When Jim Sokolowski arrived at Savvis Communications in 2010 to begin as director of Global Learning and Leadership Development, the company was experiencing double-digit growth, along with a change in senior leadership that brought a renewed commitment to human capital as a strategic enabler and competitive advantage. The challenge was to effectively build the organization’s learning function from the ground up. Taking on such an effort brought up the question of where to start as there were plenty of obvious places that demanded attention. “It was an exciting opportunity having so much green field to work with, but also a bit daunting to identify the biggest one or two things to begin focusing on to blaze the new strategic path to achieve our mission,” Sokolowski notes.
After analyzing the organization’s current needs and capabilities, the Global Learning and Development team placed the organization’s new employee onboarding needs at top of the list. The factors affecting the decision were the alignment with the new leadership’s vision and the company’s business objectives, the opportunity to make an impact on the organization’s culture, and the need to create a learning culture that would stay with employees throughout their tenure. An amplifying factor: Savvis had no formalized onboarding process at the time, which created inconsistencies in employee experiences and unacceptably high “time to full productivity” for new employees.
Revamping the Onboarding Process
High-tech companies move fast, and Savvis was no different. Sokolowski decided early on to build his team for agility, which meant staffing it with learning consultants (full-time employees) who would analyze the business’ learning needs and program managers to work with vendors to execute. When the onboarding program was started, the Global Learning and Leadership Development team was only four people, but has since grown to 14. This meant an appropriate partner needed to be selected to build the onboarding program in partnership with Savvis. The selection process produced Novita Training, a training development company specializing in new employee onboarding.
According to founder Robert Bilotti, Novita Training follows a seven-step onboarding development process, shaped over years of working with a variety of companies. “Onboarding is probably one of the most custom programs a company can create,” Bilotti says. “Our development process reflects the unique nature of onboarding. And step one of the process is to determine what’s currently working and not working at the company in terms of its new employees.”
To do that, Novita and Savvis conducted a comprehensive analysis, consisting of both surveys and interviews. The analysis produced some interesting data that helped inform the decisions for how best to build the onboarding program to drive immediate and measureable business impact
Figure A: New Employee “Benchmark Data”—Savvis, A CenturyLink Company
(analysis conducted by Novita Training)
- Average new employee productivity (vs. 100%) = 35%
- Average time to reach full productivity = 3.5 months
- Within 90 days, average number per new employee of:
Calls to IT help desk = 7.5
Benefits questions = 3.6
Policy questions = 4.3.
Mistakes = 4.8
- Percent of new employees unsure of their decision to join the organization:
Before starting = 12%
After starting = 20%
- Percent of new employees who feel excited about their job:
Before starting = 62%
After starting = 47%
- Average number of employee referrals per new employee = 2.4.
- Percent of new employees who:
Feel part of a team = 84%
Feel company cares about them = 58%
Feel encouraged to be creative = 69%
Of course, Savvis was interested in the basic productivity numbers, but these don’t always tell the whole story. According to Bilotti, sometimes companies overlook obvious new employee data. For example, consider the impact of calls to the help desk, not just in terms of lost employee productivity but the expense on the IT staffing side.
In terms of employee engagement, the data from the analysis spoke volumes. People felt part of a team, which was good. And they were encouraged to be creative; that’s rare and excellent. But there was a drop in how new employees felt about the organization after they began. That’s a direct indication that the onboarding program of new employees was not optimal to set them up for success.
Development and Implementation
Based on the data and their analysis, several recommendations were made to build Savvis’ new employee onboarding process. It was important that the onboarding process was consistent across what quickly was becoming a global organization. “Like many organizations, we had silos,” Sokolowski says. “New employees were learning based on tribal knowledge and shoulder surfing, and we needed to change that. Equally, we needed it to be a multifaceted solution from prehire through the first 90 days, and include manager and peer coach involvement.”
