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HR or manager: Who is actually responsible for onboarding?

21/06/2022 HR Services

Onboarding? That's what the HR department is responsible for!

Have you heard that before? I have. And it was quite unsatisfying because I was “the HR department.” Let me tell you what happened.

A new employee resigned during his probationary period and cited in our exit interview that he was unable to settle into his new job and team due to a lack of onboarding. Outside of the mandatory and rather superficial onboarding plan, he felt left alone. When asked about this, the supervisor said, "Onboarding is the HR department's job!" and dismissed responsibility for the failed onboarding and the disappointed employee.

All roles in onboarding

From the manager's perspective, I should have made sure that the new employee received all the knowledge relevant to his position. And she also saw me as responsible for his social-emotional bond with the company. 

Clearly, this was a clash of expectations. And this way of thinking about onboarding is still widespread today. In order to clear this up, I would like to use this article to create role clarity in the onboarding process, to show how many people are involved in good onboarding and how diverse their tasks are. This is underlined by the results of a recent onboarding study by Softgarden.

The Direct Manager

At the start of the job, the direct manager, i.e. the hiring manager, is the first point of reference, since newcomers and hiring managers have had a chance to get to know each other during the recruiting process. Therefore, the highest demands are placed on the managers, as the central role in onboarding, in order to integrate the newcomers well in every way. They are responsible for organizing the first days and weeks well, communicating expectations and tasks clearly, promoting mutual feedback, and perceiving the newcomers as a person and getting to know them individually. This person should be present on a very regular basis and actively seek conversations with newcomers and their team frequently.

In addition to leadership responsibility on the social level, the manager is also responsible for the technical induction. They draw up the induction plan – which should cover all the important content of the position – and ensure that this content is conveyed to the appropriate extent. Here, they have a share of their own, can transfer some topics to the team or a special companion for the technical induction, and should keep an eye on personnel development when development areas emerge.

Desired behavior of vs. experiences with supervisors in the first 100 days Source: Softgarden Onboarding Study 2022
Desired behavior of vs. experiences with supervisors in the first 100 days Source: Softgarden Onboarding Study 2022

The importance of the role of supervisors in onboarding is also underscored by the Softgarden Onboarding Study. In the study results, managers fall far short of expectations for the role from the newcomers' perspective. In particular, newcomers have expressed a significantly higher need for feedback than they have received from their supervisors. In addition, the chart above shows that many new employees would like to see a clearer formulation of expectations by their manager. So this is where many German companies find great potential for making onboarding more successful.

The Human Resources Department

The HR department oversees the onboarding process. This means that it is responsible for the conceptual and strategic part of the process, as well as for ensuring that it is carried out and implemented in a qualitatively good manner. However, this also means that HR is not responsible for the operational implementation of onboarding, but for the process specifications and evaluation. In many companies, it is the case that HR also has many organizational tasks and is therefore also responsible for implementation at some points in the onboarding process. But the main role for successful onboarding – as described above – lies with the direct manager, since he or she knows the most important framework conditions for the position, can take them into account most precisely and is close to newcomers.

A central task of the contact person in the HR department is to be a trustworthy service partner for the company's employees. To build the trust required for this, they should strive from the very first contact to be perceived as helpful, service-oriented and open. Of course, this does not apply to onboarding in particular, but to the entire collaboration. Still, first impressions count, and HR professionals make a significant contribution to employee satisfaction and retention through good service and a personal relationship.

A Personal Buddy

A buddy is understood to be a kind of personal godfather on eye level. The task of a buddy is to help newcomers discover the corporate culture. 

Through their personal commitment, buddies help new colleagues get to know the company on a social level. They open up your network to them and help them make their first contacts so that they can quickly find their way around and feel they have arrived. This can take place through shared break time, after-work meetings, or even tours of the company to introduce the new team member and have a bit of a chat. This is all independent of an agenda or a checklist of who the new person absolutely has to meet. In this way, sympathies and common ground can be found across team boundaries. 

Furthermore, the buddies should be the contact for all questions that go beyond the technical. For example, questions about corporate culture, where to put your foot in your mouth, what are the insights and questions you'd rather not ask your boss.

Around 60% of newcomers are now assigned a buddy or mentor by their new employer. How successful the buddy program is, however, depends in each case on the personal design and commitment of the person selected. They should be very open, outgoing and communicative, able to share their knowledge and have a strong network within the company. 

The Team

For each team member, the team is the area in which cooperation, as well as professional exchange, takes place, in which mutual support is required and in which – ideally – everyone feels comfortable. Only if these conditions are fulfilled for all team members, the team can perform a really efficient work and reach challenging goals. However, with every change in the team, the team structure has to find itself anew, adapt to the new circumstances and personalities in order to find the optimal interaction again.

This is important for every single team member. Therefore, commitment to the new person by each team member is significant. 

The team members should therefore make it easier for the new hires to get started in the new team with a willingness to help, a lively exchange of ideas and collaborative actions, thereby actively promoting togetherness. In this way, everyone plays their part in the search for a common team spirit.

However, a study from 2018 shows that the expectations of newcomers are not met in many cases. For example, it shows that many newcomers have the impression that their new colleagues do not like to answer questions and often provide little insight into the unwritten rules and procedures of the department. At this point, every manager should ask whether this is also the case in his or her team and what the reasons are. The reasons may lie, for example, in unclear expectations of one's own role, in a feeling of competition or in the daily time pressure. 

The Stakeholders

Who is actually a stakeholder in the onboarding process? Basically, this is every person who has to do with the new team member in terms of organization, processes, or topics. For example, IT staff, works council members, project, or interface colleagues.

Your task is to give the newcomers a warm welcome and share your (process) knowledge. In this way, newcomers can quickly become productive, and the error rate can be kept low – to the benefit of everyone in the company. In addition, they can help the newcomers to expand their personal network and also thereby increase the effectiveness of their joint work.

The Management Team

The management team around the executive board and the next most senior executives should also play a role in onboarding. This is because they are the ones who can best give the newcomers a global overview of the company's goals, strategies, and ways of functioning by showing the company's (divisional) strategy and vision.

Through their overview of the company, they can make it clear to the new hires where their own contribution lies in achieving these goals, in what way they can actively influence the company's fortunes, and how they can also realize their personal strengths and ideas outside the job description of their position.

So how do you get everyone to pull together?

  • Communicate internally about the company's expectations for dealing with new team members.
  • Make the onboarding process transparent and known
  • Get all stakeholders to understand their role in the onboarding process and provide them with comprehensive information.
  • Highlight the benefits of professional onboarding
  • Demonstrate through best practices that onboarding is fun and fruitful.

And one final tip: Good onboarding should be recognized. View onboarding as a fixed task and allocate appropriate time to it so that employees don't prioritize it to the back of their minds in the stress of everyday life. Onboarding should also be given appropriate prominence in leadership guidelines. This will create a new mindset about the importance of onboarding in your company!

If you would like to further professionalize the onboarding process in your company or promote acceptance of onboarding measures among your employees, we would be happy to support you with our various onboarding-related services or work with you on your Employee Journey

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