Rather than a loose collection of disjointed events, onboarding
programs must be holistic, comprehensive, and well-orchestrated. A
needs assessment at Cisco suggested that the corporation's sales
onboarding program was a set of legacy offerings that failed to
adequately integrate emerging market new hires and increased the
risk of higher attrition of this talent in a competitive employment
In 2005 Cisco initiated a needs assessment that combined the
strengths of a quantitative survey with a qualitative interview
approach. Different vendors were used to implement each strategy.
Additionally, a literature review of industry onboarding practices
was conducted in alignment with new hire data collection.
Over and above these exigencies, an effective onboarding program
needed to facilitate a close, positive, and personal identification
between the individual recruit and the corporate family - a bonding
sufficient to stave off the enticements of competitive offers. For
employees, a strong onboarding program validates and confirms the
new hire's decision to join the company, which leads to stronger
engagement. For the employer, an effective onboarding program
results in an employee who knows she made the right decision to
join and is committed to seeing the company reach its goals.
Cisco examined aggregate data of key learning initiatives in 2006
with the help of vendor as well as corporate learning and
development staff. This group synthesized the input of surveys,
interviews, and literature review. Needs assessment data revealed
that the existing corporate onboarding program would not capture
and retain the talent needed to achieve projected revenue targets.
In response to the data, Cisco created the Global Sales Onboarding
(GSO) program - a revitalized set of integrated onboarding
components for developing new hire knowledge, ensuring robust
global and local level socialization, and providing the mentoring
essential for theater sales effectiveness. The crown jewel of GSO
was Sales Compass, an online guide available any time that aimed to
accelerate sales new hire productivity by guiding new hires through
ready-for-business tasks during their first 90 days. Equally
important, a robust evaluation was used to ensure the individual
and synergistic effectiveness of all components. GSO primarily
targets new hire sales account managers and technical sales support
engineers. Over a two-year period, 2,738 employees participated in
the GSO program.
The GSO initiative was a direct response to the business
opportunities posed by emerging market sales (Russia, Eastern
Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America), which were viewed
as a growth engine for the company. Consequently, the corporation
sought to hire more than 600 sales professionals for this arena, an
expansion strategy mirrored by Cisco's competitors, thus making the
recruitment of new talent highly competitive. The senior vice
president of emerging markets articulated GSO's purpose succinctly
as an onboarding program that not only recruits, but retains the
sales talent essential for an effective, enduring sales
Components of the new program included several distinct modules.
New Hire Field Training, five-day training in corporate
headquarters in North America, was held for global sales new hires
on the corporation's business culture, technologies, solutions,
tools, and processes. A new hire theater orientation offered a
series of workshops that communicate theater-specific, locally
relevant processes, practices, and tools.
The FastTrack Workshop is a two- to threeday foundational level
technical workshop for sales new hire account managers with minimal
networking technology experience. The sales new hire mentoring
session is a three- to six-month structured peer-to-peer mentoring
program designed to accelerate the proficiency of quota by matching
new hires to experienced sales employees.
As an online information clearinghouse, intranet search engine,
and, most importantly, onboarding organizer, Sales Compass served
as the premier dashboard for providing on-demand assistance and
guidance during the critical threemonth orientation path. It proved
to the corporation that seemingly impersonal technology could
provide the globally consistent yet highly personal touch needed
for successful onboarding by all stakeholders: new hires, their
managers, and their mentors.
"As we rolled out our onboarding solution, something we didn't
anticipate happened," says Mark Walus, GSO metrics lead. "Changes
in the business climate influenced consumption patterns for the
portfolio as well. We learned that as the business climate
improved, increased use of the travel-oriented components of GSO
were evident. Conversely, in a slower business climate, a
preference for GSO components such as Sales Compass and mentoring
While the purpose and goals of GSO have not changed, the scope of
program implementation has. Initially the focus of GSO was on
emerging markets. However, based on early successes there, GSO's
charter has been expanded to include all sales geographies.
Additionally, the structure and strategies of GSO that were applied
to the sales organization are also being reviewed for their
applicability to other organizational and functional contexts.
Results have been encouraging. Controlled studies suggest that
attrition is 16 percent lower and employment contentment higher for
GSO participants. About 89 percent of participants assert that GSO
contributed positively to job readiness and faster time to
productivity. Sales deals closed have increased ($6.2 million) and
opportunities in the pipeline ($39.6 million) are directly related
to participation in GSO.