Employee Journey

High-Tech Onboarding: From Interns to Executives, It’s all About Relationships

It’s easy to understand why many companies look to student internships to keep their future talent pipelines flowing. Well planned and managed programs give employers relatively low-risk opportunities to assess an individual’s on-the-job performance, judgement and skills. Students gain practical, hands-on training, potentially in several different business units or roles. And both groups get to test drive whether the relationship is a good cultural fit.

A crucial component of a successful intern program is getting things off to a good start. One of the key goals of any type of onboarding process is to get participants fully up to speed and productive quickly. A swift process is even more important for interns, whose time with the organization is typically compressed.

To be truly effective in their role, they need to understand the culture of the organization, the team members they’ll be working with and what the immediate and bigger-picture goals are. Where do they start?

Efficient Onboarding

The good news is that digital tools from companies like human capital management platform Appical, and HR software from such firms as Zenefits, BambooHR, HRCloud and ClearCompany have made onboarding and other processes highly automated, mobile-friendly and streamlined with other company systems. Long gone are the days of wasted time completing stacks of paperwork and leafing through employee handbooks.

Newcomers can now access key information, complete and submit forms, see photos and profiles of company leaders, take a virtual tour, and even get a sense of what to wear or how to navigate some of the internal company jargon online before they start, hitting the ground running on day one.  

But while technology has vastly improved the process, it’s only part of the story. As Gerrit Brouwer, Appical’s co-founder and CEO puts it:

“Technology is the tool that brings the content and the human touch together.”

Companies have long dedicated time and resources to studying and responding to how their customers behave, and what they need and want. Now, they are beginning to view their associates – whether senior managers, flex workers or paid interns – in the same way. Online review tools have brought a whole new level of transparency to products and services, and company internships and employment are no different. Anonymous tools like Glassdoor allow individuals to freely share both good and bad reports of their experiences with companies and managers.

Senior leadership teams need to think of the onboarding process as just the beginning of a true ambassadorship that can last throughout and even beyond individuals’ tenures with the organization.

Related: A New Era: Global Assignments, Global Leaders

Early Employee Experience

Along with its recruiting and intern application efforts, the onboarding process is one of the earliest opportunities companies have to shape the story they want to tell, reinforcing their culture and brand. Brouwer views these early steps as the beginning of the retention of a relationship, driven by four key elements:

1. Building Rapport

From pre-hire on, the technology that connects teams is an important tool for introducing individuals to one another and fostering relationships. Onboarding programs can pair new associates and interns with mentors, assist them in finding peers with similar interests and provide opportunities to observe different cultures and practices within different units and geographical locations, all helping them successfully navigate their way.

2. Reinforcing Culture and Values

It’s no secret that members of the largest generation in the workforce today want to spend their time with organizations whose values align closely with their own. Brouwer notes that successful onboarding programs can “help newcomers really tap into the company culture and values, to fully appreciate what an organization stands for. It allows employers to go beyond a purpose statement and show real examples of their values in action, making associates feel more connected to the culture right from the beginning.”

3. Providing Valuable Feedback

“The onboarding process should be part of a circular vs. transactional or one-time approach,” adds Brouwer. In other words, it doesn’t end after the first week, 90 days, or at the conclusion of a probationary period, but is just the beginning of the relationship. Companies can use these connectivity tools to tap into the energy and fresh ideas that new hires and interns bring with them, but also continue to use them to help maintain engagement, assess interests and performance, ask what is and isn’t going well, and ensure communication lines remain open. Even after interns move on, companies can stay in touch and continue to foster positive relationships.

4. Revealing Actionable Insights

The same technology that facilitates and streamlines logistical processes, personal introductions and getting up to speed with company culture can also help employers listen to and measure engagement and satisfaction. According to Brouwer, “every company has its own key moments of impact. Paying close attention to team feedback gives employers insights into those crucial points in time – are there patterns or certain triggers points in the process, for example, during which certain employees or interns are particularly engaged, or start to become disengaged? For talent mobility professionals, the same approach can work to gauge highlights or pain points in the relocation or intern experience. If they can define those moments, and what’s driving them, they can take meaningful actions to make the most of the positive ones while fixing any problems.”

The investment of time and resources into building successful intern and onboarding programs certainly seems to pay off.

A 2018 Internship and Co-Op Survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employees (NACE) reports that an average of 45.6% of interns will convert to full-time hires.

Interns who accept offers tend to perform better and stay longer than other types of hires, too.

The same NACE report notes that 70.6% of those interns hired with direct experience with the same organization will still be in place one year later, and 50.2% will stick around for five years.  

Those are enviable stats in an increasingly competitive market, in which workers are currently choosing to leave their jobs at the fastest rate since the internet boom 17 years ago. The majority of respondents to a May 2018 Korn Ferry study of 361 professionals estimate that between 10% and 20% of new hires leave within the first six months. A mismatched expectation about the role of the job is cited as the number-one reason driving the flight.

Interns, on the other hand, have the advantage of having spent time actively contributing to the company and absorbed in its culture, and tend to go in with much clearer and more realistic expectations. Those who have had a successful onboarding experience are even more likely to succeed – and stay.

For more information on internship programs, see the 2016 Worldwide ERC® America’s Mobility Conferencepresentation resources for “Intern Programs – How to Create a Positive Impacton Talent Mobility.”

You can also discuss onboarding and more with Worldwide ERC® and our experts at the upcoming 2018 Global Workforce Symposium this October in Seattle. Register today so you don't miss out on the valuable insight!

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