Date: 02/04/14 Duration: 00:25:08

Most people have a story of a poor or badly-organised introduction to a workplace. As the beginning of an employee's relationship with their new employer, however, getting the induction process right is really important, and an unmissable opportunity to explain what the company's all about.

On a mission to find out how to do induction differently, we spoke to three companies from a range of sectors who have all recently revolutionised their induction processes. Coffee company UCC send a 'culture pack' to new hires, and establish a strong connection with employees before they even begin. BBC Worldwide have worked with communication company One Fish Two Fish to develop a truly multimedia approach to induction that introduces employees to their content and brand. Meanwhile, global HR consultancy Mercer have worked with Big Picture Learning to create a visual representation of their company and strategy, which helps new starters to see where their roles fit in the context of the organisation.

All of these companies have moved away from a traditional 'broadcast' approach, which sees lots of information transmitted to bewildered new starters, to a process that is far more two-way, and that involves interaction, discovery, and conversation. Author and academic Paul Turner discusses the importance of this, and of aligning the induction with the brand and values of the company. He also describes how companies can measure the success of a new approach. Naomi Godwin, HR Adviser UCC, Anna Charleston, Head of HR Operations, BBC Worldwide and Nicole Black, UK Market Manager for Mercer also join in the discussion.

Share your induction experiences, or let us know what you thought of this episode, using the hashtag #CIPDpodcasts

Philippa Lamb:We all know how important first impressions are but for far too many people inductions are little more than a quick tour of the coffee machine, the loos and the fire exits before being issued with an employee handbook and shown to their desk. What a missed opportunity. At the start of what could be a long and rewarding relationship between employee and employer it really is essential to get that relationship off to the best possible start with a truly excellent induction.

Paul Turner is an author and academic who's given a great deal of thought to inductions and he believes they're a unique moment for both sides.

Paul Turner: One of the new approaches, if you like, to induction is the fact that it's become more of a two-way process. So whereas before it was more about organisational identity - this is what we are as an organisation - where inductees were seen more as an audience, I think now it's about personal identity, less of an audience, more of a community. So we want to get feedback as well. We want to find out with new employees what they can contributed to the organisation. So in the past it may have been where induction, after the induction process I receive my t-shirt with the organisation's name on it, I think in future the t-shirt will have my name on it as an employee as well as the organisation.

PL: Inductions are a great opportunity for HR to get creative. Along with face to face contact, many organisations make tech and multimedia a central part of the mix with great results, especially when the workforce is very large or very diverse. Here's Paul Turner again.

PT: Nowadays, organisations aren't the traditional hierarchy, one site organisations. They can be global, multi-site. The nature of employment means that people could work part time, some people could work from home, work remotely, so how do we engage those in the induction process? And I think technology is a great way of doing it.

PL: Technology can be used to help unify the process when you're inducting different types of people into your business. As an added bonus combining technology and social media can help you initiate a good relationship with new employees even before they join. Here's Paul Turner.

PT: The use of social media in every aspect of people management has really grown in the last year or two years and I think it's a very valuable contributor to the induction process. Some people say that induction is about making people feel welcome on the first day, I think really it should start before then, it should start with the offer letter if you like. Using technology and social media in particular to engage people before they actually step into reception I think is a really great way of helping to induct.

PL: United Coffee, now known as UCC Coffee, provides coffee machines, beans and other coffee products to a wide range of customers from big commercial clients to independent businesses and individuals. It's one organisation that's engaging with new starters even before they walk in the door. Naomi Godwin is HR adviser for UCC. She told me how their induction process works.

Naomi Godwin: The induction process is quite key to the first point of contact with any new starter in the business and it's quite critical that that first point of contact is actually the one that tells them who we are, what we love, and how we work. So we rejigged the new starter process so that when new starters are offered they get a call from the HR director to give them the offer, so actually the verbal offer comes direct from the top.

PL: Nice.

