10 x Best Practices in HR and Onboarding: Insights from Onboard Amsterdam 2023

Appical Team
Jessica Heijmans
November 28, 2023
min read
Table of Contents
How can you leverage technology without losing sight of the human aspect? During Onboard Amsterdam 2023, companies from various industries shared their best practices and valuable lessons on topics such as onboarding, HR, and learning and development (L&D). In this blog, we delve deeper into the key insights, trends, and highlights of the event.

1. Every onboarding program needs a solid foundation (HP)

How can organizations successfully convey their culture during onboarding when employees are spread globally? It all starts with a solid foundation, according to Stacey Heiss, Employer Brand and Onboarding Leader at HP. In HP's case, this foundation consists of 5 components:  the manager, the buddy, a 90-day plan, communication, and networking. 

Let’s highlight two aspects of this foundation:

  1. The manager: The manager is the driving force behind HP's onboarding program. Considering their busy schedule, the onboarding team asks them to do 4 things: nominate a buddy, develop a 90-day plan, specify necessary tools, and ensure their employees get a laptop. To help them achieve this, there are a lot of tools and resources, like templates, checklists, and "Manager office hours" for questions.
  2. The buddy: Onboarding buddies help new hires integrate into the company culture. HP encourages managers to choose both an on-site and a virtual buddy who is motivated, experienced at HP, and at a similar level within the company. Tools such as checklists and do's and don'ts are available for buddies as well.

Now you might be wondering, where do I start? Here are 5 things you can do now, shared by Stacey:

  1. Get the hiring manager involved early - right after the job offer is accepted.
  2. Develop a preboarding communications plan.
  3. Start a simple onboarding buddy program.
  4. Consider creating a 90-day plan template for your managers to use.
  5. Create opportunities for new employees to network in person and virtually.
“Did you know that 97 percent of new hires who met with their buddies more than 8 times in the first 90 days said they reached productivity faster (SHRM)?”

2. Improve your onboarding process using AI (Appical)

At Onboard Amsterdam, AI took center stage, highlighting the use of technology to create a more human onboarding experience. Appical, in particular, emphasized the significant benefits of AI in streamlining the onboarding process. 

Together with the audience, we explored various exciting possibilities, including our own AI Content Assistant, which helps HR specialists create engaging onboarding content. Since its launch, it has generated nearly 1000 prompts and over 200,000 words!

But the AI journey doesn’t stop there. These are some exciting possibilities for using AI in onboarding:

  • AI Buddy: Connect a chatbot to all the content of the onboarding app to answer every question.
  • AI App Builder: A content wizard for helping customers set up a digital onboarding program in minutes instead of weeks.
  • Interactive Analytics: lets HR managers ask questions to AI instead of looking at static graphs.

We can’t wait to see all these exciting possibilities become reality!

[.callout-small] If you want to learn more about how AI can transform the onboarding experience, check out our AI webinar.[.callout-small]

Presentation of Appical during Onboard Amsterdam 2023, with a fully packed room

3. Fight the digital skills gap with engaging learning methods (Growth Tribe)

Technology is advancing at an incredible pace, leaving many of us feeling like we're falling behind. But how can we tackle the skills gap and catch up to the ever-changing landscape? Stefan Daniëls, Head of Learning Studios at Growth Tribe, shared some valuable insights with us to get started:

✅ Map the gaps: Identify the skills that are crucial for your business goals, identify the gaps, and assess your learning velocity.

✅ Build engaging learning: Our attention spans are getting shorter, so it's time to embrace new ways of learning.

The impact of short videos on learning

One way of building engaging learning experiences is using short videos. Research shows they increase student engagement by 24.7% and boost exam scores by 9.0%. And there are even more benefits to using short videos:

  • Reduced cognitive load: Longer videos can overwhelm learners with too much information at once, hence affecting retention and understanding.
  • Reinforcement of learning: Short-form content can act as a recap or review tool to reinforce and consolidate key takeaways from long-form learning experiences.
  • Preparation for In-Person Learning: Employees can engage with short-form video content at home in preparation for in-person workshops or meetings.
  • Prompting curiosity and further exploration: Short videos can act as teasers to prompt curiosity and encourage learners to explore the subject further.

