Why You Should Take A New Look At Onboarding

The process is more important than ever, says Parker Ramsdell, VP of people, mission and culture at Brightspot.
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The quality of a new hire’s onboarding experience goes a long way in predicting how long they’ll stay at an organization—particularly if they are a remote worker, says Parker Ramsdell, vice president of people, mission and culture at Brightspot, a content management system provider based in Reston, Virginia.

Ramsdell spoke with StrategicCHRO360 about why all new hires have a 30-minute meeting with the CEO of Brightspot within two weeks of joining the company, how interns impact all employees and why social connection is important for remote workers.

Brightspot has prioritized reimagining its onboarding experience for new employees. Can you explain how you have adapted your strategy to meet the demands of a hybrid workforce and why other companies should take a critical look at their onboarding experience?

Onboarding is an initiative that I’m very passionate about, and Brightspot has done a good job at fine tuning it throughout the pandemic. There are studies that show employees decided in their first month on a job how long they’re going to stay there, which highlights the importance of a good onboarding experience. We don’t want a new hire having the experience of sitting around on their first day wondering what to do, especially if they are sitting alone in their home working remotely. In the past an employee could turn around in an office to ask a question, but amidst new working environments this is not always an option. 

At Brightspot, we want to ensure employees feel welcome from the start, and as a result the first two weeks of employment are highly structured. Over the course of these first two weeks, we prioritize new hires learning about the company and product, the ins and outs of their role, and meeting as many colleagues as possible.

Over the course of a person’s onboarding, they connect with 30 to 40 colleagues. Some of these people are the new hire’s manager or team members, while others are from completely separate departments. These meetings can include training, but many are just informal chats. This way, new hires feel welcome and more familiar with the organization.

For instance, if a software engineer meets with a designer at the beginning, they will know who to go to a few months later when they need design support for one of their projects. Every new hire even has a 30-minute meet and greet with our CEO during their first two weeks. 

In the age of the Great Resignation, how has this new onboarding program helped with retention of both tenured and new employees?

At Brightspot we feel that if employees connect to the company culture, they will want to show up and do important work every day. We pride ourselves on having a strong company culture that aims to put people’s well-being first. We firmly believe that new employees will likely stay longer if their tenure begins positively. This is why we have a structured onboarding process where we work to ensure new hires feel supported and connected. 

Additionally, we have found that involving employees at all levels in mentorship and training can help with retention. For instance, if a junior software engineer has the opportunity to train and mentor an intern, she will derive meaning from the experience and feel that Brightspot wants her to truly be a part of moving the company forward. 

Another initiative Brightspot is very focused on is hiring interns and new graduates and supporting their development. Can you talk more about why companies should focus on junior talent?

Brightspot aims to be a vibrant and exciting place to start a career and develop professionally. Since 2014, over 115 graduates have begun their professional journey at Brightspot, and 30 percent of current employees started their career at Brightspot.

We are so passionate about hiring interns and new graduates because of the surge of energy brought by young talent who are eager and excited about their careers. They provide a fresh perspective, and their enthusiasm is motivating for all employees.  

We are also gratified by seeing new graduates quickly rise up in their careers, often taking on leadership roles and owning major initiatives just a few years in. We also see that more senior employees enjoy the opportunity to mentor and manage recent graduates, and it helps cement their affinity for the company as well when they are given such opportunities.

Amid the pandemic and the pivot to remote and hybrid work, how can HR leaders help to keep employees connected, particularly those who are just starting in their career? Can you share an example of what companies should and shouldn’t do?

At Brightspot, we have found our internal employee intranet to be helpful in keeping people connected. An intranet can help to raise awareness of new company initiatives or groups, embrace communities in and outside of the workplace, and celebrate what employees do both at work and beyond.

Brightspot has also fostered connection through our mission work in giving back to the community. Even while a large percentage of our employee base continues to work fully remotely and would prefer to stay that way, we have found that people are eager to come together to serve others. We’ve given folks the opportunity to come together outside of the office in service of others with one to two scheduled events every month. These events have ranged from beautification projects at a local elementary school to packaging lunches for the homeless. 

We have also helped people who can’t be in-person stay connected outside of work. For instance, we have hosted a virtual magic show with a world-renowned mentalist, a virtual cooking class with a former Top Chef contestant, and quarterly book clubs. Companies should not make the mistake of thinking that remote work makes social connection less important. Even if it looks different, making people feel connected to the company and each other is key.

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