in Las Vegas and is the holy grail of their induction process.

Said Andisa: “It is well known in our community because people that join us really look forward to those two weeks in Vegas, but we've to rethink that programme in its entirety. We’re asking ourselves if it’s really necessary to hire a hotel and fill it with 400 people over two weeks. The reality is that it is so embedded in our culture from an expectation point of view that I don't think we can scrap it completely. If you ask any engineer in our industry, you will hear about the Sales Academy, because it’s a flagship programme.”

Blessing in disguise

Pam Golding Properties National HR Manager Petro-Ann Beukes said that Covid-19 had been a blessing in disguise when it came to their onboarding programme.

“We have offices across South Africa and into Africa so a lot of our onboarding functions were decentralised across the continent. During the pandemic, we started taking it online and squeezed our onboarding programme into a three-day process where, for example, we arranged a Zoom call between the new recruits and our CEO, and they could ask him questions,” said Petro-Ann.

“It was as if a light bulb went on, because it went phenomenally well, to the point where we were asking ourselves why we waited for Covid-19 to start doing this. I don't think we'll ever go back to what we used to do in the past. We found that, whether you live in Nairobi or Johannesburg, everyone had the same experience.”

Petro-Ann said there are some things they would do differently and are already thinking about how they make the process for their next intake, which is happening in November, more interactive.

“We realised that the Zoom format has some limitations from an engagement point of view. We have some ideas on things we can do to make the presenters bring fun and laughter into the sessions. But what it has done for us, is that it has allowed us to reach every single new hire, regardless of where they are on the continent.”

The conversation ended with HR leaders inspired by how their peers had acted immediately according to the restrictions and health and safety protocols by shifting onboarding to virtual platforms.