NG: They then get their offer pack which we have a culture pack in there which gives them samples of our coffee, we have samples for tea, biscuits, a USB stick with a little welcome box and there's lots of new starter information on that. And then before they start there's quite a lot of contact with the HR department so that they feel, not that they're loved, but feel that they're part of the organisation already.

PL: And you call them the day before they join don't you?

NG: We do.

PL: Which I think is a really nice idea.

NG: We do yes and we get an awful lot of really good feedback about the culture pack and about the first day call.

PL: A good induction might start before day one but the process should continue well beyond the first day too. Here's Paul Turner again.

PT: It's possible I think to look at induction in three stages. I think firstly there's what we might call ‘operational induction' that is the basic things we have to do to get somebody into the organisation. That can be anything from a payroll number to an email address, to a desk or a workstation. The second part I think is more orientation - who are the people I work with? What does the organisation look like? What are its values, beliefs and so on? And I think the third thing is the onboarding, that's a term that's increasingly used now. Onboarding is a longer process, it's the process that embraces all of the operational induction orientation but it makes sure it isn't just a one-off hit, that people come in, they see the chief executive or watch a video and then that's it. It's a process over time. The conventional wisdom suggests that there's a 90 day period in which we can really engage employees and so therefore it's worth looking at the idea of a 30, 60, 90 day onboarding plan where we can have regular reviews, regular dialogue and it has to be two-way if we're going to engage as a community rather than an audience. The three month onboarding review is one way of ensuring that continuity but even beyond that, even six months and even a year so that we can make sure it's a process rather than an event.

PL: I asked UCC's Naomi Godwin how their induction process plays into onboarding and what kind of results they're seeing from it.

NG: So as part of their induction employees are told that they are able to allocate any training courses that are on the performance management system. We've got over 360 online courses that vary from computer programming, all the way through to, not quite flower arranging but they're quite fun, they're quite entertaining.

PL: And people can just opt in?

NG: Absolutely it doesn't matter what their job role is if they want to do a course it's there for the taking. There's no cost to them. They can do it in their own time.

PL: So it's all very transparent the path from where people are when they start...

NG: Yes.

PL: their next stage and where they might go?

NG: We have, over the last six months we've put in place bronze learning paths we call them, one for line managers, one for employees. So line managers have specific courses that they need to do which are all related to line management. And employees do courses that are customer service, it's all those sorts of courses that are crucial to their role really. So from day one they're allowed to do any courses that they want on that system and actually even before they start they have access to the system before they start. So as part of their offer pack they get their passwords, they get the link and what we call a consolidated guide to the system so they're not just waiting for us to tell them how to use the system.

PL: That's interesting because they're really bound in before they've even walked through the door.

NG: Yes.

PL: So for you I can see how all that plays into performance what about things like engagement and retention; are you seeing wins there?

NG: Absolutely - we have data on this. We've actually been doing 360 surveys which are direct questions linked to line managers performance from employees so they can feedback to their line managers what they like, what they don't like, what their line manager is good at, what they're not so good at. For us looking at our engagement scores, our engagement score is 69% compared to the industry average of 36%.

PL: Are you happy with that?

NG: Absolutely. We could be better but it's a really good score.

PL: BBC Worldwide is a diverse organisation employing around 2,500 globally with 65% here in the UK and the rest in around 30 other countries. Anna Charleston is head of HR operations there and she talked to me about the challenges they face when it comes to inductions.

Anna Charleston: I think the biggest challenge is how do we design something which is fit for purpose for everyone, from a cultural perspective, particularly internationally where the BBC brand just isn't really well known. I think it's very easy for UK new starters to have a good understanding about our parent company the BBC but if you're brought up and living abroad then licence fee payer, the actual remit of the BBC isn't that familiar to you so our challenge was really how do we create something which sticks with our UK audience, our new starters, but also can be adapted for our local global requirements.

PL: I asked Anna Charleston how BBC Worldwide set about tackling this.

