Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Onboarding employees - flying by the seat of our pants

Introducing a new employee to your company, getting him or her enrolled in appropriate benefits plans, ensuring the legal paperwork is appropriately filled out, even making sure there is a desk, PC, phone available, often appears chaotic. For many new employees and the HR / office managers that run around trying to pull everything together, there appears to be little predefined process to the onboarding 'process'. Flying by the seat of your pants is a better description, and the benefit of this approach is motivated by not needing to think about it ahead of time rather than getting a new employee comfortable and productive faster.

Many business process management vendors talk about employee onboarding as a process that their software can address and make better, and that is not entirely untrue. It would be possible to draw a sequential flow around the activities to be performed to onboard a new employee, but the reality is the workflow is not sequential. The vendors would respond that they could also draw a set of parallel branches, all coming back together at some predetermined, and largely artificially set time. In my observations of employee onboarding, this might work, but its likely that modeling the process branches would take longer than running the actual process.

Employee onboarding, as anyone involved can see, looks more like a project plan or bunch of checklists for a lot of different people than a series of straight-line process flows. There are some dependencies on the different branches of work, but it seems that most activities can be performed independently. This becomes pretty obvious when you look at the work that needs to be done:
  • Hiring manager: define employee role, position in organization, requirements for access to IT systems, work location, training, etc; introduce employee to the department; check in at defined checkpoints to ensure things are going to plan.
  • Office manager, shop supervisor, etc: organize facilities appropriate to the role, such as desk, phone, safety equipment, timecard.
  • Benefits administrator: identify appropriate benefits and present options; ensure completion of paperwork; register 'elections' in appropriate systems and coordinate with external suppliers (for example personal health information to insurer).
  • Trainers: deliver company and role training according to predefined schedules and to order.
  • IT: setup accounts; deliver appropriate PC; ensure security privileges are correct and seek appropriate approvals for secure systems.
  • Human resources / onboarding administrator: organize and track all the requirements; coordinate the completion of employment paperwork; identify special role or employee requirements; coordinate company training.

This is by no means a complete list, and the people in HR involved in doing this routinely know what they have to do. The problems come from the people around the outside, such as the hiring manager and IT. Since introducing new employees for those individuals may be a relatively rare occurrence, the burden goes back to HR to ensure that all the points have been completed.

This is where the value of defining an onboarding checklist comes in. Rather than investing a huge amount of time sitting in a room drawing out an onboading process, try spending a few extra minutes at the time of onboarding the next employee to document all the activities and requirements, as you run across them. Putting together a very simple project plan, especially identifying the dependencies on certain information or decisions, can greatly help those people that only occasionally participate in the process get everything done more or less right first time. And the plan is based on the real activities and issues you run across in practice, rather than an artificially enforced workflow that nobody can (or will) follow.

If you are an organization recruiting and onboarding many new employees, you can consider taking the baseline you now have and working with an external process improvement consultant to further refine the points, and identify clearly the areas of collaboration, processes, internal controls and case by case management. Working together you will also be in a better position to identify if a simple technology can help deliver and coordinate the many activities that have to be performed.

Whatever level of onboarding process improvement you choose to get to, the chaos that your new employees encounter is likely to be reduced, the people involved in the process feel less burdened by it, and employees are happier and more productive sooner.

A post from the Improving It blog

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George said...

This is good thinking. You can take it to the next level by broadening your definition of onboarding.

What you describe is the "Accommodation" part of onboarding - putting things in place to enable the new employee to do work on day one. Very important, but not sufficient.

Suggest you (and everyone) else think about accommodation as one part of the chain of acquiring, accommodating, assimilating and accelerating new employees, starting to think about onboarding even before starting recruiting and following through until the new employee and his or her team accelerate results.

Lots more in our books or on our website www.primegenesis.com

George Bradt
PrimeGenesis Executive Onboarding and Transition Acceleration

Phil Ayres said...

Good point George, though I'll admit that I am less familiar with the assimilating (unless this is training and other enablement activities) and accelerating employees. Stepping cleanly from a recruitment to 'accommodation' phase makes a lot of sense, and companies would be recommended to ensure their processes can handle clean handovers, as well as ensuring that they collect and keep the right information that is needed further down the chain.

Unknown said...

Onboarding employees - flying by the seat of our pants is a great article you are post in the blog.
Automated onboarding