If you think that onboarding is only about getting your new hire a desk, a computer and compliance training you are missing the full story. The impact of onboarding extends well beyond the first day, or even the first 30 days for that matter. In fact, a poor onboarding experience can have lasting consequences in the form of higher employee turnover, lower productivity, reduced engagement and ballooning costs.
For a recent project, we were asked to support a client’s process excellence effort already underway to improve the onboarding experience for new hires and their hiring managers. Our client had already done their due diligence and surveyed their employees to understand what was and wasn’t working with their current onboarding process. They engaged our design research team to probe deeper and understand why employees felt the way that they did.
Our design research experts—whose backgrounds include behavioral psychology, anthropology and human factors—spent hours speaking with new hires and their managers to understand their unique experiences and context. What we learned was that onboarding carries a significant emotional impact for new hires. There was more at stake than simply having a computer on the first day of work. This was about the deep emotions people had for their new company and the sense of belonging that they felt.
As is the case with many of our engagements, we needed to weave our research findings into a cohesive story that our client could socialize internally. To accomplish this, we introduced Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs—a theory in psychology that describes the pattern of human motivations—as a storytelling framework. The needs are structured into five steps, each with requirements that must be met before the next step can be achieved:
For the purposes of our project we consolidated the first two steps so that the hierarchy for an onboarding experience looks like this:
Most onboarding processes are focused on The Basics—provisioning and orientation. However, a positive onboarding experience is much more than just provisioning, and it doesn’t end with orientation on day one or a feedback survey on day 60. Our design research led us to expand our focus to include the full development of a new hire from the time they accept their offer to their first work anniversary.
Ultimately, we made more than 25 recommendations to improve a new hire’s onboarding experience in the first year. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs didn’t generate these insights or lead to substantial improvements—those resulted from our design research—but it did help tell the story in a compelling and relatable way.
Viewed through the lens of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, successful onboarding begins by creating a sense of belonging and leads to the ultimate goal—a fully engaged and self-actualized associate that will contribute to the company for many years.