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The Onboarding Opportunity

How to Support Strategic Human Capital Management from Day 1

Research shows that the onboarding process has a significant impact on employee productivity and retention. That means it should be a priority for all education leaders, and a key component of every human capital management strategy.

But in many school districts, employee onboarding is focused on paperwork and process — not supporting new hires and ensuring their success. It’s understandable how this happens: the sheer volume of paperwork necessary to bring a new employee into the district can be overwhelming.

When paperwork and time constraints are no longer an issue, administrators can make the move to a more strategic, employee-focused onboarding process.

So how do you do it? Read our free white paper to find out!

You’ll learn:

  • How to remove the burden of paperwork from the onboarding process
  • Which questions you need to ask to move toward employee-focused onboarding
  • How you can more effectively spend your time supporting new hires and ensuring their success

Employee onboarding is an opportunity: to make a great impression on new employees, build relationships and set the stage for effective employees who stay with the district for years to come. The onboarding process is directly linked to employee engagement, productivity and retention — and that means it should be a priority for all education leaders, and a key component of every human capital management strategy.

But in many school districts, employee onboarding is overshadowed by paperwork and onerous processes. In nearly all cases, time constraints prevent districts from maximizing the onboarding opportunity and turning it into an employee-focused process. And the sheer amount of paperwork required to bring new employees into the district, combined with a lack of administrative staff, can result in onboarding that is isolated from the rest of the employee life cycle — and in some cases, a burden on both administrators and new hires.

To try to streamline the process, some districts relegate onboarding to a checklist of paperwork that must be completed. But turning what could be an integral part of the district’s retention strategy into a series of boxes to be checked can have far-reaching consequences.

First, it’s difficult to get to know new employees while they read through and sign forms at your desk —and it sets the stage for a burdensome transition into your district. When administrators are strapped for time and feeling hassled, relationship-building and innovation tend to fall by the wayside. Basic paperwork won’t tell you how to best support your new hires, or how to empower them to be more effective in the classroom.

Second, spending hours managing and processing new hire paperwork is time-consuming and leaves plenty of room for frustration. It’s difficult to track the progress of all that paperwork, for administrators and employees. This process leads to lots of back-and-forth communication — but not the good kind. The problem is compounded when each department has their own checklist and keeps their own set of records, leading to time lost or inaccurate information. For example, what needs to be addressed when new employees are hired looks very different for different functional areas. For example, principals need to know (and communicate) different information, compared to payroll and benefits personnel.

Third, an inconvenient or onerous process leads to a poor new hire experience, and having educators start the school year distracted or stressed out is a lose-lose situation. First impressions matter — you don’t want onboarding to leave new hires with a poor view of the district’s administrative side. With nearly $2.2 billion spent annually on teacher attrition and nearly half a million teachers moving positions or leaving teaching entirely every year, we cannot underestimate the importance of starting employees out on the right foot.1

Clearing the Way for Employee-focused Onboarding

As we just reviewed, paper- and process-based onboarding is not the most effective way to bring new hires into the district. So, how do you begin the move to strategic, employee-focused onboarding?

Remove time constraints.

The first step is to make time for an improved onboarding process. Until time machines are invented, there are only two real options here: hiring more administrative staff or finding tools to automate the process. And in today’s budget climate, hiring enough administrative staff might be just as unrealistic as building a time machine. So, that leaves one real option: finding technology that makes onboarding faster and easier for everyone involved.

When looking for a platform to handle the administrative side of onboarding, you should look for a few important features. According to Martin and Lombardi, these are the five key functions used by “best-in-class” employers in the onboarding process to save time and ensure employee success:2

  1. Visibility into which employees have completed what forms and tasks
  2. Utilization of data collected throughout the recruiting and hiring process
  3. Ability to track progress against development/career plans
  4. Automatic emails when status changes from applicant to employee
  5. “Smart forms” that pre-populate fields and built-in routing or workflows

In addition, look for an integrated solution so you and your employees can move seamlessly through recruitment, hiring, onboarding and onward throughout the rest of their career. If the platform used for new hire onboarding can also be used to manage employee information throughout their career (like enrolling in benefits plans or managing annual contract renewals), all the better.

Provide the right information at the right time.

Ensure that the most basic information employees need to get started (where to park, how to log in to the district network, how to use the phone system) is automatically sent out to all new hires, so you can focus more on communicating the district’s vision and culture. This is particularly important for mid-year hires or long-term substitutes, who need to be prepared to jump in while the school year is already underway.

While paper packets may be the traditional method of distributing information to new hires, consider going digital. A folder stuffed with documents is easily lost, and the costs of printing and mailing information can really add up. Electronically sending out pertinent information can eliminate these problems.

In addition, if new hires are able to complete their onboarding packets online instead of needing to meet with an administrator in-person, you can save all the hours previously spent scheduling meetings, reviewing and completing forms, processing information and filing paperwork.

Those hours can be reclaimed in any number of ways:

  • Continuing to meet with individual new hires but using the time to build relationships and help them prepare for their first day instead of going through paperwork.
  • Hosting ‘Welcome Days’ for new hires where they can meet their colleagues and administrators.
  • Creating individual growth plans or managing coaching and mentoring programs.

