Pre-Boarding and the Importance of Human Connection in the Workplace – A Q&A with #SHRM18 Speaker Cecile Alper-Leroux



As part of our coverage of the 2018 SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition, each of the official bloggers is once again conducting Q&A’s with session speakers.  When I saw this speaker’s name on the list, I knew right away she was the one I wanted to feature for my Q&A.  A leader in the HR and HR technology space, Cecile Alper-Leroux is not only an intelligent, successful, innovative female leader, but she’s an amazing person as well.  And she works for Ultimate Software, a company that has continuously been recognized as a great place to work.   Cecile will be co-presenting a session titled “Don't Let the Best Ones Get Away! How to Entice & Engage the Best Candidates with Pre-Boarding.”  Here’s what she had to say about the concept of pre-boarding, the human side of the workplace, technology, the role of managers in creating employee experience, and what makes Ultimate Software such a great place to work…

Can you start out by telling us a little about who you are and what you do?

Sure, I’ve been in the world of HR for over 20 years. I started out as an HR generalist for a law firm after getting two M.A’s in Anthropology. So people and culture have always been a passion of mine. I got into HR technology after realizing there had to be more emphasis on making life easier for HR professionals (I had to call in a payroll while in labor with my first child). For the past 8 years I’ve been with Ultimate Software, most recently as the VP of HCM Innovation. I have the great privilege of conducting research, studying and communication about the changing workforce and technology dynamics and how they are impacting work and people at work.


Your session at SHRM18 is about “pre-boarding” – what exactly is pre-boarding, how is it different from onboarding, and why is it important?

Pre-boarding is the set of activities that begin once a person has agreed to an offer of employment. This period of time and the associated activities are becoming increasingly important as courting potential employees is becoming a continuous process, as are so many HR practices. In particular, pre-boarding begins to develop and even cement the relationship between employee and organization, reducing the risk that an employee will change their mind and not show up day one. Finding great talent is competitive, especially for certain jobs, but, it’s not enough to find great people and bring them onboard. Today, you’ve got to make an immediate impression before a person’s first day on the job to help retain them later. According to Robert Half & Associates, 1 in 4 employees are willing to quit in their first 90 days due to poor onboarding practices. In a recent Nintex study, more than two-thirds of respondents said broken onboarding processes keep them from reaching their full potential at work, and more than half don't expect to stay with their employers beyond five years.

Pre-boarding transforms the traditional onboarding approach by making it less about the transactions involved in starting a new job—filling out forms, learning the organization structure and hierarchy, and enrolling in healthcare benefits—and more about the emotional experience of joining an organization and embarking on a new work relationship. It’s the first step in the employee experience and as such sets the tone. The goal is to create “stickiness” with new hires to increase employee engagement, productivity, and retention long after they join. Gallup has found that employees who are "engaged and thriving" are 59 percent less likely to look for a job with a different organization in the next 12 months, and we believe the biggest untapped opportunity to achieve this state begins well before Day 0.


The description of your session mentions pre-boarding as way of “creating lasting connections” to help employees become “passionate, productive team players.”  There’s currently a lot of discussion and focus in the HR space on the importance of creating cultures of connection and the human side of the workplace.  Can you talk about the importance of this aspect of workplace culture from your perspective? Why is it so important?

Dale Carnegie was on to something when he said, “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion.” People are emotional. More than ever, they want a more personal, human work experience from their employers – and that happens when people connect and feel they belong. Organizations have to get more and more creative about how they can form multiple connections with new employees, or they risk feeling alienated and are more likely to leave… anyone remember the school lunchroom when you started a new school or building? It can be brutal, and digitization of the workplace can make people more isolated and lonely, so pre-boarding is a way to ensure inclusivity and connection-building happen before a person starts. The good news is, the technologies and techniques typically associated with onboarding can be used to customize the experience from the onset of a candidate’s employment, and get them excited about their new position and prepared for their first day. Coupled with a compelling employee experience strategy, such as assigning job-appropriate “ambassadors” and a “people-first” culture of compassion and caring, this personalized approach can continue through all an employee’s life stages—improving the odds that your new hires become passionate, productive team players from Day 0 and beyond.


Your company, Ultimate Software, has been recognized many times as a best company to work for.  What do you think makes it such a great organization?  What can HR leaders start doing today to help make their own organizations great places to work?

Ultimate was founded on a culture of inclusion. We call it “People First” and it’s in our DNA, it’s the backbone, heart and soul of our company. People First is a mindset as much as a way of operating. At Ultimate, we believe companies achieve greatness by putting their people first—always. They take care of their people, who take care of their customers, who take care of their own people. It’s an endless cycle of care that inspires and empowers people everywhere to do their best work.

HR must help its managers lead with a higher degree of personalization and understanding of each of its direct reports. And that starts as soon as a person accepts to become part of the organization… the family. People want to be “whole” at work—to be seen and valued for their unique capabilities and contributions. They want a voice in decisions that affect them, and to be trusted with a level of flexibility in how to best contribute to the company. Above all, they want an environment in which they can be productive and do meaningful work.

While much has changed in the modern workplace, one thing hasn’t: Managers remain the lynchpin in the employee experience. To support them in this critical role, HR needs to recognize the importance of regularly listening to the voice of their employees – all employees equally. To truly listen—not only to what is said, but also to how they truly feel about the workplace. Technologies such as sentiment analysis through natural language processing can help managers uncover the unspoken emotions, attitudes and opinions—deepening opportunities to foster authentic and lasting connections between managers and their employees.


Anything else you’d like to share about your session?  Why should someone attend?

In addition to a great topic, I’ve got an amazing partner presenting with me. Claire Schooley is a leader in strategic thinking and an expert in technology around corporate recruiting, learning, and performance management. For 17 years as principal analyst, Claire led Forrester Research Inc.’s strategic HR practice worldwide in the areas of employee selection and development. She writes and speaks extensively on these topics. Now, through her consulting practice, Claire Schooley Consulting, she also helps companies find, nurture, and develop great talent. I love working with Claire—I learn something from her every time we get together!

Cecile and Claire will be presenting Don't Let the Best Ones Get Away! How to Entice & Engage the Best Candidates with Pre-Boarding on Wednesday, June 20th from 10:00 – 11:15 am. 


The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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