How to Measure an Onboarding Program

In a recent article, I explored the most important efficiency and effectiveness measures for L&D programs and discussed the outcome measures and when they should be used. In this article, I will apply those recommendations to a particular program: onboarding. My hope is that you will be able to apply these recommendations to your own program.

Efficiency Measures

Let’s begin with efficiency measures. I recommend four measures at a minimum:

  1. Number of participants
  2. Completion rate
  3. Completion date

For onboarding, I would recommend “completions” as a measure of participants, at a minimum. If you have a significant dropout rate, then I would also measure the number of participants who started and report the completion rate.

The completion date isn’t as important for an onboarding program because most have fixed start and finish dates, but I would record the duration in weeks and hours. In other words, how many weeks and hours did the onboarding require (hours are important if they met just part of the time during the week). These last two are important because there may be pressure to shorten the program in the future, so you need to know the duration history. Lastly, I recommend capturing the cost. Calculate staff time at their fully burdened labor and related rates.

Effectiveness Measures

Next are the effectiveness measures, which indicate the quality of the program. Here I recommend level 1 participant reaction as well as level 1 sponsor reaction (from a shorter survey asking about the reliability of the L&D department, ability to deliver on time and budget and recommend to others). One or more level 2 knowledge checks would be appropriate for most onboarding programs. Some may test at least weekly.

While I recommended level 3 application for programs in general, it may be difficult if the onboarding is done prior to the employee’s first day. It’s good to ask if the employee will be able to apply what they learned on the job, but if they haven’t started their job, their answer may not be meaningful. I do recommend asking about application if they have already started their job or if you are able to do a follow-up survey 60 to 90 days after onboarding is complete. Level 5 ROI often is not done for onboarding since onboarding is compulsory; however, it would be very useful if a new onboarding program is expected to produce significantly better results than previous ones.

Outcome Measures

While every onboarding program will have individual outcomes (i.e., increased levels of competency), many do not have specified organizational outcomes. Like compliance, they simply need to be done as efficiently and effectively as possible. So, you may not have an outcome measure. That said, some do design new or improved onboarding programs with the specific goal of improving an organizational outcome like employee engagement or retention. If your needs analysis indicates that a new or revised onboarding program should lead to higher engagement or retention, these become the basis for your learning outcome measures.

The actual impact measure would be called “the impact of onboarding (learning) on engagement (or retention)”. The isolated impact can be measured using one of Phillip’s five isolation methodologies. In this case, you would be able to calculate an ROI. Or, you might adopt the Kirkpatrick approach and create a compelling chain of evidence that the new onboarding program did indeed play an important role in the improved engagement or retention scores (no ROI available in this case). Either way, you are addressing the impact of the program on important organizational goals.

Just remember that you need to be focused on the impact of your onboarding program—the delta (or change) in the level of engagement or retention, not the level itself. In other words, your onboarding for the coming year will directly contribute to the improvement in engagement or retention for the year (like a 3-point increase from last year) rather than the level itself (like a 70% favorable score for engagement).

In Sum

In conclusion, the framework from last month can easily be applied to a program like onboarding. How do these recommendations line up with your current measures for onboarding? Any new ones that you will consider going forward? I hope you will use the framework to identify two-three efficiency measures and two-three effectiveness measures for your own onboarding. And perhaps even an outcome measure.