[.callout-small]Tip: Utilise AI to curate and develop your own microlearning: you can use it to do research, write the video script, and record it![.callout-small]

4. Prioritize mental well-being in the workplace (OpenUp)

Did you know that poor mental well-being costs the global economy a staggering $1 trillion annually (WHO)?

Jeroen Kuiper, Director of Customer Success at OpenUp, highlights the prevalence of this issue, with 1 in 6 people diagnosed with poor mental health. And the problem is even bigger than we realize – when asked, 60% to 75% of individuals state that they are dealing with mental well-being challenges.

External factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, recession, inflation, and AI in the workplace further contribute to stress, anxiety, and a decline in confidence. Overall, it’s clear that we need to prioritize mental health.

How to focus on mental well-being in your organization?

To address this within our organizations, OpenUp shared the following tips:

  • Identify where mental well-being challenges impact your business.
  • Quantify the size of the problem
  • Define key moments in the year to specifically focus on mental well-being (for example seasonality).
  • Find partners that lower the barrier for employees to enhance their well-being (for example platforms like OpenUp).
  • Seek executive support and involve leaders throughout the organization to lead by example. 
  • Measure, survey, preach.
Presentation OpenUp during Onboard Amsterdam 2023

5. Technology can make the recruitment process more human (Equalture)

Algorithms and AI are increasingly important in recruitment, with 52% of EU companies using them for candidate pre-screening. The benefits are clear: better, more objective, accurate, and efficient candidate selection. However, it's important to note that algorithms can either level the playing field or create more inequality.

At Onboard Amsterdam, Charlotte Melkert, Co-Founder & CEO at Equalture, debunked two misconceptions about recruitment algorithms. 

  1. Candidates don't like it
  2. It's only useful when it replaces human labor.

According to Charlotte, most candidates are actually fine with the usage of algorithms, as long as it's deployed wisely. In fact, most candidates prefer completing an assessment over uploading a CV to apply for a job - but ONLY when it's explained well to them why they are taking an assessment. Females like this even more, as they perceive the CV to be the most unfair selection instrument (based on 203 candidate reviews across different ages, genders, ethnicities, and job groups).

Use algorithms in recruitment wisely

The key takeaway is to use algorithms in recruitment wisely, making informed decisions with the data instead of letting the algorithm decide everything for you. Technology can make the recruitment process more human (fairer), as long as (1) it’s working with humans, instead of for humans, and (2) as long as it's clear to candidates why it's being used. 

6. Identify the gaps in your onboarding program and conquer challenges (Booking.com)

To create a successful onboarding program, it's essential to measure, learn, and improve continually. Overcoming challenges is part of the journey.

During Onboard Amsterdam, Noor Eggermont, Senior Manager Global Onboarding at Booking.com, shared some of the challenges she faced and conquered, such as the need to simplify the onboarding journey, build a clear storyline, and bring data even closer to the business with accessible dashboards.

Another major challenge faced by Booking.com was the siloed nature of different teams' involvement in the onboarding experience, negatively impacting new hires. The team conquered this challenge by implementing a ServiceNow platform and establishing a workflow with clear roles, responsibilities, and agreed-upon ways of working across teams.

Now, you may wonder how Booking.com identifies gaps in its onboarding process

To pinpoint gaps in their onboarding process, Booking.com uses surveys at the 7-day, 30-day, and 90-day milestones to gather insights on key metrics such as Onboarding Experience and Time to Enablement. By closely monitoring these surveys, they identify major gaps and make necessary adjustments. Additionally, focus groups are conducted to gain a deeper understanding of the identified gaps. 

3 Key take-aways about measuring your onboarding process:

  1. Invest in measuring and determine the areas to prioritize for further improvement, considering the impact versus effort required (start with the low-hanging fruits)
  2. Stay close to your customers (new hires and hiring managers) by actively seeking their feedback on what is missing or working well for them.
  3. Continuously measure, evaluate,  improve, and repeat the process!
Presentation Booking.com on the main stage of Onboard Amsterdam 2023

7. WOW your new joiners (Lamb Weston)

As one of our Onboard Award nominees, Lamb Weston knows how to captivate their new hires. Their secret? Creating meaningful connections, both with colleagues and the organization itself. So, how do they do it? Well, besides a customized onboarding app that tailors to specific work locations and roles, Lamb Weston goes the extra mile with a range of engaging in-person activities.

