Onboarding a new employee is often myopically defined as quickening a new employee to effectiveness. While this achieves a particular objective of a strategic onboarding process for many companies, it falls short of a complete definition and leaves managers of human capital with a goal so vague as to nearly render it useless (how fast is quick, and what is effective?) Furthermore, quickening effectiveness for many employers in blue collar industries is such a trivial endeavor that instituting an initiative to quicken new employee effectiveness might not make sense (a furniture mover’s path to effectiveness might be measured in minutes). On the other hand, all employers share the compliance, paperwork, and logistics burdens associated with new employees, regardless of the blue-shading of their industry.
In Employee Onboarding; An HR Technology Seeking a Definition we define two approaches to onboarding. Transactional Onboarding utilizes the automation of the onboarding business process to transition a new employee into their new role; automating the federal W-4, I-9, and state tax forms are examples of business rules and forms best automated through transactional onboarding. Return on investment is realized through making the process more efficient, eliminating costs in handling forms and data, eliminating latency and errors in data, and minimizing risk in the compliance-sensitive area of hiring. Transactional onboarding’s value is objectively measurable and is of value to any employer; particularly so for employers with compounding factors such as high turnover or regulated industries; one can think of transactional onboarding as the science of onboarding.
We defined Acculturation Onboarding, or simply Acculturation, as quickening the new employee to effectiveness. Acculturation is sometimes also known as socialization, and is touted by many vendors as the singular approach to onboarding, despite the fact that acculturation is appropriate to a subset of employers who might be interested in a strategic onboarding initiative. Return on investment for acculturation is realized through earlier and more rapid productivity of the new employee and improved long term employee satisfaction and retention. Acculturation’s value is subjectively measurable and is valuable to employers with high costs associated with recruiting and retaining employees, typically those in more professional roles in the organization; it is this subjectivity that is the Achilles Heel of acculturation onboarding. If transactional onboarding is the science of onboarding, acculturation is the art of onboarding.
While it’s obvious that value from transactional onboarding can be achieved through investing in a system that is flexible enough to meet the organization’s unique process and compliance requirements, it may be less obvious whether the same system, or any single system, can accomplish the value objectives of an acculturation approach. So how could an organization in need of acculturation take a systems approach to automation?
Let’s take a simple A to B viewpoint to the acculturation system question. Point A is the candidate who has just accepted the offer, and point B is the fully productive and contented employee. Transactional onboarding resides as a sliver of a process just as the candidate begins following the path to point B, albeit an intensive process that is laden with risk. The objective of an acculturation system is to shorten the path-the length of time to get-from A to B for all new employees, encompassing the transactional onboarding event at the onset, while maximizing the level of satisfaction of the new employee (contentedness) once they reach point B. It’s easy to see why the return on investment in an acculturation system is a subjective measurement, as the objective is peppered with challenges to measurement. What is meant by fully productive? How do you determine when someone achieves full productivity? How do you account for differing times to productivity due to varying complexity of roles? What is considered a good time to productivity, and how do you help employees who are not meeting expectations? How does the organization know (objectively) it is making improvements to the time to productivity? What is employee contentedness and how do you measure it?
Our recommended approach to implementing an acculturation system that meets the stated objective and answers these questions is based on three tenets: measure, engage, and immerse. All three should be considered when implementing a strategic acculturation process, and if executed properly, the subjectivity Achilles Heel of acculturation onboarding can be minimized.
Determining the resulting value, and therefore the return on investment, of any technology initiative requires the ability to establish incremental objectives and measure their achievement. Few onboarding systems that take an acculturation or socialization stance provide the means to measure their own effectiveness, yet practically all of them cite Aberdeen Group’s estimates on the potential cost savings of automating onboarding. This is akin to a car salesman assuring a buyer their new car will save fuel costs but not citing what kind of gas mileage the car gets or even whether the mileage can be measured. Hence our first recommendation to implementing an acculturation system is to establish how the system will set objectives and how those objectives are measured.
An acculturation system should allow the organization to establish specific objectives that collectively measure productivity, or should be able to recognize those objectives established in complimentary systems such as learning and competency management systems. The objectives could be events that are either incomplete or completed, or they may be tasks that can be completed in degrees or stages. Objectives might be achievable in any order, but some objectives may be dependent on the prior completion of others. Individual objectives should be scored and weighted with respect to an overall Acculturation Index (AI), which we recommend be calculated on a percentage scale (the weighting and calculation of an acculturation index will be the topic of a future article). Examining the AI for a specific individual would indicate how far along the A to B path the new employee is, and analysis of composites of the AI’s of multiple employees from one period of time against another will provide insight into how the company is influencing-positively or negatively-the effectiveness of acculturation onboarding.