Creating an Employee-oriented Onboarding Strategy

Once time is less of an issue, you can be more deliberate about how you bring new hires into the district — what they experience, what they learn, who they meet and how they transition into their new role. When you clear the way for better onboarding, a multitude of opportunities to support new employees emerge.

Let’s take a look at a few.

Ask employees for feedback.

To truly redefine the onboarding experience, you need to think critically about what the district’s onboarding process looks like today, compared to what it could be. It’s a good idea to reach out to current staff members and ask for feedback. Even better, survey new employees on an ongoing basis to continuously refine and improve the process.

Questions to ask new employees:

  • “What was the most helpful part of the onboarding process?”
  • “What was the least helpful or most tedious part of the onboarding process?”
  • “What could be improved?”
  • “What do you know now, that you wish you knew when you started?”
  • “How does our onboarding process compare to other districts’, if this is not your first teaching job?”

Build stronger relationships.

Given time to spend with each new employee, which is more productive: spending a half hour waiting for them to read through paperwork and telling them to “sign here,” or getting to know them as a person?

There’s no question that it’s better to connect with new hires in a more relatable and conversational manner, but that can be nearly impossible when paperwork is in the way.

When you’re able to build a culture of trust from the very beginning, future conversations with employees about their careers and growth will be more fruitful. And there’s no question that having stronger relationships can greatly benefit district culture, and by extension, improve retention. Plus, getting to know your employees’ personalities, strengths and goals helps you better assimilate them into the district and create personalized growth plans from the start. For example, you might be able to better match new teachers and mentors or recommend specific professional learning opportunities.

Stories from the Front Line: Deerfield School District 109

With the right systems in place, an easy hiring process can lead right into stress-free onboarding. District 109 in Deerfield, Illinois, makes it easy to apply online with an electronic applicant tracking system, which also helps them hire fantastic candidates quickly. They can sort through applicant data with powerful filtering tools and highlight top candidates with prescreening assessments. Once great candidates have been identified, they are quickly moved through the hiring process with automated workflows and online forms. Then, every new employee completes their onboarding paperwork online. To ensure that deadlines are met, district leaders can track which forms still need to be filled out, and by whom.

Using a professional learning management system from the same vendor, Deerfield ensures that new hires quickly take advantage of the district’s extensive mentoring and professional learning programs — without needing to re-enter employee information into multiple systems.

“We look at the data that’s entered into the system after we bring candidates on board. We’re able to track information in a seamless manner, look at the information we logged during the interview process and use it to help our teachers establish goals when they begin in the district.”

– Dale Fisher, Assistant Superintendent of HR

Provide personalized support for new hires.

If your district already has a coaching or mentoring program in place for new employees, now is the time to refine and expand it. If not, it’s time to put one in place. For beginner teachers, having an experienced educator mentor them throughout the school year can be an invaluable resource. But even veteran teachers can benefit from peer coaching.

In addition, consider bringing the Curriculum and Instruction or Professional Development departments into the onboarding process to bridge induction and educator growth. Time previously spent on paperwork can be used to set up an initial growth plan for each new hire based on their individual strengths. This way, you can start providing personalized, job-embedded professional learning for educators from the beginning — which means more effective instruction in the classroom.

Improve your district’s reputation.

Don’t underestimate the effect of the onboarding process on your district’s reputation. Word gets around when a district has a stress-free, well-planned onboarding process, and you may very well find more educators applying to your open positions. Conversely, a poor new hire experience is likely to scare off the most talented candidates. So, make sure to plan how you’ll make sure that the news about your new and improved onboarding processes isn’t a secret.

Remember that great onboarding goes beyond providing information and completing paperwork — it offers a memorable, positive experience that keeps new employees excited and engaged. This might mean incorporating networking events or open houses for new employees, or planning fun events to bring new colleagues together.

If you do host events for new hires, such as a Welcome Day, take photos to use as part of your recruitment efforts on your district website or social media pages. You may also want to collect quotes or stories from new hires about how excited they are to work in your district, to share in your recruitment materials and encourage others to apply. This has the added benefit of showing parents and the local community that your new teachers are ready to start supporting student learning as effectively as possible from Day 1.

The Result: More Effective Educators

An employee-focused onboarding strategy results in more engaged educators in your classrooms, ready to support student learning.

No administrative distractions on the first day → Educators can focus on students, not paperwork
Less time spent managing onboarding paperwork → More time to support current employees
Better relationships between colleagues → More collaborative learning from the beginning
A reputation of being a great district to work for → Attract the most talented job-seekers
Personalized growth plans and mentoring for new hires → Higher quality instruction

When district leaders can reclaim time for innovative human capital management strategies — and not just around induction — everyone benefits. So, don’t let time constraints hold you back. Take full advantage of the onboarding opportunity.

1. Haynes, Mariana (2014). On the Path to Equity. © Alliance for Excellent Education 2014.
2. Martin, K., & Lombardi, M. (2009). Fully on-board: Boston, MA: Aberdeen Group.