Solving the talent challenge: Why onboarding and retention is a strategic imperative

Putting a premium on a good onboarding experience is more important than ever, says Liam Butler.

Reading time: 6 minutes.

Competition for talent is intensifying across every industry sector. Global business leaders say the challenge of hiring – with new talent in incredibly short supply – represents one of the top three emerging risk factors facing their organisations.

In the UK employment rates have recently hit an all-time high, while in the EU and Asia Pacific rates are running at 90% plus. It’s a similar story in the US, where employment figures continue to rise on a sustained upward trajectory.

This global talent crunch comes at a point when – against a backdrop of worldwide economic recovery – shifting demographics mean the working population is ageing. With Brexit set to compound the current skills shortage impacting the UK jobs market, companies will need to do more than merely rethink their current recruitment and selection practices.

The scarcity of potential candidates – and the difficulty of replacing high value talent — means getting onboarding and retention strategies right has a direct impact on organisational productivity, profitability and long-term business success. It’s a challenge on two fronts: getting the right people into the organisation, and keeping them there.  

Why onboarding matters

Onboarding represents a ‘make or break’ experience that determines a new hire’s future engagement and ROI.

Research shows that organisations typically lose 30% of new hires within the first 90 days of employment – in other words, 20% people will leave a new position within just three months. For some organisations, the turnover figure for new recruits can rise as high as 70% in the first year.

Getting the onboarding experience right is crucial in the face of a changing workplace culture, where modern workers are less inclined to view long term job tenures as a given.

According to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), the average cost of replacing a single member of staff for a UK employer is £30,000. But the cost of replacing a senior executive can cost a business up to 213% of his or her salary. A poor onboarding experience and a high attrition rate costs both time and money.

However, studies by the Society for Human Resources Management have found that 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for at least three years if they had a great onboarding experience. What’s more, 54% of companies with onboarding programmes reported higher levels of employee engagement.

Changing workforce expectations

Getting the onboarding experience right is crucial in the face of a changing workplace culture, where modern workers are less inclined to view long term job tenures as a given.

Indeed, a recent survey by the global staffing firm Robert Half found job-hopping is a significant trend in the marketplace today, with 64% of workers — and 75% of those under 35 — believing that frequent job changes have an overall benefit to their career.

New starters expect to encounter a slick onboarding programme that equips them with the skills needed to quickly become productive in their role. The first couple of weeks of a modern worker’s employment could determine their future career trajectory with a company – particularly those from younger generations.

Personalisation of the entire orientation process is a top expectation. Forget handbooks, new employees increasingly expect digital access to information and resources, plus social media groups where they can collaborate with colleagues and exchange ideas.


With orientation complete, they’ll want to see evidence that their future development and career aspirations are supported. Otherwise, they’ll look to exit fast. A progressive, structured and rigorous onboarding process can prove transformative by maximising new hire engagement and performance.

Delivering a streamlined onboarding experience

Strategic, structured and connected to an employee’s role, an effective onboarding programme needs to be designed with specific outcomes in mind. Enabling this requires a technology platform that streamlines the entire onboarding process and gets new employees up to speed on the tools they need to be successful in their role.

Alongside automating all aspects of the application and joining processes, the onboarding programme needs to provide learning targets and curated development paths that gets new joiners up and running fast. This should clarify what’s expected of new hires in terms of performance and support them to become highly effective contributors to enterprise goals.

Today’s human capital management (HCM) platforms make it easy to automate and optimise the onboarding process, unifying information and actions to deliver a highly personalised experience. Learning is at the centre of this process – helping new employees reach peak productivity sooner, and ensuring existing employees are challenged and supported to take on new and rewarding roles.

Once a new hire successfully transitions the first critical 90 days, these systems make it possible to know, develop, grow and reward workers in insightful and action-led ways that go beyond simply monitoring priorities and progress.

Managing talent better – getting retention right

A rising demand for skilled workers and a cultural shift towards shorter workplace tenures means organisations need to make retention a top priority. Employees place a premium on being able to access directed and meaningful development opportunities delivered in a systematic and methodical way.

Today’s HCM technologies make it possible to deliver career pathing capabilities, giving employees personalised learning plans on which they can build the skills and competencies required to move to their next step.

Featuring role-based dashboards that allow employees to direct their own professional journeys, these systems connect people to information, learning resources and colleagues, gamifying their progression through specific activities and performance targets.

Leveraging machine learning and AI to identify skills learning needs and behaviour gaps, modern platforms have the ability to capture real-time feedback linked to specific goals and performance.

Organisations can provide tailored development and career path recommendations that keep individuals motivated and engaged, while enabling employees to search for their next role within the organisation, based on current competencies and skills.

When it comes to accessing personalised learning, these platforms can take account of individual learning preferences and enable seamless access to elearning and online content – including corporate YouTube resources – on any device, at a time that suits.

Going beyond first impressions

Today’s HCM platforms also make it possible for companies to trawl their existing talent pools and identify individuals with the potential aptitudes and skills to take on new roles. Research from Deloitte illustrates how internal employees can develop the same skills as an external hire at one-sixth of the cost.

Clearly, in a tight labour market, investing appropriately in hard-won talent ultimately generates long-term enterprise gains. By delivering enterprise-wide visibility into their existing internal labour market, organisations can cultivate their existing talent pool and align their skills pipelines with future organisational needs.

Improving onboarding and retention strategies should be seen as a top priority – organisations that don’t risk losing talent on both these fronts. This is a problem few are equipped to cope with.

Getting these areas right pays significant dividends in terms of employee engagement, productivity and retention, and today’s HR systems can easily enable highly effective processes that integrate new hires fast and create a successful long-term employee experience.

Improving career development and boosting talent retention can prove a game changer for organisations looking to gain a competitive advantage in an increasingly challenging business environment.


About the author

Liam Butler is AVP at SumTotal


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