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 Staffing 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.