Onboarding for Dummies – Employees Join Companies, But Quit Supervisors…

Kris Dunn Engagement and Satisfaction, Kris Dunn, Onboarding, Retention

The latest issue of Workforce Recruiting is out, and the focus is on a topic that’s easy to agree with, but hard to execute – the role of effective onboarding in driving increased retention and engagement.

So, here’s the question.  Can an extended onboarding process that lasts a year drive better retentionLoveboat and engagement? The answer is obviously yes, but as with many obvious answers…. the question is how?

HR can’t be the Love Boat onboarding police, and that’s the fundamental problem with onboarding that extends beyond the normal orientation period.  You’re only as good in retention as your front-line managers allow you to be.

That’s especially true if you have a wide range of talents and capabilities among your most entry-level supervisors, which most of us do.  Some managers naturally have the gift that comes with instincts and experience, while others struggle.  So, it goes with their ability to retain employees.

So how do you effectively onboard, help maximize retention, and reduce voluntary turnover with your group of front-line supervisors?

The Workforce Institute recently released a whitepaper with multiple takes on the role of Front-line Managers in retaining hourly workers, including:

Refusing to accept that there is nothing you can do to improve voluntary turnover (this would seem to be a call for structure in the onboarding process, related to formalizing the activities of managers in onboarding, acclimation and retention); and

Measuring the performance of front-line managers with respect to their management of turnover (this would seem to motivate front line managers to comply with the onboarding structure you put in place – after all, what gets measured usually gets results). 

So, putting an extended onboarding process in place is a good thing.  But unless the front-line supervisors are helping to drive the activities, it won’t matter.

Hate to throw out the buzzword here, but reducing voluntary turnover while keeping pay and benefits the same probably comes back to whether you create high levels of engagement within your workforce.

For engagement, I read Zinger and Wright.   One of the things I learned from Tim Wright on engagement was that in the average workforce, 29 percent of employees are engaged in their work, 54 percent are not engaged, and 17 percent are actively disengaged. 

That suggests that one of the best ways for organizations to reduce voluntary turnover is to figure out a way to prevent new employees from migrating to the "not engaged" category.  Every new employee comes into your organization engaged.  How long they stay engaged depends on whether your workplace drives the following traits of engaged employees (from the Gallup G12):

  • Consistent levels of high performance.
  • Natural innovation and drive for efficiency.
  • Intentional building of supportive relationships.
  • Clear about the desired outcomes of their role.
  • Emotionally committed to what they do.
  • Challenge purpose to achieve goals.
  • High energy and enthusiasm.
  • Never runs out of things to do, create positive things to act on.
  • Broaden what they do and build on it.
  • Commitment to company, work group, and role.

Which ones can you impact as a company through onboarding to help reduce voluntary turnover?  I bolded the ones I thought might be possibilities, through better performance management, communication, etc.  Note that the best person to drive those activities, with coaching, training and support from you, is the employee’s manager/supervisor.

The ones that aren’t bolded?  You probably need to figure these out at the point of hire, because they seem difficult to impact once the person is in your workforce….

Kris Dunn
Kris Dunn is a Partner and CHRO at Kinetix, a national RPO firm for growth companies headquartered in Atlanta. He's also the founder Fistful of Talent (founded in 2008) and The HR Capitalist (2007) – and has written over 70 feature columns at Workforce Management magazine. Prior to his investment at Kinetix, Kris served in HR leadership roles at DAXKO, Charter and Cingular. In his spare time, KD hits the road as a speaker and gives the world what it needs – pop culture references linked to Human Capital street smarts.