The offer letter came with a chocolate hamper and wine, says Ankur Warikoo, an Indian School of Business (ISB) graduate. Warikoo, then 26, recalls how he was “wowed" when A.T. Kearney, a global management consulting firm, sent him the offer letter in 2006. Now CEO, Crazeal.com (Groupon India), a daily deal company, Delhi, Warikoo laughs: “I wasn’t taken in by the wine but I sure was wowed over by the firm’s culture. Of course, one realized even then that these gestures are short term and limited to a new joiner. Yet it remains definitely a satisfying memory."

Though many multinational companies have had various “onboarding" initiatives in India for over a decade and a half, many organizations are now making innovative gestures to woo would-be employees. “It is a trend that picked up around six-seven years ago, to infuse a ‘good-feel’ factor," says B.S. Murthy, CEO, LeadershipCapital, a Bangalore-based executive search firm. “Earlier, it was about dinners or lunch coupons. These were restricted to employees joining at senior positions. Today, these freebies have become like the mandatory return gift at children’s birthday parties!"

“There is always an anxiety hovering around a new joiner regarding his/her decision," says Milind Apte, vice-president—HR and administration, Godrej Properties Ltd, Mumbai. “Research has indicated that a new joinee decides to stay on with the organization in the first 45 days after joining and hence it becomes very important to handle this initial anxiety."

Onboarding initiatives are calibrated to make the new employee feel welcome and when there is competition, especially at the campus recruitment stage, these initiatives help in engaging the recruit with the organization, says Murthy.

Gestures to woo a prospective candidate range from a one-size-fits-all package to personalized ones, and include offers that help familiarize the new recruit with the company through mentors or coaches who become the first touch point for the recruit, a cab pickup on the first day at work, to T-shirts and eclectic gift hampers that echo the recruit’s personal tastes and hobbies.

How it can be done

photoAt the Godrej group, there are different ways to welcome campus recruits and lateral hires. Campus recruits get an offer letter with a personalized hamper which includes books and music in sync with the person’s taste and interests, besides dinners/lunches with senior management and HR to better understand company strategy and plans in a more informal set-up. This allows for relationship-building prior to actually coming on board, says Sumit Mitra, executive vice-president, HR, Godrej Industries, Mumbai. “Management graduates are looking at multiple job offers. From the time of accepting the job offer to before they join, there is a gap. We use this time gap to orient the individuals about the organization," he says. For example, lateral hires at Godrej Properties get a detailed communication on all aspects of the offer, a joining kit sent to the candidate’s residence so that formalities can be completed at their convenience, and a bouquet.

The anxiety of a newcomer to reach office on time on the first day can be overcome simply. Wells Fargo India Solutions Pvt. Ltd, a Hyderabad-based diversified financial services company, provides taxi pickups for all new recruits. However, this is only for Day 1. “This is done mainly to make the new joiner feel welcome and also, to make it convenient for those who do not know the way to the location or are not familiar with parking rules, etc.," says Pramod Chandrasekhar, head, learning and development, Wells Fargo India Solutions. The response to this has been good, it seems. “Many new hires have expressed that it is a proud moment to have a cab come to their residence to pick them on the first day of their job," he says.

At Godrej Properties, the resourcing manager engages with the new joiner at several intervals from the day an offer is made up to the day the candidate joins. The offer document is structured to answer all the questions that a candidate would have regarding the compensation structure and benefits of the organization.

Rupak Agarwal, who joined Godrej Properties, Mumbai, as vice-president in April, says it was a “great experience" to receive the pre-joining kit. “What really touched me was the attention to minute details and keeping employee needs in mind, like arranging for a courier to pick up the completed joining kit from home. It made me aware of the extreme professional touch to the processes in the organization. Prior to joining, I received a bouquet at home and a gift hamper, the same evening. It took my family and me by surprise."

A magic box—that’s how an employee describes it—is a unique gesture for campus recruit joiners at ADP Pvt. Ltd, the Hyderabad-based Indian subsidiary of ADP Inc., US, a provider of business process outsourcing solutions. The eco-friendly box contains a welcome letter from the MD, crossword puzzles, music CDs, a T-shirt and company brochures, and can only be opened with a unique PIN number provided with the box.

Five years ago, the company came up with the concept of a “10 touch point offer", says Vipul Singh, vice-president and head, HR. The “10 touch point offer" is a communication process that backs the multidimensional box of surprises. “By sending this box to the joiner’s house, we have ensured that the whole family gets to know of the company’s culture and is also excited with it. With the box, the joiner gets to identify processes."

Within the office

Wells Fargo also organizes an in-house skit in which new joiners are given parts to enact their official roles. Introduced in May, this skit is only for campus recruits. The skit is part of the one-week onboarding programme for campus recruits and its purpose is to give an insight into the very complicated world of banking, says Chandrasekhar. “It is hard for fresh hires to understand this through a lecture. The skit gives an overview into the back-end processes when a person applies for a loan. It is not exactly the same skit all the time—the overall theme is the same but we do focus more on the processes that they are going to be assigned to."

Shriya G., a new joiner in the operations team at Well Fargo, says: “I am from the mortgage team. I was explained my role but continued to be unsure about my job and its demands till the second day of my joining. Then I saw a skit about my job role. Suddenly, I knew exactly what I was going to do. Also, meeting our managing director and senior leaders and talking with them, I realized how approachable they were."

Indulging in games for fun during company picnics or get-togethers is not unusual. However, what can be a real ice-breaker is when a new joiner is asked to have fun along with other employees. SapientNitro India (a division of Sapient India), an integrated marketing and technology firm based in Gurgaon, has a paper-bridge-building concept that is given to both campus recruits and lateral hires alike during Sapient Start, its induction programme. The participants are divided into groups of four-five and given sheets of paper and tape. The mandate is to make the tallest possible structure that can stand without props. Prashant Bhatnagar, director—hiring and staffing, SapientNitro India, says this activity is meant to emphasize creativity and collaboration within a team setting and bring home the point that ideas can come from anyone. “It also simulates the competitive spirit that is needed to succeed in today’s environment as others vie for the same price."

Some companies follow the “Buddy" concept. A buddy is not the new employee’s boss or the team leader. Rather, the buddy is the new hire’s first “friend" in the team. Hyderabad-based Virtusa Corporation, an IT services company, organizes a ‘Buddy’ for new hires. Sundararajan Narayana, vice-president, global HR head, says this helps “employee assimilation" into the company. Buddy allocation is done based on the project, skill and level of the new hire. The buddy facilitates meetings for new employees to understand the organizational structure and culture better. “We find that this helps in networking with fellow team members and the leadership as well."

Does all this have a positive impact on the employee’s engagement with the company over a long period? An effective onboarding programme has a direct correlation with employee productivity, satisfaction, retention and employee referrals, says Bhatnagar. “At Sapient, we have observed improvement across all these parameters. New hire retention rates have improved by 4-5%." ADP Inc. has noticed attrition drop to 10% in 2012 from 15% in 2007, while Mitra from Godrej Industries says the number of individuals who accept offer letters and do not join has come down from 15% to 5% since these activities were started in January.

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