AC: Originally we had a very basic what we called ‘Monday induction', and that's all new starters used to get and it was really sort of hit and miss whether our local champions, our induction champions, delivered anything internationally or not but because what we were doing was taking people from reception and literally taking them into a room and almost in a way ‘sheep dipping' them in information we thought they needed, after a couple of months we realised that all we were getting were glazed looks, they weren't taking anything in at all.

PL: Slightly panicked?

AC: Yeah. And all they were thinking about was, ‘What's my manager going to be like? Where am I sitting?' There was really no engagement at all. So what we decided to do was do something quite different and start engaging with them from the time they first received their job offer. So we worked with a small company called One Fish, Two Fish, on trying to design the programme and they came in and looked at our culture and thought what would really work. We've got fantastic brands, fantastic television programmes which we're immersed in on a day-to-day basis; how can we make the induction stick and be engaging and more of an experience rather than a deluge of information being passed to new starters? So how we designed it was that from the time someone received their job offer they receive an email from our Chief Executive Officer welcoming them, giving them links to videos, to corporate information about the company and also supplying some anecdotes from other new starters internationally.

PL: Okay.

AC: So we've got the UK version plus also an international version. What we also did was we created a bit of a cartoon like animation video for our managers to help them with the soft skills required to actually make a new starter feel welcome. And then what we do in the UK is that we do what we call just a Monday morning meet and greet. So when new starters come into reception we bring them up to a room really just to make them feel welcome. We give them very, very basic information just to help them get started like for example their log in, how to use to the phones, and also orientation around the building. We then don't do anything else until the end of the first month because what we wanted to do is to help them settle in to get them a bit of a context about their role and the company and then offer them quite a unique induction day. How we do that internationally is it's not a day but it's a lot shorter and we have inductions champions in the overseas offices and they have taken the basic format of our induction day but adapted it so it really sticks locally, so it makes much more sense.

PL: So in a similar way to UCC, BBC Worldwide has found that beginning the induction of new starters before they enter the building on day one has been of huge benefit to employees and the organisation. The formal induction day at BBC Worldwide usually takes place at the end of the first month and Anna explained how it works.

AC: We've based it around very much our content and our brand so it's an experience for a new starter. So it helps them start to think about where they are, where they fit and how they contribute and about building their network, not only with people within the team but their wider network, outside their business area, in other regions, and how they contribute. BBC Worldwide commercially exploits BBC programmes and those of indies. It's quite a diverse company you can be involved in consumer products, you could be involved in television sales, you could be involved in channels. So it was really about getting people to find out where they sit within the business. That may, for example, be in the legal team or finance, wherever, and how they build their network, how they contribute to the overall aim and vision of BBC Worldwide. And so what we do is we start off, we dim the lights, and we've actually got quite an inspiring, people-focused film, which is a montage of people from across the company. It's quite an inspiring film so it really creates a bit of excitement in the room and a bit of a buzz. And then we make sure our inductions are facilitated by a member of HR plus also a member of the business - it doesn't need to be someone who is senior but someone who is from outside the corporate area who either is in sales or channels, wherever it may be, so they can give their own insight and we have a rotation. We also do a lot of exercises based on a family which we call William and Wendy Family, the BBC Worldwide family, and it's group exercises where they're given pictures of these people doing certain activities which you just see normal audiences or consumers doing and they have to try and guess which business areas contribute to those pictures and it starts to build up a picture.

PL: Give me an example.

AC: Well it might be Wendy we might have sitting in New York and she's watching Dancing with the Stars on BBC America channel. And so it gets them to start to think about our production arm in LA Productions, BBC America, how we perhaps distribute that programme. But none of this is us telling them, they have to come up with the answers. We also have a Sherlock Holmes exercise where they have to start thinking creatively and commercially about Sherlock Holmes and they have to pitch to us, we pretend we're part of the independent production company and they have to pitch ideas to us in groups for great ways for them to commercially exploit Sherlock Holmes. So there's lots of little exercises we do. We also have members of our executive board come to talk about the strategy and locally we get members of our global leadership team to come into the small groups internationally and talk about the strategy.

