Onboarding As a Shared Responsibility: the Roles of HR, Management, and the Executive Suite
Do you know who “owns” your organization’s onboarding process? In other words: Can you name which person or people are responsible for helping new employees feel comfortable, prepared, and productive?
If you can, great—you’re one step closer to optimizing your onboarding procedures. But if you’re not sure who currently owns onboarding, don’t worry; it doesn’t mean you need to completely rethink your process or reconfigure your organization. It’s more likely that, as is the case for many organizations, responsibility for onboarding lies with several staff members across multiple departments.
This can be a good thing, not only because it gives new hires multiple perspectives, but because it compels your whole company to become emotionally invested in welcoming and developing those new hires. Think of it as a village raising a child—except that the “village” may be located in an office park, and that the “child” may commute home to raise children (or grandchildren) of their own.
In any case, it doesn’t really matter who owns onboarding—the important factor is having accountability for the process. Let’s walk through the 4 most common participants in onboarding, and how their responsibilities are typically divided out:
The Role of Human Resources in Onboarding
For many organizations, responsibility for onboarding falls squarely on HR. In fact, in a study by the Aberdeen Group, nearly two-thirds (65%) of those surveyed cited HR as owning the process and success of onboarding. Depending on the size of an organization, HR could be one person, a team of people, or a department across multiple locations. In larger companies, certain HR personnel often have specialized recruiting and learning and development roles. Regardless, HR typically takes on the following responsibilities:
- Information: In most onboarding programs, the first responsibility of HR is to present information. Topics such as benefits, policies, payroll, and work environment are essential for any new employee to learn.
- Culture: HR plays a vital role in introducing company culture to new employees. It’s critical that HR nails the first impression, because an employee’s engagement with organizational culture is pivotal to long-term performance and retention.
- Training: New employees have many things to learn when joining an organization. One of HR’s most important roles lies in determining the knowledge, skills and abilities employees need for success, starting at day 1 and through the end of the onboarding process.
The Role of Management in Onboarding
Given that most people stay at (or leave) a job due to their relationship with their immediate boss, organizations should pay close attention to the roles of managers and supervisors during onboarding. It’s important that members of management establish one-on-one relationships with their direct reports. For some organizations, this occurs on day 1; for others, it happens when new employees are handed off to their manager or supervisor after completing certain orientation activities. Whenever it happens, here are a few elements managers and supervisors should focus on in the first interaction—and throughout their relationship—with an employee:
- Business alignment: One primary responsibility for managers and supervisors is to illustrate the link between a new employee’s job and the organization’s larger mission. But don’t just take our word for it: the Society for Human Resource Management correlates effective employee performance and business profitability to employees’ understanding of the alignment between job duties and business goals and objectives.
- Job and performance expectations: The faster employees understand the components of the job and expected performance levels, the shorter their time to productivity. Managers and supervisors are best equipped to set expectations and act as guides for teaching new employees about what their jobs actually entail.
- Coaching: An employee’s best mentor can be their boss. Managers and supervisors can use coaching conversations as a means to correlate their responsibilities and expectations, providing on-the-job insights, building engagement and camaraderie, and even giving lower-level employees a glimpse of their possible career paths. In addition, coaching conversations allow both parties to address confusion, diffuse conflict, and build open, honest channels of communication.
The Role of Leadership in Onboarding
An organization’s leadership is what provides new employees with the “big picture” during onboarding and beyond. This fosters long-term engagement for two reasons: 1) senior leaders are best able to explain business strategy; and 2) the presence of leadership in onboarding reinforces the importance of the content and process to new employees. Here are a few of the ways in which leadership can set the tone for new hires:
- Strategy: By explaining the business strategy of the company and linking that strategy to employee success, senior leadership positively impacts retention and productivity of new employees.
- Culture and history: Most new employees are interested in not just the “what” of their jobs, but the “how” and “why”— their new organization’s founding principles, mission, values, and working environment. Senior leaders are uniquely positioned to speak about history and culture with credibility.
- Vision: Where an organization sees itself in 3, 5 or 10 years matters to new employees—they want to envision where they fit in. Building affiliation between employees and the long-term success of the business strengthens team members’ desire to stay with an organization and can increase their performance.
How New Employees Navigate Onboarding Matters, Too
New hires also have a big role to play in their own onboarding experiences. Ultimately, employees are responsible for their own career success and must take the initiative to assimilate into the job and work environment. Here’s how:
- Participation: Countless studies show that when employees are heavily involved in the onboarding learning process, time to productivity improves—as does the organization’s rate of retention.
- Engagement: The more an employee feels like an active partner in the onboarding process, the better the long-term results. By giving new employees tangible objectives to achieve during onboarding, organizations can increase employee engagement and shared accountability for success.
- Compliance: Risk management is a necessary ingredient in any effective onboarding programs. While organizations manage the administrative aspects (such as paperwork, payroll, training on regulations, etc.) involved in onboarding, it is up each new employee to fully complete their individual compliance requirements in an accurate and timely manner.
In summary: successful onboarding programs and processes are a partnership between HR, new employees, managers or supervisors, and organizational leaders. The goal of this partnership is to establish the foundation for an effective long-term working relationship between the employee and the organization, because ultimately what every person should want—new employees included—is to move on from onboarding and get to work.