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Everyone on Board?

Steinbeis experts use digital onboarding to introduce new employees to a company

Welcoming new employees to a company – through inductions or onboarding – is about more than just sharing information and describing processes. People indirectly learn about the actual corporate culture, so onboarding plays a crucial role in employees’ long-term loyalty to a company. The Institute for Effective Management, a Steinbeis Consulting Center, gives companies tangible support with safeguarding their digital competitiveness, also demonstrating how onboarding staff digitally not only has the potential to radically reduce sickness rates, but also how it can promote more effective knowledge management at a company.

A medium-sized engineering firm headquartered in Bavaria had to quickly take on 50 new employees for three of its other sites in different parts of Germany. The new employees would need to be integrated into the 1,500-strong workforce as efficiently as possible. Since the recruitment process took over a year, there was no way to design a standard induction for all of the new employees. With training continuously being carried out by different people, no existing QA procedures, and no long-term thinking in training documentation, in essence the firm had no proper inductions to speak of. As a result, new and existing workers were having to invest much more time in inductions than was necessary. Inductions sometimes took months and some on-the-job briefing sessions were much too late, resulting in delays to time-critical projects; this was also showing on the bottom line. Another consequence of this was that people sometimes could not identify with the company and as a result, motivation was low. New employees described not really feeling welcome and said they didn’t feel like they had even started yet. A dangerous combination of insufficiently motivated and poorly informed new recruits was making it difficult for people to work properly, and deadlines were starting to slip. Not only was this bad for work processes, the atmosphere at the company was suffering as a result of the new set of challenges. The firm had entered a vicious circle, with more than 50 percent of new employees not even completing their probationary period. The entire recruitment process had to start again from scratch, complete with all the problems.

After a number of further critical delays to projects, senior management decided that it was time to make improvements – urgently. The company turned to the Institute for Effective Management, a Steinbeis Consulting Center headed up by Andreas Renner, who first assessed onboarding processes before streamlining them and optimizing them with digital solutions. A log was kept to precisely capture and standardize how recruits were given instructions and information. The successful ingredient of the digital onboarding project was a geo-based infotainment app called INTEREST. This app helps users take on information more efficiently and remember facts in the long term by using a technique called storytelling. The method makes it easier for new employees to relate to work processes and routines so they can use them themselves.

The new planning tool entails developing an appropriate learning concept and then creating e-learning modules, which allow managers at the company to share important information with new recruits concisely and succinctly in a uniform manner. Because the system can be used at any time and content can be revised if necessary, information sharing is not just a one-off; passing on knowledge at the company is now a smooth process. Examples of undesirable behavior were shown using actors, with managers fading in to correct their actions. The entertaining to this novel method of learning ensured new employees paid close attention during the e-learning modules. New recruits reported that the sequences with the managers providing advice added a nice, personal touch. New employees were also able to put names to faces and for the first time come into virtual contact with people.

To reinforce the new working relationship, a face-to-face welcome event was organized with new and existing employees and managers. Employees were welcomed personally and important information was discussed again. Aside from making onboarding more emotionally involving, another aim of the event was to encourage people to network within the company. The atmosphere was deliberately kept informal to allow staff to get to know each other a bit better in a casual setting away from the front line.

One of the first signs of the success of the Steinbeis concept was a reduction in sick leave and absenteeism. The company had indirectly promoted its own health policy and helped improve the atmosphere at work. A good working atmosphere promotes information flow, as Henri Fayol already ascertained in the last century. As a result, knowledge sharing is noticeably quicker; this raises the efficiency of a company. Work processes were no longer becoming bogged down by the negative working atmosphere and a sense of anonymity. Instead, people felt capable of playing to their competence and a strong social network started to emerge.

Some 80 percent of the time previously taken to introduce new employees to the company was saved. Using e-learning modules was an opportunity to open managers’ eyes to digital onboarding, and they were sensitized to the methods in new ways. Actually performing a role in the modules underscored how important it was for them to provide a role model.

Overall, the package of new measures gave new employees a good feel for the entire business, different departments, and their new co-workers. Over time, the number of working hours invested by coaches and their colleagues was reduced as an independent process developed for acquiring information about the company and learning new things, and this increased efficiency. The added value was enjoyed with almost no additional effort or outlay for the company. The initiative marked a 180-degree change in direction, allowing the company to turn a vicious circle into an effective induction process, also quickly optimizing procedures in the long term.