Another interesting analysis of the acculturation index would illustrate the constantly increasing index over time for either a single employee or a composite of employees. A rapid increase in the acculturation index, followed by gradual increase, would indicate that the majority of acculturation objectives are achieved within the first 3 days, while a gentler increase of the index indicates a more gradual achievement of acculturation objectives. Neither outcome may be more correct than the other, but correlated with less than desirable outcomes, the method of engaging the employee, which will be discussed shortly, should be reconsidered.
There are three types of acculturation objectives: competency objectives, social objectives, and satisfaction objectives. Competency objectives, such as completion of assessments that demonstrate proficiency in skills associated with the employee’s position, are excellent candidates to extract from learning or competency management systems. Social objectives-such as completion of a profile on the company’s social network, connecting to contacts or “friends” in the network, and participating in the company’s collaboration tools and wikis-may pose a greater challenge in collecting due to the diversity of data sources. Satisfaction objectives, or measurements regarding the employee’s contentedness with their new job, are most likely to be collected from directly querying employees, coworkers, and supervisors using a survey or data collection tool.
Acculturation objectives should also be defined according to the organization’s structure. Company wide objectives include those that apply to all employees, such as passing the company’s network security policy exam, creating a company social network profile, and indicating satisfaction regarding the company’s group health benefits. Departmental or business unit objectives provide greater specialization, such as passing the IT department’s help desk usage test, or publishing a technical post on the engineering wiki. Specific skills associated with the position, inherited from the job description, represent the most specific objectives, and if measured through the use of a competency assessment system represent the most objective measurements of productivity in the AI and should be weighted accordingly. Finally, objectives might be established for the specific individual assuming the role, particularly if the individual needs remediation in certain skills. A good implementation of an acculturation system would allow for the assumption of the majority of acculturation objectives for individuals based on the position, job, and organization structure (location, business unit, department, division, etc.), including company wide objectives, and allowing for the dynamic specification of objectives specific to the individual; otherwise, the burden of establishing objectives for each new hire would hinder the consistent application of acculturation objectives.
It should be obvious that an integration strategy is critical to an acculturation system, as the sources of acculturation objectives are myriad. Furthermore, to facilitate the reporting, analysis, and data mining critical for measurement and continual process refinement, the destination data storage should be dimensional in nature versus transactional. Considered together, these observations strongly imply that a true business intelligence approach, specifically the regular construction of an acculturation data mart, should be a component of the acculturation system. Incorporated with the company’s business activity monitoring (BAM) and business rules engine (BRE) strategies would serve not only the purpose of reporting and analysis of acculturation onboarding, but might also provide a data source for certain acculturation objectives that might be detected through the BAM or BRE systems.
Defining the acculturation objectives and establishing how they are to be evaluated defines a clear A-to-B path to productivity for new employees; engaging the employee is how the organization aids the new employee in achieving their acculturation objectives and optimizes the acculturation process.
While most new employees, excited by their new jobs, may proactively proceed from point A to B, we recommend the organization assume a more active approach to encouraging the new employee’s progress toward productivity rather than a passive approach. The goal of an active approach to acculturation is engagement. Using an actively engaging acculturation onboarding process, the organization can more easily make adjustments to the process, and (assuming a good implementation of measurement of objectives) rapidly evaluate the effectiveness of the changes. Furthermore, those employees who aren’t proactive in their own acculturation may respond better to active engagement (proactive employees will respond well in the acculturation process regardless of whether it is active or passive).
The best implementation of an actively engaging acculturation onboarding system can take inspiration from suggestive selling techniques. The content for engagement-that is, what is being sold-are the acculturation objectives that the system has established for the employee. In other words, the employee should be actively encouraged by the system to achieve their objectives. The typical venues for active engagement include tasks assigned and emails sent, both of which are readily implemented by business process management (BPM) systems.
The engagement process must be intelligent enough to suggest acculturation objectives in a logical order. For example, the objective of connecting with fellow employees on the corporate social network should be encouraged and promoted to the employee by the system only after the employee has completed their own profile on the social network. Likewise, the system should be intelligent enough to alter the priority of promoting objectives during the employee’s path from A to B as conditions affecting the objectives change; for example, if the employee demonstrates significant interest in participating in the company’s social network and less interest in creating a blog, then the system should promote objectives associated with the social network more aggressively than the objective to create a blog.
A system that implements active engagement does not preclude interpersonal engagement, and in fact should promote it. While interpersonal engagement objectives could obviously be promoted to the new employee through promotion of objectives such as connecting to employees with similar interests and backgrounds (similar to the “people you may know” feature of Facebook), suggestions and tasks generated by an active engagement system could be targeted at others in the organization; sending an email to the new employee’s coworkers on their first day of work suggesting that they introduce themselves, or posting a “spotlight” feature of the employee’s newly created profile page on the company intranet are examples. Interacting with a mentoring system to select and assign a mentor is another example, and could also strengthen the interaction of a formal mentor program to acculturation objectives and measurements.
