Who is responsible for onboarding?

Mar 20, 2022

Your firm’s collective strengths can and should be applied to make your new employees’ onboarding a standout experience.

You see it in the headlines every day. “The great resignation,” “the talent wars,” “the big quit,” and other catchphrases. Is it media-fueled nonsense, or is there a real problem facing companies looking to hire? After more than two years of COVID challenges, the answer is abundantly clear: There is a hiring crisis taking place – not just in the retail and hospitality sectors but across the board, including the AEC industry.

According to the government’s job report released in January 2022, more than 20 million people (about the population of New York) quit their jobs in the second half of 2021 alone. Looking at LinkedIn’s data on who is leaving jobs is most compelling: Millions of baby boomers are retiring early, but millions of Gen Z (people in their teens and early 20s) workers are also exiting the workforce. Many more women are leaving than men. All the groups AEC firms need to secure a cohesive and diverse workforce are leaving at the highest “quit rate” since the government started keeping track more than two decades ago.

The data does not answer why specifically, but there are plenty of common threads. Take, for instance, the COVID-19 pandemic. Karin Kimbrough, LinkedIn’s chief economist, calls it the “take this job and shove it” approach. In a recent interview with 60 Minutes, she said, “People have been ‘living to work’ for a very long time. And I think the pandemic brought that moment of reflection for everyone. ‘What do I wanna do? What makes my heart sing?’ And people are thinking, ‘If not now, then when?’”

What does this have to do with onboarding?

As a marketing professional for more than 25 years, I have welcomed my fair share of staff to the team. I have hired and fired, recruited, and poached. I usually would not associate myself with worrying about the onboarding process. After all, isn’t that an HR thing?

If you answered yes, like I used to, you are already in for a world of trouble. Maybe you just haven’t experienced it yet.

Most of us are aware of the statistics put out annually by Gallup asserting that less than 35 percent of the global workforce are currently engaged. That suggests the other 65 percent are either disengaged and could leave at any time, or are toxic and are dragging other people down with them.

What is hidden in a lot of that data is that a negative onboarding experience doubles the employee’s chances of seeking another opportunity within 18 months. Conversely, a great onboarding experience ensures 69 percent of employees stick with a company for at least three years.

Consider these other eye-popping statistics:

  • Fifty-eight percent of organizations say their onboarding program focuses on processes and paperwork.
  • The average new hire is expected to complete 54 activities during their onboarding process.
  • A poor onboarding program was reported by 40 percent of global executives.
  • Only 37 percent of companies ensure their onboarding programs run for more than a month from the employee’s first day.

If any of that looks familiar, it is time to make a change in your organization.

The bottom line is that successful onboarding is everyone’s job. I could have just led with that, but it is important to hammer home the consequences of a negative or uninspiring process.

Yes, human resources should take a lead role in developing a good onboarding program, but marketers, administrators, project managers, designers, and the C-suite should all have a part. The company’s collective strengths can and should be applied to make the new employees’ first day, first week, first month, and first year the best they have ever experienced regardless of how high they are on the org chart.

It is time for the AEC industry to get more creative. It is time to pull together a diverse group from everywhere within your company and engage them to help develop a consistent, sustainable, effective, and unique program. There are potential onboarding champions around every corner and from all levels of your company.

Our firm has been fortunate to find them, and it has resulted in our lowest turnover in the firm’s history these past two years – despite the external pressures that suggest otherwise.

In our case, we made improving the onboarding experience a major strategic planning initiative. We even sent a couple of people to see how Disney does it. It must be more than the tone of your offer letter and the ease of doing paperwork. It means modernizing your systems and automating workflows. It means having fun during orientation. It means developing a buddy system that encourages current staff to want to participate, and it doesn’t stop after the first week. It means assigning mentors for the entirety of the person’s career – until they become mentors themselves.

In the current hiring environment, your business simply cannot afford to wait to improve. You do not have to be Disney, Google, Microsoft, or Apple with their endless budgets to have a robust onboarding program. Just look at your culture and values and start from there. If you believe they are important to your firm and not just a strategic planning exercise, the rest will come naturally. 

Kraig Kern, CPSM is vice president and director of marketing at WK Dickson. Contact him at kckern@wkdickson.com.

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.