Alicia Stansbury: Bake Brand Into the Onboarding Process

Think back to your last first day on the job. Was the first day your best day? What onboarding practices were in place? As a business owner, your employee onboarding process can make or break the company. According to TinyPulse, when an organization has an efficient onboarding process, they retain 91% of employees for at least a full year. Even more so, 69% of employees stick around for three years. The onboarding process is a critical component of employee engagement for any business, but simply “onboarding” your employees isn’t good enough.

In an article by Forbes, author Meghan M. Biro cites the 2013 CandE survey, which “… found that nearly 50 percent of prospective employees looked to company materials to get a feeling for the company’s values.” And since 22% of staff turnover occurs in the first 45 days of employment, making sure employees understand who your brand is vital to onboarding. So, how do you ensure your business’s onboarding is as effective, engaging and encouraging as possible for new employees? By baking your company’s brand into the onboarding process.

To demonstrate how to bake your brand into onboarding, Method Mark brought in Alicia Stansbury, Manager of Product Enablement for Namely. Stansbury’s experience includes in-person training sessions, building curriculums for employees, delivering new hire training and leading organizational development for MSNBC. From there, she went into global learning, leading service culture development and deployment for Starwood Hotels and Resorts, before she found herself in the world of tech startups like Adap.TV (now owned by AOL). Stansbury is an expert when it comes to baking your brand into the onboarding process, so let’s dive in to her thoughts.

Learn the importance of brand.

Alicia: “If you want to find candidates who fit your culture, then don’t overlook the importance of brand in onboarding. Think about how much time and money is spent to fill roles in an organization, or how much time and money is spent when an employee leaves an organization. It’s about getting it right the first time. Branding in onboarding drives the right candidates who want to work for you. This in turn drives up referrals. Employees will want to refer friends and family to your company, which ultimately leads back to a strong brand.”

The company’s brand is your promise to customers and employees on behalf of the business. It defines a business’s mission, vision and reputation. As Entrepreneur states, “It tells [employees] what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offer from your competitors’.” If you strive for successful employee engagement, a brand should be an integral part of each stage of the onboarding process. All you have to do is get from Point A to Point B—from branding to onboarding.

Define the brand.

Alicia: “To me, brand is culture. In my experience, if you infuse brand from the very start of a potential candidate’s interaction with your company, you will find the best candidate—a candidate who not only meets all of the criteria for a specific role, but one that will exceed expectations and stay the course. A candidate who has created an emotional connection from application submission, and who has clearly stated, ‘Yes, I want to work for you!’ A connection which encompasses your mission, values, vision and ultimately a candidate that will become an advocate for your company.”

A brand is more than just a company’s logo, fonts or colorings. The fundamental, must-haves, for a brand strategy are purpose, vision, customer personas and a well-defined product or problem statement. HR Cloud states, “If done right, it can be the most powerful tool you’ve got to not only increase market share and drive revenue, but form the best team that will take you to the top spot in your industry.” Before building an effective onboarding process for your new employees, you first have to clearly set and define the company’s brand.

Take time to sit down and truly think through how you define your brand. Zappos, for instance, defines their brand on unparalleled customer service. All new team members start with four weeks customer service training. After this initial time, new employees are offered a payout of $4,000 to leave the company. They can choose to leave and take the payout, or stay on. Their decision ultimately decides whether or not they are a good fit for the company’s brand. While you might not be able to duplicate Zappos’s methods, how you define your own brand will affect the onboarding process. Dig into the past, present and future of your company to find the niche you’re looking for. Then, build a brand around it.

At Method Mark, defining your brand and identity is what we do. As you go through the process of defining your brand, decide whether or not you want to maintain the workload in-house, or outsource it completely. There are some pros and cons to both options. Fortunately, many parts of your brand are flexible. What you decide now isn’t necessarily what it will be in the future. Once you have a solid foundation to build off of, you can begin integrating your brand into the onboarding process for new employees.

Recruit in line with the brand.

Alicia: “The brand has to be a part of the new hire journey, from how the job description is written (voice) to how the interview process flows from phone screen to in-person. Every interaction has to be a window into the culture of the company.”

Before onboarding even begins, there is the recruitment process. Therefore, your recruitment strategies should be in line with the brand you define. Building your brand into the recruiting process ensures that potential employees will already be aware of the company’s culture, and will be more likely to fit into it when they are hired and begin working.

An article by Forbes cites studies by Gallup, which:

… confirm that engaged employees are more productive, create better customer experiences, and are more likely to remain with their employers. As a result, employers win because they get a more stable and motivated workforce and can, consequently, spend more time strengthening their brand.

Engaging employees is easier when your company shares consistent brand messaging throughout the employee process—from recruitment to retirement. By building your recruitment strategy around the brand’s core values, mission and vision, you ensure potential employees can identify with the company culture from the very beginning.

As you move forward in building the recruitment process, ask yourself, “What perception does the outside community have of my business? How am I showing my purpose? How am I displaying my mission and vision?” Consider all aspects of how your current recruiting strategy tells your company’s story and displays your brand. Establish a unified brand experience on the front lines of your employee recruitment and the onboarding process will be even more successful.

