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Integrate Your Call Center's Onboarding Process for Better Results

Employee onboarding is the process that extends from the time a new employee accepts the job offer until they are fully acclimated in their role in the organization.  It’s the critical period of an employee’s tenure when they’re forming indelible impressions of the company – their culture, how they treat employees and customers, what they value, and acceptable behaviors –and learn how to do their job.   How you handle this critical period is an indicator of how successful your employees, and your company, will be.  A thoughtful, integrated and holistic process results in knowledgeable, productive employees with a deep commitment to their work, their colleagues, and the company’s most deeply held values. 

Employee Onboarding? Now?
Yes, despite today’s economic climate, it’s still important to consider how new employees are experiencing the first few months on the job. Why? 
>> The fewer new-hires you’re bringing in, the less likely you are to have a planned process.  
>> New employees may be frightened by recent downsizing or rumors of impending layoffs. 
>> If you have experienced downsizing or budget cuts, new employees will notice if employee morale has taken a dive.  In tough times, new employees should feel secure and confident that they’ve made the right decision in joining your organization.  You want to eliminate second-guessing and even the temptation to continue the job search after they’ve accepted a job offer.

Integrated Onboarding Process:  Comprehensive and Aligned

The opportunity for disconnects and inconsistencies during this acclimation period, which usually lasts for three to six months, are plentiful.  All too often, a new employee is hired and hears nothing from the company until their first day.  When they arrive, they face a barrage of information (orientation, new-hire training, manuals, tools and resources, online courses, new work environment and colleagues) for a short period of time and then ... it all stops.  They are dropped into the job and expected to function.   Often, they find the formal training they received didn’t really cover everything they needed to know and, in reality, many critical processes are undocumented and informal.  It’s not clear to them exactly when they are expected to be fully functional on the job or even what that means.  

A planned and integrated onboarding process is designed to address these potential disconnects and inconsistencies.  It starts with positive, relevant messages from the time the employee accepts an offer and continues after the employee starts work by regulating the flow of information to manageable levels.  It includes the perspectives of performance stakeholders, including HR, operations and workers (e.g., call center agents) and ensures employees receive the necessary level of support until they’re comfortable and competent in the job.  It has clearly defined performance standards and milestones to define the process and includes a measurement component to ensure the goals of the program are being met. 

Use the checklist below to evaluate your organization’s onboarding process and to learn more about each practice.  

Integrated Onboarding Process Checklist

1. The onboarding process begins before the employee’s first day and extends after formal new-hire training. 
Capitalize on the employee’s interest and excitement by sharing information about the company and their job responsibilities as soon as the job offer is accepted.  Before they report on the first day, send the employee a welcome letter, their job description, a company overview and a first week agenda, and continue the communication until they begin work.  When formal training is complete and they are on the job, use mentoring and milestones (see #3 and #4) to extend the training and support period until full competency is achieved.

2. Have an effective, knowledgeable cross-functional team responsible for onboarding design. 
If your onboarding period consists of “hand offs” as each department fulfills their “part” – the recruiters hand off the employee to HR; HR hands them off to Training; Training hands them off to their supervisor – you may have some problematic disconnects.   Bring your stakeholders, including HR, Training, Operations, and Management, together to identify (1) the goals of your employee onboarding process and (2) adjustments to your process that are likely to yield those results.  

Here is an example from a company who had a lengthy, formal new-hire training program but no planned onboarding. 

3. Have documented onboarding period performance expectations and milestones.
You may test employees at the end of classroom training to verify they’ve met the training objectives.  But employees aren’t fully proficient at the end of formal training.  There’s often an extended period of job shadowing, on-the-job-training, mentoring and practice that precedes full proficiency.  Analyze your expectations for that period and establish specific performance expectations and milestones that clearly detail your expectations.  For example, at 30 days, you expect employees to consistently meet standards related to regulatory compliance guidelines.  At 60 days, you expect them to be meeting the behavioral standards associated with customer service.  At 90 days, you expect them to be hitting the minimum sales targets or quality goals.  These expectations and milestones should be introduced to the employees early as an outline of the performance targets they should be anticipating and preparing for.

4. Assign each new employee a mentor; formalize the mentor relationship.
The support of a mentor can be instrumental in settling comfortably into a new job.  A mentor provides the new employee with the opportunity to ask all the questions that come with a new job (How do I find my schedule? Are there really career opportunities here?  I don’t see any listed on the online job board right now), without feeling like they are being a nuisance or a pest.  Formalize the relationship by establishing a meeting schedule, which begins daily, then weekly, then monthly, as the employee becomes more comfortable in the job and the question become fewer.   Provide training and clarify expectations for mentors so they understand the type of guidance and support to offer and become skilled at establishing and managing this important relationship.

5. Pinpoint specific milestones that indicate employee proficiency. 
In general, as employees gain experiences and access training, they become increasingly better at their jobs.  While real world performance is more complicated than that, specific milestones that indicate an employee has achieved a minimum level of proficiency are motivational and provide important clarification to both employees and managers.  With your stakeholders, document when the onboarding process ends, what skills, knowledge and performance level you  expect the employee to have achieved at that time and the plan (and consequences) if those expectations haven’t been met. 

6. Measure new employee satisfaction during and at the end of the onboarding period. 
The first six months of employment is often a period of uncertainty for employees.  They aren’t sure what they’re doing or how they’re doing.  They don’t really know what everyone does and how everything works yet.  As a result, it’s difficult to know how they’re feeling, which puts them at risk for job dissatisfaction and even turnover.  Consider how you can assess employee satisfaction during the onboarding period, either through the mentor program or using anonymous surveys.  Ask questions like, Do you feel supported during your new-hire period? Do you feel comfortable asking questions?, Did you receive enough training? At the end of the formal onboarding period, do an “exit” interview, asking how the company (or department/team) might improve employee support and ferreting out potential disconnects.  

If you don’t have a formal onboarding process in place, a great place to start is to conduct a focus group, interviews or surveys with your recent new-hires and their managers to ask them about their experiences as new-hires and suggestions for improving the process.   Use that information, your cross-functional team of stakeholders and the checklist questions above to evaluate the effectiveness of your current onboarding process and make the adjustments that will result in a comprehensive and aligned process and happier, more confident, and more proficient employees.