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How to Leverage Onboarding as a Competitive Advantage

Posted by
Pankaj Jindal
December 5, 2022

A conversation with Lisa Hufford, CEO at Simplicity Consulting

Onboarding talent is one of the major struggles facing the staffing industry. 20% of contractor turnover happens in the first forty-five days of employment, which makes onboarding too important to be overlooked. Effective onboarding can foster great working relationships, shepherd clients to business success, and increase retention of contractors by up to 50 %.

Lisa Hufford, Simplicity Consulting

Lisa Hufford, CEO and founder of Simplicity Consulting, has found a way to make onboarding successful through structured client meetings, a thorough understanding of workplace culture and fit, and tailored workflows with Sense.

Simplicity Consulting is a medium-sized, marketing communications consulting services company based in Seattle that places consultants with major firms in marketing, project management, and communication/content strategy roles. Simplicity was named on Inc. magazine’s Inc 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. for the fifth year.

Through Simplicity Consulting, Lisa found that one of the biggest challenges for companies is how to successfully onboard talent.

Onboarding as a Differentiating Factor

During onboarding, a new employee needs to know a lot of information about the company and the project they’re being hired to work on.

Lisa created her own solution to this problem. “The whole process from onboarding to offboarding is included in a detailed and comprehensive way in the SPEED framework,” says Lisa. How you start is how you finish!

The whole SPEED workflow is laid out in her book, Navigating the Talent Shift. What is SPEED? It stands for:

  • Success
  • Plan
  • Execute
  • Evaluate
  • Decide

This tailored onboarding process is one of the things that makes Simplicity Consulting special. Effective onboarding (which falls under Execute in the SPEED framework) is one reason why Lisa’s firm is one of the best at project-based talent placement.

Simplicity Consulting onboards talent for projects that last weeks, months, and sometimes years. Some projects are full-time, and some are part-time. The majority of the talent Simplicity Consulting places are remote workers. They may go on-site for meetings, but work primarily from remote locations. Depending on the project and the level of involvement from the permanent team, Lisa feels that her talent is fully onboarded and contributing value to the permanent team in two to four weeks.

One of the most important steps in the onboarding process is what Simplicity Consulting calls the kick-off meeting. This is a meeting where the client and talent can meet, discuss the project, and establish lines of communication. “The kick-off meeting makes sure that everyone is on the same page and knows what success looks like,” Lisa says. The more communication and information the client contributes, the faster and better the onboarding process goes.

Culture and Fit

Personality fit is one of the most important aspects when placing talent. “We spend more time than anybody I know talking about fit. Skills are easy to see by someone’s resume. It takes a lot more time on back channel checking and asking them to articulate their success stories. Then you talk about cultural fit.”

When placing candidates, Lisa has found that soft skills are as important, if not more so, than hard skills. “It’s a lot like dating,” Lisa says. “They have to get along. They’re married for a certain period of time. They have to be able to communicate and trust each other. Sometimes we play a little bit of that matchmaker, and we ask a lot of questions around personality to match people up with who we think they’ll get along with.”

One of the unique qualities of the talent pool that Simplicity Consulting employs is that every consultant is already an expert in their field. They’ve worked in their discipline for a long time, so they know what to do. Most of Simplicity Consulting’s talent knows their work inside and out — they just have to get to know the client and build trust. A good culture fit makes this process smoother.

Set the Tone with Kickoff Meetings

Many companies who use contingent workers don’t have an onboarding process at all, and that’s where things can go wrong. Simplicity Consulting uses their kick-off meetings to define what success means to their clients. This gets everyone on the same page. Both the client and the talent know what they have to do to achieve success.

Clients are sometimes resistant to a kick-off meeting, saying that they don’t have time for it. Lisa finds that once they get in the meeting, clients find more value in the meeting than they expected. And when they leave, they all agree it was worth the small investment of time. Time spent in the kick-off meeting saves time later and prevents potential problems.

By the end of the kick-off meeting, everyone recognizes the benefit. It sets the project and consultant up for success.

Having an engagement platform like Sense enables Simplicity Consulting to have a hybrid approach to communication: human touch and software. Sense makes it easy to stay connected with their consultants, provides insights into how consultants are doing in the first 30 days, and discover how satisfied the client is with the work.

Onboarding sets Simplicity Consulting’s consultants up for success and Sense makes that process a little bit easier.

Navigating the Talent Shift

Navigating the Talent Shift teaches companies how to build on-demand teams. She believes the trend of companies blending their teams as a normal course of business hasn’t yet hit the tipping point, so she wrote the book as the definitive “how-to guide” for companies that need on-demand talent but aren’t sure how to tap into the potential.

The book encourages managers to consider a broader definition of talent when building teams. Instead of immediately jumping to hire a new team of full-time employees, consider the work a project and hire an on-demand team. Project-based teams are experts who can get the work done faster and with bigger impact.

Lisa goes so far as to say that there’s no such thing as a permanent employee anymore. And that’s going to challenge American businesses.

Companies have begun to break through the tipping point and see the benefit of on-demand talent, but there’s still a long way to go.

Breaking Down Biases Toward Contractors

As more and more workers move from full-time employees to contractor workers, the culture of business is also going to have to change as managers face their long-held beliefs.

There’s often an innate sense of mistrust of contractors or contingent workers — especially those working remotely. Lisa speculates that this sense comes from a cultural bias in the American market, but also from the idea that you need to see workers to make sure they’re doing their work.

Simplicity Consulting strives to break down this misconception by building trust through their onboarding process. When a client doesn’t spend enough time onboarding talent, that’s when the problems and miscommunications can start. “We have a client-facing success manager that facilitates communication for our consultants in the event there’s a problem with the client. We set up a meeting, we walk them through the work, we support them for the first couple of weeks, and hold their hand a little bit, to make sure the consultant gets what they need to get off and running.”

This, too, is part of effective onboarding, and will lead to success and efficiency, driving results for clients by saving them time and money.

The Future of Project-Based Work

The long-term trend of hiring contingent workers continues to accelerate. According to research conducted by the software company Intuit, “In the U.S. alone, contingent workers will exceed 40% of the workforce by 2020” and “80% of large corporations [are] planning to substantially increase their use of a flexible workforce.”

So how can companies harness the growing pool of talent? Shift their focus to project-based work, and implement a stellar onboarding process that sets their present and future force of contingent workers up for success.

“This movement is coming,” Lisa says. “I have watched it continue to grow larger each year since the founding of my company in 2006. Big companies want the best talent but their traditional recruiting processes aren’t going to allow them to tap the best. If half the workforce are project-based workers, hiring them is a whole different way of hiring. Big companies aren’t ready for it yet. This can slow down growth, it can slow down innovation.”

Simplicity is in the business of helping these large companies by providing a growing pool of talented project workers. Lisa says that one of her favorite quotes that inspired her to build her company is a Zig Ziglar quote:

 “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help other people get what they want.”

“That’s my motivation,” Lisa says. “If I can help others, then I feel successful. I am very grateful to be able to help people navigate this change.”

Sense is helping Simplicity Consulting and many other staffing firms improve their onboarding and consultant engagement every day. To learn request a demo.

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