On-Boarding: One Size Does Not Fit All

While many organizations bring out the heavy artillery to recruit the right employees, on-boarding new hires often doesn’t garner as much attention.

Further, when comparing the resources that organizations put toward recruiting, both from a headcount and a dollar perspective, on-boarding may only get 10 percent, if that, of what the recruiting organization has to work with, according to Lilith Christiansen, a vice president at strategy consulting firm Kaiser Associates. “You spend a lot of money to get the talent in the door; we need to have just as much if not more time and effort on helping to set them up for success so that they stay in the organization.”

Organizations that do have a solid on-boarding process in place may not customize it to meet diverse new hires’ needs. New hires should be educated on diversity programs and resources available to them, such as employee resource groups where they can network and connect with people of similar backgrounds.

Tailor On-Boarding to Diverse Populations
One way to tailor the on-boarding process to new hires who are ethnic minorities is to offer them a chance to learn from mentors with similar backgrounds, Christiansen said. She said organizations trying to grow specific populations can match diverse individuals with more senior mentors so they can make connections with people who can help them network, learn the unwritten rules and figure out how to navigate to success.

Or, organizations could tweak a portion of the on-boarding process to better suit both ends of the generational spectrum. Since generations prefer to consume their information in different ways, organizations might offer younger new hires, who may be more technologically inclined, the option of consuming necessary materials online, including information about the company or benefits.

“Have it available to new hires via a Web portal that can be more interactive, and they can get the information when they want it through a variety of mediums; maybe you also complement that with still mailing to new hires’ home a packet of information,” Christiansen said. “So if they’re more familiar with looking through paper, and they want to touch and feel the content, you’re able to address both of those needs.”

Learn, Network and Grow
At Ernst & Young LLP, all new hires go through the firm’s general on-boarding and orientation program, which covers the basics that organizations typically offer. In addition, the firm started hosting a one-and-a-half-day program called EY Unplugged in 2011 to engage minorities — specifically black and Latino new hires.

Last year’s event took place in Dallas, where diverse executives within the firm — including top performers, partners, principals and mentors — sat down and had candid conversations with diverse hires.

“We share lessons learned; we help them navigate the unwritten rules, because out of the gate it’s important that you establish a great reputation and brand from day one at the firm — that sets you up for success way down the road,” said Ken Bouyer, director of inclusiveness recruiting, Ernst & Young Americas. “If our goal is to have more minority leaders in our firm and in our profession, you have to hit the ground running.”

Bouyer said it’s important for these new hires to have role models in leadership who can advise and guide them through their careers, answer questions and teach them what it takes to be successful in corporate America. The new employees also have an opportunity to interact with each other.

“We create the right environment that allows [diverse new hires] to connect with each other so they develop an instant network of new hires who look like them who are going through the same experience,” he said. “It helps them to feel a part of the firm and a part of our people culture almost instantly.”

One of the challenges large organizations face is ensuring that every employee knows what resources are available to facilitate his or her success, Bouyer said. At Ernst & Young, both the general orientation and EY Unplugged point new hires to these resources.

One such resource is the firm’s employee resource groups, or professional networks. Incoming talent is informed about this resource and has the opportunity to join and participate in one or more groups immediately.

“As a veteran, what are you experiencing? As a working mother, what are you experiencing? As a black professional, what are you experiencing? Let’s talk about how to be successful,” he said. “The structure within the professional networks allows for even greater in-depth discussions geared toward very specific generational questions or LGBT questions.”

Navigate Unwritten Rules
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) established a leadership and talent development program in 2009 as part of its on-boarding efforts. One of the key goals of the Vanguard program, which is targeted toward black new hires, is to teach them to navigate unwritten rules and succeed, according to Elena Richards, director with the national office of diversity with PwC.

The program begins with a two-and-a-half-day kickoff where more than 100 black professionals new to the field come together and are exposed to some of the firm’s leaders. The messages and themes introduced during the session are reinforced throughout the year via webcasts, conference calls and other delivery methods.

“When we think about the public accounting profession, there’s been a struggle over the last 40 years in the industry to attract and retain black professionals,” Richards said. “This was our way of focusing that group on early success strategies and doing so in an environment where we could expose them to different situations and scenarios that mirror a typical work day at the firm — an immersion type of learning experience.”

Through lectures, panels and table discussions leaders instruct new hires on how best to manage their entry into the firm and how best to navigate different situations, such as teaching them what to expect and how to prepare for busy seasons.

“Busy season means long hours — how do you do that and also study for the CPA
exam? How would you respond when someone asks you to work late when you know you might have an exam to go study for? How that then plays out in the dynamics of a work team,” Richards said.

Another example is teaching new hires how to interact during a chance encounter with an executive — in an elevator, for instance. Richards said these types of situations require some real-time practice, as they can have a long-term impact.

PwC’s kickoff event also allows black new hires to build relationships with their peers in the program, Richards said. They feel comfortable enough raising questions and concerns with other program participants that they may hesitate to bring to someone who doesn’t have the same background or experience.

Enhancing the Experience
On-boarding diverse segments of the employee population isn’t without its challenges, but there are some practices diversity executives can promote within their organizations.

First, recognize that on-boarding should not be a one-size-fits-all approach. Program creators should evaluate which employee populations the organization needs or wants to focus on when tailoring the process.

On the flip side, Christiansen said, other employees may feel slighted, wondering, “Why aren’t we special?” or “Why don’t we get that?” To thwart any resentment, leaders must be prepared to effectively communicate to the broader organization the reason behind their decisions and actions.

Having the right messaging from leaders is key; it’s an opportunity for executives to affirm the organization’s commitment to and investment in diversity and inclusion. It’s important to reiterate the purpose and benefits of specialized on-boarding programs such as EY Unplugged so every employee understands, Bouyer said.

Be purposeful about the type of on-boarding tailoring needed, and in identifying the business purpose behind the decision. For instance, is tailoring supposed to help a particular demographic network more effectively within the organization, offering a broader base of contacts to help them succeed professionally? Or, is it to elevate their understating of the organization, how they fit into the big picture and how their specific roles tie back to business success? “Perhaps it’s paying more attention to delivering knowledge around strategy,” Christiansen said.

By addressing these concerns and taking the time to craft the on-boarding process to meet diverse individuals’ needs, organizations can help set these new hires up for long-term success.