The initial version of the program included:
- A formal internal process to guide those who manage and participate in the program
- A highly participative new employee orientation workshop (aptly named “immersion”)
- A 90-day onboarding experience roadmap for the new employee
- An electronic new employee portal
- A “peer coach” program
- A training program for Savvis managers on how to utilize the process to accelerate new employee productivity and engagement
Novita and Savvis worked closely together for almost nine months.April Cole, a Learning & Development consultant at Savvis, was responsible for launching the initial program. She led a cross-functional Onboarding Steering Committee to drive engagement and participation of the business in the critical changes that would occur. “Given that Savvis, like most organizations, had silos, it was critical that we engage with the business to build a relevant, engaging, and informative onboarding experience for new employees,” Cole explains. “By partnering with the business, we were able to ensure that we were not only designing a program that would quickly integrate and educate new employees, but we also were building champions for the process within the business. Simply put, we were not doing something to the organization, we were creating a program with the organization.”
The effort paid off. After a pilot, and some tweaking, the new program was rolled out—and the impact was felt immediately.Soon,Sokolowski and the Global Learning and Development team were hearing from new employees that the onboarding at Savvis was the best they had ever experienced. They liked that the information they needed was basically “on demand”; they liked the connection they felt to the company and their manager; and they found the “peer coach” a great resource in helping them to acclimate to the environment at Savvis. Even though Savvis hires hundreds of people a year, participants routinely report that there seems to be a personal touch to it.
Since the initial launch in 2010, the program continues to respond to new technologies available and participant feedback. In 2012, Christine Berra, program manager for the “Savvis Immersion Program,” converted certain portions of the program to an online curriculum to ensure a consistent onboarding experience for the U.S, Europe, and Asia-Pacific regions, and delivered these through the company’s online university called SavvisEDU. Additionally, while impact assessments were in place from the beginning, the process of collecting critical data to continue to improve the program has been automated and made more efficient through the internal talent acquisition system. These innovations have improved the usability of the system from the new employee’s perspective and greatly improved the reporting and surveying capabilities on the administrative side.
“It is important that our employees have a full grasp of the Savvis organization,” Berra stresses. “Over the course of 2012, several exciting global initiatives have been launched to ensure employees have a consistent onboarding experience and successful transition into their new role.”
This included the launch of a Global Onboarding Connection Site. In this space, U.S., Europe, and Asia-Pacific new employees learn about Savvis’ company history, products, vision, mission, and unifying principles, as well as links to each region’s specific onboarding plan.
The program has made a measurable impact on the organization:
- Employee time to full productivity has been reduced by 58% as reported by the managers.
- Employee satisfaction with the onboarding experience has increased 14.5% at the 90-day mark.
- Some 68% of new employees feel there is a defined plan and formal process for onboarding (up 14.4%).
- Some 88% of new employees feel well informed about the senior leadership team and their vision for the company (up from 56%).
Savvis’ Strategic Consulting Process, which is used to develop new training programs, requires a clear definition of the targeted business metrics prior to proceeding with any program development. This model was successfully used for new employee onboarding by targeting time to full productivity.
As for other organizations looking to duplicate Savvis’ success, while there is no one-size-fits-all solution for onboarding, both Sokolowski and Bilotti would advise companies to:
- Target business metrics
- Listen to what new employees and managers are telling you
- Flawlessly execute the plan
- Continue to improve the learning solution based on feedback
Savvis, a CenturyLink company, is a global leader in cloud infrastructure and hosted IT solutions for enterprises. Nearly 2,500 unique clients, including more than 30 of the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500, use Savvis to reduce capital expense, improve service levels, and harness the latest advances in cloud computing. For more information, visit http://www.savvis.com.
Novita Training is a full-service training development company specializing in helping organizations accelerate the development of talent. Novita continually researches the best onboarding practices to help clients stay progressive and differentiate themselves and their employer brand. For more information, visit http://www.novitatraining.com, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.