Don’t Expect Onboarding Technology to Fix Your Onboarding Issues

Technology in human resources is rarely a solution in and of itself, but it does often help.

For example, HRIS software is often poorly implemented and results in quite a bit of workload after the fact, but managing employees via spreadsheet, payroll system, or paper is a far, far worse alternative. Similarly, even the poorest implemented applicant tracking system can be a better solution than the old e-mail inbox applicant management tricks I used to use.

In spite of itself, HR technology can often help bring together a chaotic process into a slightly less chaotic process. But in the case of onboarding software (both add-on and standalone products), I have a hard time figuring out what technology can bring to the table if you’re having issues with onboarding.

Not a software problem

I’ve demo-ed quite a few of these onboarding systems and they seem fairly similar: form tracking, new hire orientation, and some sort of task tracking system so that you know they went through all of the steps. Some of them go into much more rigorous walk-throughs of company culture, policies, and processes.

While these systems go from good to bad as far as usability and function are concerned (just like any other HR technology), it seems universal that most of these products focus on cost containment and consistency in the onboarding process.

While I can understand the consistency argument (and we’ll get to it), the cost containment argument is harder to argue in my book. Especially when cost containment results in a robotic-like first day experience, hours of face time with a computer, and a first impression you can’t get back.

Onboarding shouldn’t be robotic

At one of my first jobs, I was stuck in front of a computer for the first three days of my employment. The first day was onboarding and the second and third days were training. I was excited to get going so I showed up, met my new manager, and told them I was ready to go!

Immediately, I was placed in a back room in front of a computer filling out form after form, watching intro videos, safety videos, reading policies and agreeing to them. When all was said and done, I had spent about 10 minutes total with my new manager.

After my final day in front of the computer, things improved drastically and I got to know my co-workers and manager ,but I always wondered why it was so necessary to have those first days be so tortuous? It was a constant joke with co-workers and managers alike.

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Did they likely save a few bucks? Sure. Did they have a consistent experience? Of course. But a consistently bad experience isn’t the desired aim.

Onboarding is emotional and important

Transitioning to a new position is different for every person. Some people naturally work themselves into an organization, learn the norms, and can get right to work. Others need guidance and direction. In all of these cases, employees are making an emotional connection to their work and creating their views within those first few minutes.

When I was sat down in front of a computer my first day, I felt like I was an inconvenience to the manager and I assumed that the company felt the same. I wanted to get to know the manager, get to meet my co-workers, and get started working on something soon. It was overwhelming enough getting into a new routine, much less being read every rule and regulation you’d be expected to follow from here on out.

The best onboarding experiences have been personal, non-consistent, and costly (but worth it!) to the company. We moved based on my pace, the position I was in, and the agreed upon comfort level of us both. I met people, I got assigned some initial work, and I even managed to get my paperwork for HR done on time too. Hours of my manager’s and co-worker’s time was taken up my first few weeks.

Those thousands of dollars are worth every penny, though. If you do onboarding, you have to do it personalized and one-on-one whenever physically possible. And if you have to do it en masse, then you should be devoting as many people as possible to it to make it as personable as possible.

And when you consider the tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of labor we often devote to picking the right person for a particular position, we can certainly devote a couple more thousand dollars and a few more hours to the cause of making sure they are taken care of personally there first couple of days on the job.

Lance Haun is the practice director of strategy and insights for The Starr Conspiracy, where he focuses on researching and writing about work technology. He is also a former editor for ERE Media, broadly covering the world of human resources, recruiting, and sourcing. 
 
He has been featured as a work expert in publications like the Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, MSNBC, Fast Company, and other HR and business websites.
 
He's based in his Vancouver, Wash., home office with his wife and adorable daughter. You can reach him by email or find him off-topic on Twitter.

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