PL: So BBC Worldwide are using their induction day as an opportunity to immerse new starters in their brand identity as well as the many different facets of the business and putting the brand at the heart of your thinking when designing your induction process is vital. Here's academic and author Paul Turner again.

PT: Firstly the alignment of everything we do in HR should be with the strategy of the company, that's the first point. But I think the employer brand and the employee value proposition will include elements in there about how we induct, how we engage our employees into the organisation, how we provide them with the skills, training, learning opportunities, all of those things.

PL: So the tone and the style and all those things.

PT: Yes.

PL: Setting aside as you say issues around compliance, all that should align with your brand as well.

PT: Absolutely. If the brand is not aligned with the actuality then it won't last very long and we'll only attract people in the short term. So our employer brand should reflect what we are as an organisation, as an employer of the organisation. And part of that is how we integrate people into the organisation.

PL: Mercer is a global human resources consultancy firm specialising in talent, investments, retirement and health. They have 20,000 people around the world with about 3,000 here in the UK. Nicole Black is their UK market manager and she told me why they recently decided to revamp their induction process.

Nicole Black: I think it would be fair to say it was very PowerPoint heavy, so a lot of telling and not much interaction and obviously with a big complex business it is difficult to try and create something that is engaging that people from all across the different business lines and different levels can use and understand and keep their interest and engagement through that.

PL: An induction session at Mercer typically involves around 30 new starters. They'll be welcomed by someone from the market leadership team who introduces them to the company and the ways they can make the most of their career at Mercer. Then the newcomers take part in networking activities and icebreakers and cover some essential compliance basics. After that the bulk of the induction revolves around a brand new tool called The Big Picture. I've seen this Big Picture and it literally is a big picture isn't it?

NB: It is.

PL: It's a huge space and it goes on the wall, very colourful. Describe it for me.

NB: The Big Picture itself is a big picture, it's probably about a metre and a half by a metre, it's very colourful, very bold and I guess the best way that I can describe it is it's a visual representation, a drawing of our strategy and of the things that are important to Mercer and for colleagues to know about.

PL: Nicole told me more about how the Big Picture works.

NB: We start off by getting people into groups and we actually lay it on the table face down so people don't quite know what they're in for, and then we get initial reactions, turn it over, get initial reactions, and then very quickly we go into section one which is all about our vision, where we're going. It covers key things like our mission and our vision and our values and it also brings out some of the key focus areas for the business over the next five years. But it's not a telling thing, it's very much self-directed learning. So we get each person in the group, which is typically between eight to ten colleagues and they go through a series of different activities, reading out cards, discussing things as they go along, and so it's much more engaging than listening to someone talk about the content.

PL: This induction method is a brand new innovation for Mercer and when I met Nicole they'd just launched the Big Picture idea so it's early days but I asked her how people had engaged with it so far and what Mercer is hoping to achieve.

NB: It was probably by about eight minutes in that we really saw people engage and that was when we put down an activity that had a whole heap of different statements about our company and some numbers that we needed to get them to put in to fill in the blanks. And so immediately we like a bit of competition, we want to get things right and you've got colleagues from different areas who have different pieces of knowledge, they start working on this together and suddenly they're engaged with it and the content material and really thinking about actually how many clients do we have? And those types of things, rather than just telling them.

PL: So this half day, I mean from what you're telling me there's a whole range of activities and it's collaborative and it's great, people walk out with a picture of the organisation, where they fit and what you're trying to do, what else are you trying to give them? I mean what would you feel would be a successful outcome of it?

NB: Some of the challenges that we have as a business is we do have different lines of business within our organisation so making sure that people really understand what Mercer does across the lines of business not just the one that I happen to work in.

PL: So it's really anti silo?