Engaging the new employee through the A-to-B acculturation process through an active approach optimizes the acculturation process, and should result in the employee not only achieving their acculturation objectives, but should also result in the employee being fully immersed in the company’s culture.
Active engagement of the employee along the A to B path to productivity should ideally be conducted in an environment that concludes (point B) with the employee fully immersed in the company’s employee communications strategy. In other words, engaging an employee to achieve acculturation objectives is best conducted within the company’s employee communications portal, as it is achieving the universal objective of acculturation which is to introduce and immerse the employee into that strategy. The communications strategy might be a dedicated product specifically designed for fostering employee communications, or has been pointed out, it can be the company’s intranet, which today is increasingly Microsoft SharePoint
Many onboarding systems purporting a socialization technique attempt to accomplish acculturation objectives through the introduction of a dedicated onboarding portal. While this approach might be effective in the delivery of content of interest to a new employee, it is akin to introducing an outward facing point C on the A to B path, and does not serve to immerse the employee in the strategic employee communications platform. Furthermore, delivery of content of interest to a new employee can easily be accomplished in strategic communications and portal platforms, such as SharePoint, so any potential benefit is negated. The final nail in the coffin of a dedicated onboarding portal might come from the objections (of both HR and IT) to maintaining yet another portal in addition to the employee communications platform, the company’s intranet, employee and benefits self service, and potentially others.
Inspiration for the concept of immersion might be drawn from the field of education. A student on their first day at a new school is quickly ushered through the necessary paperwork in the principle’s office (transactional onboarding), then taken directly to their classroom where they are introduced to their teacher and classmates. Over the ensuing days, the student is socialized in situ through engagement of the teacher and fellow students, while at the same time the teacher observes (measures) the students acculturation progress and makes any necessary adjustments to the process to optimize time to productivity (such as suggesting friends or activities for the new student). Failure to immerse a new employee in the A to B path to productivity is as undesirable as putting the new student in a separate classroom surrounded only by material and information describing how great a school they are attending.
Summary & Recommendations
Too many socializing onboarding systems today fall short of their ability to provide a system that measurably and predictably achieves their purported goals and allows organizations to continually improve their acculturation process through cycles of adjustments and evaluating results. While these failures may be due in part to the complex nature of collecting data to calculate an acculturation index, we believe it is also because acculturation systems don’t properly balance the aspects of measuring individual and aggregated progress against acculturation objectives, actively engaging new employees through the acculturation process, and immersing the new employee in the organization’s strategic communications platform. Organizations seeking to reap the benefits of quickening employees to effectiveness while maximizing the new employee’s satisfaction (and longevity as a result) would be well advised to construct an acculturation system that measures, engages, and immerses.
1. Determine if an acculturation onboarding approach is needed; all companies benefit from transactional onboarding, not all companies benefit from acculturation.
2. Approach acculturation as an A-to-B path to productivity, with the principle business goal being to minimize this path (quicken time to productivity) while maximizing employee satisfaction.
3. Work to eliminate subjectivity in the system’s value through an acculturation approach that includes measuring, engaging, and immersing candidates in the acculturation process.
4. Establish acculturation objectives that can be measured and scored, regardless of their source systems, and that contribute to an overall acculturation index that indicates progress along the A to B path.
5. Use an appropriate mix of competency objectives, social objectives, and satisfaction objectives that make sense for your particular organization’s acculturation goals.
6. Collect and analyze Acculturation Index (AI) data to determine how to make improvements to the acculturation process, creating a closed-loop system to improving the process.
7. Define objectives at all organizational levels of the business to ensure consistency, but retain the flexibility to establish objectives specific to individuals if necessary.
8. Acquire or build a system that is highly flexible in regards to integration.
9. Actively engage employees in the acculturation process using methods similar to suggestive selling.
10. Active engagement should be intelligent enough to adapt to an individual’s unique path to productivity.
11. Active engagement should encourage and promote interpersonal activity, not only with the new employee but also with coworkers.
12. The acculturation platform should immerse the new employees in the organization’s strategic communications platform, not in an outward facing dedicated onboarding portal.
1 – Ros, C and Torrence, J: ” Employee Onboarding: an HR Technology Seeking a Definition”, 2008
2 – Aberdeen Group: “All Aboard: Effective Onboarding Techniques and Strategies”, January 2008
3 – Hayden, Jeff, “Using Microsoft SharePoint for Acculturation Onboarding”, 2008