When did new employee orientation become onboarding? I’m not sure, but the concept has taken hold to describe a more comprehensive process than sitting an employee down on day one to fill out I-9 and W-4 forms.
Dictionary.com and Webster don’t recognize onboarding as a word so I resorted to less traditional sources to hunt down a definition. Wikipedia states that the process is also called “organizational socialization.” I will skip this bit of jargon but I do like the definition, taken from organizational behavior gurus that onboarding “refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders.” It’s a definition that brings to mind the transition of the personnel function to human resources — administrative to strategic.
Streamline your forms
The usual requirement for new staff to sign a raft of paperwork is essential and was at the core of traditional orientation. Announce it’s time for orientation and I picture a folder full of forms. Administration can be elevated to be part of an onboarding process by thinking about the forms as more than paper processing.
Do each of these items really need to be completed during the first week of work? Sure you are mandated to fill out the I-9 and payroll processing forms but I have been more successful in holding off on benefits information until employees are closer to eligibility. Let employees process more of the new position, and company — in other words, onboard — before handling benefits enrollment documents.
Many of the required forms can be completed electronically and the process also allows employers to view opportunities for combining information input. Remember when you had to fill out and sign five separate sheets for medical, dental, vision, life and disability coverage? When your internal forms and processes are available on an intranet or even simply through shared files, don’t make newbies hunt for items. Include online training and introductions. When these are created in short modules employees can return to them when necessary for a brush up or to catch up.
Emphasize in-person and face-to-face
In our virtual world it’s easy to forget the importance of face-to-face introductions. Sending out an email announcement about the newest team member is nice. Introducing them to department members and others in the organization is essential. A tour and organization chart completes this task.
Mission, vision and values are also items that require in-person training. This can be in a group setting or one-on-one with key team members. Examples and live demonstrations will reinforce these workplace culture identifiers. Providing time in a variety of departments and functions reinforces the concepts and enhances understanding across teams.
Set expectations and track progress
Effective organizations set expectations early and communicate them clearly. This is a core activity for establishing accountability and ensuring understanding. The best companies establish a link between expectations and the mission, vision or values. The combination creates a road map for employee decision making.
Tracking and follow up ensures consistency and becomes important for performance management. These activities present another opportunity for use of technology in the best format to fit the organization.
Done correctly, onboarding — whether it lasts three days, weeks or months — can make the difference between high performance and an early exit interview.
Rebecca Mazin is the owner of Recruit Right in Larchmont, N.Y. She does consulting, management training, and writing to create solutions for human resources issues. Co-author of The HR Answer Book: An Indispensable Guide for Managers and Human Resources Professionals, Mazin is also the author of The HR Answer Blog on AllBusiness.com and The Employee Benefits Answer Book (Pfeiffer).