Integrate onboarding with the brand.

Alicia: “It’s an emotional connection. I have seen so many companies over my 14 years who put so much blood, sweat and tears into figuring out how to create this emotion for customers or clients of their product and they completely ignore the internal aspect. Think internal first. Don’t just say, ‘Hey, brand is in onboarding then once the new hire is onboarded brand ends.’ That’s not how it works. I encourage companies to think through how they position their brand internally for their employees from when a potential candidate submits an application, to 90 days into their role, to two years down the road.”

Once the brand has been integrated into the recruitment process, it’s time to bake it into the onboarding. During the onboarding process, you want new employees to learn about your company, learn how you do things and learn more about your products or services. Plus, let’s not forget all the paperwork. However, remember to include your brand identity and voice every step of the way. For instance, Inc. quotes Erin Perry, Director of Client Solutions at Pinstripe, a recruiting company based in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Perry explains,

If you’re a high tech organization that has a cool brand and that uses social media and talks about innovation when you’re advertising to attract new associates, that’s great. But if on a new hire’s first day you hand them 15 different forms to fill out, your employment brand message has just died.

As you develop the onboarding process in greater detail, consider how to integrate your brand throughout. Be brand-conscious in the voice you use, the messages you share and the values you instill—or even insinuate. At Netflix, they integrate their brand into onboarding by getting new employees involved in large projects right from the beginning. Each new team member is given a dedicated mentor, and top executives, including CEO Reed Hastings, meet with all new hires.

Inc. also recommends utilizing technology to have your new hires fill out the necessary paperwork before the onboarding process even begins, in order to maintain the integrity of your branding. Send legal forms alongside the formal offer letter, so new hires won’t even have to worry about them when they start the first day. You can even send an employee handbook ahead of time, leaving extra time for more brand-friendly activities when the hires actually start. However you can plan and share ahead, do, so employees can get the greatest possible brand exposure when they start the onboarding process.

Reinforce the brand.

Alicia: “Everyone in the organization (and I mean everyone) has to live, breathe and support the brand throughout every new hire interaction. This is not just an HR function or influence. Let’s face it, new hire success is typically defined by the broader team. No matter who the new hire comes in contact with, from the recruiter to greeter at the front desk upon arrival for an in-person interview, everyone internally has to speak the brand. Think long-term. I wouldn’t think about brand and onboarding as just a one-time event. This is a long-term investment and strategy that ultimately shapes the culture of your organization, whether you are hiring the first employee, to improving hiring along with the culture for existing employees.”

Next step: reinforce, reinforce, reinforce. From the initial interview to the final day of onboarding, your brand should be reinforced every step of the way. First, dedicate the company to hiring employees who represent the brand you want. The people you hire can directly influence the way teams function, the products you create and how revenue is earned. Not only should your brand reflect who you hire, but who you hire should also reflect the brand. New employees become the face of your organization.

Once new employees come on board, it is vital to reinforce the company’s brand identity throughout the onboarding process. Refer back to your branding whenever possible in order to help new employees understand the value within your business’s team. Share values and culture through orientation, video, presentations or employee activities to help new hires build a deeper connection with the organization and inspire a greater level of engagement. By reinforcing your brand throughout the onboarding process and getting employees involved and engaged in the brand itself, you don’t just create employees; you create brand ambassadors.

For example, take Google’s onboarding best practices. Managers are reminded and encouraged to think about new employees before they even begin working there. Once new hires arrive, they are quickly introduced to the rest of the team. Then, managers continue to check in with new hires once a month for the first six month, which encourages open dialogue and builds a mentor relationship, further reiterating Google’s brand.

Increase employee engagement through brand.

Alicia: “From my experience as a hiring manager for various companies across varied industries, employees are no longer applying for any job. Candidates are doing their homework. Most potential candidates that I have seen know more about the company than current employees—especially companies that have a large employee base or long tenure in an industry. What does this tell me? It tells me the employees applying are ‘connecting’ with the brand initially, whether that is through the information on the website or perhaps articles or review of the workplace, they’re making a connection. The key is to ensure that initial connection is nurtured and supported throughout every touchpoint in the new hire journey. By incorporating branding into onboarding, you will attract the right candidates, which will organically lead to better employee engagement.”

Forbes cites a Gallup study that reveals “companies with high employee engagement levels have 3.9 times the earnings per share when compared to those in the same industry with lower engagement levels.” Engage your new employees by (1) hiring people that reflect the brand you want, (2) reinforcing that brand throughout the onboarding process and (3) creating brand ambassadors for the future.

Onboarding is a critical component in recruiting, maintaining and engaging new employees. By integrating your company’s brand into the process, you can shape employees who identify with the mission, care about the values and want to engage with the business on a deeper level. Bake your brand into the onboarding process by defining your brand, recruiting in line with it, planning ahead, reinforcing the brand every step of the way and following the experts. Try out our tips next time you hire on new employees for an onboarding process that builds up true brand ambassadors for your company.

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