Making the Business Case for Employee Onboarding


Whether you are revising your company’s current onboarding program or starting a new one, you need to communicate what you intend to do to get approval to move forward. The business case will be your written proposition; it should provide information to decision makers that will influence them to take action, demonstrating how the onboarding program is a business priority.

Case in Point
Let’s meet Teddy, the training manager at Bubbles. He has just returned from his first regional professional conference and is convinced that an onboarding program is the solution to retaining employees beyond their first year and creating a more stable workforce.
He believes it is the perfect time to suggest an onboarding program because the founding members of the family-owned company are passing the torch to the next generation. But before he can proceed, Teddy must develop a business case to convince the owners that the company needs an onboarding program.

The business case should emphasize how program benefits outweigh any short- or long-term investments of time and resources, and should position the program as an opportunity for management to build a solid foundation for business growth. At the same time, Teddy needs to acknowledge what the company has done well in the past to develop its workforce capacity and build on those successes, regardless of any current retention issues. The importance of company politics cannot be underestimated, and he should avoid presenting a list of problems without potential solutions.

How to Develop the Business Case
First, Teddy should secure the support of his manager. Preparing for this meeting will force Teddy to conduct preliminary research on the benefits, risks, and costs of the proposed onboarding program, as well articulate his general thinking.
After obtaining approval, Teddy will need to take a deeper look at how new employees become immersed in the company’s culture and prepare to perform their roles. To do this, he will need to collect information from the human resources function and meet with frontline managers who can share how they introduce their employees to the company and specific job requirements.

Talking with some employees who have stayed with the company beyond that critical first year about their experiences also will be useful. In addition, Teddy could reach out to similar businesses or to a specialized consulting firm to access benchmark data that offers insights about pitfalls to avoid.

Based on this research as well as data about employee retention, Teddy will be able to determine the current state of the company’s onboarding practices. With this information and his own understanding of the business, he will be able to portray the desired onboarding program as well as any measures for success, such as faster time to proficiency, increased retention, improved employee engagement, and reduction in production errors.

What the Business Case Should Include
The business case Teddy presents to leaders needs to include a general overview of where the company is and where it should be regarding onboarding. A description of what the company needs to do to reach the desired state is critical to the program’s approval. This description stems from measurable goals and objectives the program aims to achieve. It should sketch the program’s scope and design, starting with the audience (for instance, business areas; new and new-to-role employees; hourly or exempt employees; managers and executives).
Once the description is prepared, Teddy will introduce whether or not the program will cover all three phases of onboarding—pre-onboarding, general onboarding, and role-specific onboarding. Based on the program’s scope, he will introduce general content the program will include, who will deliver it, and how and where it will be delivered. This information, in turn, will affect the program’s duration and expected investment.

Ultimately, the typical business case presents:

executive summary—a short version of the business case to take the reader into more specifics
company context—a description of the company’s current business situation identified during the research phase, including strengths, weaknesses, and gaps
purpose—a brief discussion of why the company should have a new or revised onboarding program, placing the program in a broader market or industry context substantiated with benchmarking, benefits, risk, and investment data
goals and objectives—specific information on what the company would achieve, stated in measurable terms or metrics
project description—details about the program’s design, including audience, resources, timelines, and program evaluation
next steps—what the company will need to do to launch the onboarding program.
Because the business case is a communication tool for decision makers, business metrics affected by the onboarding program deserve special attention. Teddy’s case will be stronger if it establishes a relationship between program costs and benefits and creates awareness of what could happen, including specific metrics, if the business did not implement the program. Introducing before-and-after benchmark data also will be useful.

In Closing
The ROI of onboarding programs has been documented extensively. Make sure that your prework for the business case is based on the unique needs of your business—and on what is expected from its employees. In the end, it’s all about the business.


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