Lamb Weston's standout onboarding program features a two-day experience. The agenda includes engaging group activities like the "Field to Fork" puzzle, a ‘college tour’, an innovation challenge, a product tasting, and match machines (did you spot them during Onboard?). The icing on the cake is a field trip to the plant, where new hires learn about the company's products, visit a potato farmer, and witness the potato processing.

During her presentation at Onboard Amsterdam, Jet Delhij, the Learning & Development Specialist, shared some tips to help us get started with our own WOW experiences:

  • Engage new hires by showcasing the organization's process chain.
  • Help new employees understand how their role contributes to the company's success.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of a new hire and think from their perspective.
  • Think BIG when designing your onboarding experience: how can your onboarding stand out?

8. Build strong connections during onboarding (Yes! We Connect)

Onboarding can be an intimidating experience, but it doesn't have to be!! Our main partner, Yes! We Connect, shared with us the key aspects that new employees are looking for: to be seen for who they are and what they bring to the organization, to find inspiring and fun colleagues (nice colleagues contribute to employee retention), and to be of value.

And guess what? When you get it right, the rewards are astounding. Research shows that improved onboarding can boost retention rates by up to 33%! To build stronger connections during onboarding, you need to shift your focus and put the new employee in the spotlight by prioritizing opportunities for them to engage with their colleagues and the company's goals and values.

Sneak peek into the onboarding toolbox

So, what activities should you introduce in your onboarding program? Onboarding Specialist Kelly van Hove gave us a sneak peek into Yes! We Connect's toolbox. Their advice? Focus on activities that:

  • Center around getting to know each other: such as profile-making, teaming up exercises, energizers, and quizzes
  • Help engage with organizational goals and values: such as Q&A sessions with leaders, discussions, and games centered around your values, innovation challenges, and pitches
  • Help to find out how the new hire can contribute: conduct deep dive sessions, collaborative puzzle sessions to create the big picture together, and encourage individuals to express how they can contribute.
  • Build a support network: Work with cohorts, arrange regular meet-ups, and establish intervision sessions.
Handing out personal badges to connect with other HR specialists

9. Employee engagement is vital for the success of any organization (Dialog)

While it is essential to provide a comprehensive onboarding process to new hires, it is equally important to maintain employee engagement beyond the onboarding period.

Stefan de Woerd, Managing Director at Dialog, enlightened us with some compelling facts to back this up. Engaged teams have been linked to positive business outcomes, including up to 81% lower absenteeism, 43% lower turnover, 41% fewer errors, 18% higher productivity, 23% higher profitability, and 10% higher customer satisfaction.

Pretty convincing if you ask us.

So, how can we promote a culture of engaged employees?

  • Conduct a baseline measurement (comprising engagement drivers and the eNPS) to determine what employees find vital and how they perceive things.
  • Analyze the results to identify what's working well and where there might be room for improvement.
  • Use short pulse checks to assess how much improvement is being experienced and make necessary adjustments.
  • Support the process with intelligent technology.

Note that promoting employee engagement isn't just an HR job. Just like with onboarding, leadership has a critical role to play since managers have the most significant impact on their team (up to 70%). Therefore, it's essential to put them in the driver's seat.

10. Embrace relevant developments in L&D (PlusPort)

In order to stay relevant, organizations, like employees, must continuously learn and evolve, according to e-learning specialist Marko Ploeger and Consultant Marlies Braakhekke.  

During their workshop, it became clear there are several emerging trends to leverage in the field of learning and development (L&D), such as AI, personalization, microlearning, social learning, collaborative learning, D&I, and all-you-can-learn.

Let’s highlight 2 of PlusPort’s examples: AI and All-you-can-learn:

  1. Using AI: In theory, AI can have much impact in the next few years. For example with chatbots and virtual assistants, personalized learning paths, content recommendations, immersive learning, and automated assessments. But we have to be thoughtful about what we want to implement and how (keeping in mind ethics and data privacy).
  2. All-You-Can-Learn vs. Tailored Content: The "all-you-can-learn" (off-the-shelf content) trend is popular but comes with pros and cons. While it provides flexibility and diverse content, quality issues and skill mismatch can be challenges. Choosing between the two should be based on learning goals, quality standards, and employee engagement. 

The key takeaways? Never stop learning, embrace new developments & experiment with new technologies, and share your thoughts with others to learn from each other. 

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