Guest speaker, Dr. Erica Blann, visited Dr. Steve Safier and Tina Anderson’s class during the Summer 2022 session to provide insights into developing best-in-class onboarding programs. Dr. Blann tapped into her 20+ years of industry experience—most recently leading the HR function for a PR Agency based in New York City.
Dr. Blann discussed how the role of onboarding has only become more important during the pandemic. The war for talent has resulted in organizations spending more money than ever before on recruiting and wooing top talent. Dr. Blann notes that after a strong recruiting experience, candidates often join an organization only to experience a series of “balls dropping” which diminishes their feelings about the company. She cautions that employers have just one chance to make a good impression. “On their first day, if you engage new hires correctly, you increase the likelihood that they will stay and be happy in your organization,” she states, and points out that this has been supported by employee research. “This is precious time, if you don’t make a strong first impression, you end up going backwards,” she adds.
Dr. Blann emphasized that onboarding efforts cannot rest solely within Human Resources. Identifying key stakeholders is critical, specifically engaging hiring managers and senior leaders, and outlining clear roles and responsibilities of each ensures that the process is followed correctly and consistently. Ultimately, employees spend most of their time within their team: hiring managers must assume most of the responsibility for those early onboarding experiences, and HR must be able to hand off these key components or risk burnout. And, it’s important managers receive the tools and support to do it well.
Creating connections for new hires within the organization is especially pertinent – but has become more complex -- with remote staffing as a result of the pandemic. There are opportunities to leverage available technology, particularly social channels (Slack is common), to mimic the feeling of “popping by” someone’s cubicle. Especially when thinking about onboarding Gen Z candidates, HR professionals should consider using the technology and tools this group is familiar with.
Recognizing that there may still be some cases where new employees don’t receive the experiences that help them feel connected, Dr. Blann notes, “it’s also on you [the new hire] to onboard effectively. Ask questions, take initiative.” Accountability is two-way, and HR professionals can support this by providing new hires with ideas to help them onboard effectively. In Dr. Blann’s case, she developed an electronic “passport” of activities for new hires to pursue and then submit when completed back to HR. Activities included things like, “Meet someone in a different location” and “Look up this piece of information on our blog.”
Among the many questions the class asked Dr. Blann. a number focused on mentorship. “The power of networking is more important than ever before,” she said, but recognized that good mentorship programs are hard to execute. For example, you can’t force these relationships, the pairings don’t always work well, and mentors need to know how to be good mentors. She distinguished mentors who make great sounding boards from sponsors who can support your advancement, and said that it’s less about one relationship but how you build your network throughout your career.
In looking to the future of onboarding, Dr. Blann predicts there will be additional rigor applied to the 90-day review and check-in. Work will be done to both assess new hires in those first 90 days and share feedback about their progress to ensure that new hires are on track towards success. Dr. Blann notes, “Having a good performance management system and 3-month review, sends new employees the right message.”
As she wrapped up her discussion with the class, Dr. Blann suggested scaling onboarding efforts in order to go from “good to great.” “If you implement a few simple programs, you can really change the culture,” she said.
Thank you, Dr. Blann, for visiting our class and sharing your expertise with us!