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Expert view: Helena Parry

Helena In this audio clip, Helena Parry, Talent Transformation Consultant at IBM, shares how design thinking and using personas can help you design a great pre-boarding experience. She also outlines the key phases of the IBM recruitment process and provides tips on how you might improve the pre-boarding experience.


In the work I do with our clients, pre-boarding comes up as the biggest opportunity for improvement.

Most people think that onboarding = induction (Day 1 onwards). We at IBM see it in 3 phases:

  • Pre-boarding
  • Day 1
  • The first 90 days.

We use persona and design thinking methodology to identify the “moments that impact”, which might be different from organisation to organisation but are broadly around the eight illustrated in the image below. Using personas forces you to put yourself in the shoes of the new hires versus putting too much focus on processes and IT systems.

IBM diagram indicating key onboarding steps IBM ‘Moments that impact’ diagram (Click to expand)

Oddly, the same gaps come up in the candidate experience surveys, irrespective of the size and technological sophistication of the companies I consult with:

  • No contact from the new manager or team before the date of start, it’s typically just someone from HR who stays in touch (if at all)

  • Information overload & death by forms: often the same form is sent multiple times without a clear explanation of its purpose

  • No or little information about the company, structure, culture, ways of working or any kind of training happens before Day 1.

I collected lots of feedback from the persona work we did on pre-boarding, which are captured in the image below. Both line managers and new starters emphasise the opportunity to improve the process and avoid it from being a “black hole”.

IBM slide providing quotes from new hires and managers IBM Pre-boarding persona feedback (Click to expand)

But what is “the business case” for a good pre-boarding? Productivity, engagement and employee experience have a direct correlation to financial results. In addition, according to Forbes, new hires and gig workers are those who fill the critical skill gaps.

The work we did at IBM to redesign the pre-boarding process was later used as a benchmark in our work with clients. We started with three design principles and a conviction that digital can enhance human interactions.

IBM slide featuring list of design principles IBM Design Principles (Click to expand)

The following image is a visualization of the end-to-end experience that was launched at the beginning of the pandemic. The new IBMer Portal is probably “the secret weapon”. Built on in-house HR systems with a Slack integration, the portal enables new cohorts to fully immerse themselves in the IBM culture, meet the future team, refer potential new hires using social media and get ready for an effective start. The first cohort of 3,000 new ‘IBMers’ completed 9,000 hours of training on the portal, allowing them to hit the ground running on Day 1.

Screen shot of IBM new starter portal IBMer Portal (Click to expand)

If you need to improve the pre-boarding experience on a shoestring, here are a few simple things you could do:

Create a virtual new hire “lounge” leveraging tools you already use (Slack, Teams, WhatsApp, Messenger etc):

  • post a personal video from manager or team
  • host a virtual coffee with team / manager before Day 1

Learning Packs/Links:

  • Send (or post via “new hire lounge”) new hires learning material. This could include tips on culture, company, skills (hard and soft) eg, ways of working (Agile or other methods) and “how to” guides to allow them to get familiar with new tools.

Immersion into office culture:

  • Do a simple video of the office, team and surrounding areas, maybe including key tips such as where you find the best coffee…
  • Assign a virtual onboarding buddy. This should be someone who has been with the company for longer, though not necessarily on the same team, and willing to spend some time to “decode” the new company to the new hire.

Over to you

What’s your view on onboarding at your organisation?

  • How would you rate your experience when you joined your organisation?
  • What do new employees think about the on-boarding experience in your company today?

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This article is from the free online course:

Online Recruitment and Onboarding: Providing Continuity for Business and Candidates