Simply put, establishing solid practices for onboarding new hires at an in-house agency (IHA) makes those employees more productive right out of the gate and will greatly increase the agency’s likelihood of retaining those new team members. Furthermore, onboarding helps ensure that new hires are properly introduced to the agency’s internal culture - the “way of life” of the organization. As a result, they’ll be more engaged and empowered to become effective contributors to the IHA. The onboarding methodology outlined below is the product of 20 years of industry experience and describes a specific onboarding plan implemented at a Fortune 100 pharmaceutical company.

Onboarding Context
Unfortunately, many companies drastically underestimate the importance of onboarding. Harvard Business Review reported that 22% of companies don’t have a formal onboarding practice or program in place. Industry data from O.C. Tanner suggests that organizations without good onboarding practices in place can expect a 20% turnover rate within the first 45 days of their new hires’ employment. It’s hard to imagine the financial cost that these losses place on the company, as well as the extra work placed on recruiters and hiring managers who have to find, interview, recruit and train new candidates.

To help put some context around the costs of poor onboarding practices, here are some industry statistics from multiple sources (Harvard Business Review, Allied Workforce Mobility Survey, and O.C. Tanner) that drive home the point. 

Conversely, below are some of the substantial benefits that come from having a robust onboarding system in place. This data from the Society For Human Resources Management clearly supports its value.

Think about it. Employees are an IHA’s most valuable asset. So why not take the time and invest in them upfront, by implementing a sound onboarding program?

Consider the company mentioned above. Seven years ago, the organization’s in-house agency was relatively new into its managed-services contract, employing almost 100 people. Being relatively small and agile, the IHA had some good onboarding practices in place, but with rapid growth, some gaps and pain points were identified in the onboarding procedures – most notably:

  • Siloed execution of creative products
  • Workflow inefficiencies and redundancies
  • Inconsistent training materials and instructors

Onboarding Best Practices
The IHA decided to correct their onboarding inadequacies with a scalable, sustainable and more comprehensive solution. The first step was to identify deficiencies and make improvements specific to individual functional areas. Upon seeing the successes created by this strategy, the IHA then built out the solution to address broader needs across the entire studio. 

Below is a high-level summary of the three phases that are the foundation upon which  the stronger onboarding program was built:

  • Preparation is the planning phase, which spans the two to three weeks after recruitment and prior to the new hire’s start date. This all-important phase is an integral part of the successful onboarding of new recruits. It involves planning a calendar that details all action items that must take place prior to the start date, such as securing physical and virtual access, establishing an email account, setting up needed work space and preparing all materials that will be used during the course of onboarding. Many of the action items completed in this section are general administrative tasks that can be handled by a designated onboarding task crew. Validate that all steps have been completed prior to start date.
  • Introduction is the phase when new hires become acquainted with and trained on the IHA’s business environment and its general standard operating procedures. The typical length of time for this phase is one week. Many of the onboarding materials covered in this section are high-level overviews of the company and team structures, the various service areas, creative workflow and the tools and resources used at the in-house agency.
  • Integration involves introducing the new hire to their specific functional area, their role and their responsibilities. Each employee is given an in-depth overview of discipline-specific workflows and key stakeholders. The typical length of time for this stage is one to two weeks. Previously assigned trainers such as subject matter experts (SMEs) will schedule appropriate time with the new hires to review specific functional area workflows, processes, tools and resources the employee will need. This is also the phase when new hires are assigned a “buddy” for the duration of the week. The buddy system is an onboarding and knowledge-sharing methodology used to orient new employees. A workplace buddy affords new hires key insights into the daily workings of the in-house agency and gives them an opportunity to offer confidential observations about how the onboarding process is going (a valuable feedback loop enabling continuous improvement of the on-boarding experience).

Additional Onboarding Insights
There is a quote from Ben Franklin, who stated, “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, engage me and I will learn.” The obvious meaning behind this is, don’t just train new hires by running through a series of slides and expect them to remember it all… because they won’t. Instead, engage them in hands-on exercises that employ the various collaborative software and workflow tools the agency is using. Studies have shown that learning retention diminishes by 50% one hour after a presentation has been given. After one day, 70% of what was presented is forgotten. And after a week, people forget 80% of the information in their training. So, think about creating specific exercises around the training you’re giving. This approach absolutely increases the learning retention rate of your new hires.

Another important point is to follow up regularly with new hires by setting up touch-base meetings to answer questions and ease any concerns they may have.

Additionally, especially during the early stages, solicit feedback from the new hires’ peers and managers to see how your new staff are doing and address any knowledge gaps they may be experiencing.

Measuring Onboarding Success
Management thinker Peter Drucker is often quoted as saying, “If it can’t be measured, it can’t be improved upon.” An employee onboarding and engagement survey is a great way to set a baseline and determine the effectiveness of some of the new onboarding practices that have been enacted.  It’s the only real way to benchmark their success and address what’s not working.

Understandably, implementing all of these practices can seem a bit overwhelming—especially if the organization doesn’t quite yet have it all together where onboarding new talent is concerned. That’s why Cella encourages IHAs to consider applying the Pareto 80/20 rule (approximately 80% of effects come from 20% of the causes). This ratio also suggests that 20% of improvement activities will account for 80% of the successful results.  So start slow, perform an initial onboarding assessment with your current team to help highlight and establish some actionable data. Then act on that data. That effort will put the agency well on the way to creating a robust onboarding program that engages and schools up your new team members.

Cella’s expert consultants will be glad to share more insights on establishing a highly effective onboarding program. If you’d like information, assistance or guidance for creating a successful solution, contact us today.