NB: Absolutely yeah and increasingly to solve the issues of our clients. We need to work together in getting that outside in, you know, how does our client actually think about the issues they're facing and therefore how can we best help them rather than the other way round which is we have these capabilities and solutions what can we sell? So that's really important. So I think that's a definite key thing. I think the other thing is for people to really see that we are an exciting business to be in. We do have good growth potential and a plan of how we're going to get there and that actually everyone has a role. And I think what these materials do is really make that clear, give people a chance to unpack it and come away feeling, I have joined a company that knows where it's going and with good prospects for growth.

PL: Some great and inspiring examples there of firms using innovation, creativity and tech to make new employees feel welcome and to get the maximum return from their induction days. But does a one size fits all approach work for every new starter? I asked Anna Charleston, head of HR operations for BBC Worldwide, if they'd had to adapt their inductions to accommodate more senior joiners.

AC: So what we do for our senior executives we invite them to our induction day, they also go to the public service up front but we also give them an executive induction pack which is taken through with one of our, either senior learning and development managers or one of the HR business partners and it's a pack that they can carry around with them and complete but it's very much about them trying to establish their network quite early on and because there are so many people at the BBC, particularly with our executives they need to establish their connections over in the public service and this just gives them a bit of a guide. So it's a useful tool for them but it's very much them in the driving seat.

PL: So it's a psychologically slightly different experience for them?

AC: Yeah it is but they still come to the induction day as well.

PL: So induction is a complex and subtle business that can have a significant impact on staff retention and engagement. With that in mind I asked academic and author Paul Turner if he thinks businesses are taking it seriously enough.

PT: I think there is a recognition there that the link between good induction and onboarding and longer term engagement is there. And I think that recognition is coming through now. Today if you look at the priorities or areas of focus for HR professionals in the last few years inevitably it's been about talent and talent management. And that has manifested itself in the focus on the employer brand, the employee value proposition, use of social media to attract talent and so on. So I think the recognition of the need for the organisation to portray very positive brand to the labour market is recognised. And I think also once in the organisation the links between line management and good employee engagement are now recognised. But I think it's that period in between from when people actually join to when they're fully up and running that we're now realising is as important and therefore I think that explains why onboarding is getting a higher profile than maybe in the past because the recognition of the relationship between good induction and onboarding and long term engagement is now coming to the fore and I think therefore it's very important that we do get to grips with this.

PL: And this raises the question of measuring doesn't it? How do you measure the outcomes of the way you're inducting people?

PT: I mean there are some basic measures - labour turnover for example. Now research recently has shown that something like 25% or 30% of first year employees leave. That's way above the average turnover for most organisations. And some other research I saw was that 50% of employees leave some organisations in the first 18 months. So we've got a simple measure for our induction and onboarding success, can we reduce the labour turnover in the first year of employment for example? And we can start with a benchmark and work from that. And we can calculate that through to have the cost benefit advantages as well. I think we do have to measure the induction and onboarding progress because if we're going to invest in it then we're going to have to show some return.

PL: So where should you start if you're beginning to think that you should refresh the inductions process at your organisation? Well here are Nicole Black's tips based on what she's learnt from doing just that at Mercer.

NB: Well a couple of things, it's obviously finding out from the people who've gone through it what they think, that's been a really key part of what we've done. We always ask for feedback and that's an ongoing process. But I also would encourage people to think outside the box a little bit and to look around and see what other companies are doing, what's out there, and I think it's fair to say that this is very different for Mercer, we are very traditional in terms of doing things on PowerPoint decks and things like that. This is something new but that's also why it's exciting for our people to be involved in and it gets attention. So I think they would be really important aspects.

PL: That's it for this month. Next time we'll be taking another look at what HR can learn from neuroscience. Now you may remember that last September our podcast featured neuro-leadership expert David Rock in conversation with CIPD's chief executive Peter Cheese. Next month we'll hear what neuroscience can teach us about how insight and intuition can help to generate bright ideas and build really innovative organisations. It's fascinating stuff. Join me then.