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First Impressions Count

Technology offers new solutions for onboarding, but that can’t replace careful thinking and diligent planning.

By Madeline Laurano 
Onboarding has undergone a seismic shift during the past decade. No longer viewed as a basic system of providing orientation, onboarding now represents a strategic endeavor for assimilating your new hires into the company culture. A negative first impression can destroy an organization’s strategies and results in areas ranging from recruitment and retention to employer branding. As a result, smart companies today are rethinking the way that they onboard talent by prioritizing business objectives such as productivity and engagement. They are also investing in both traditional and innovative solutions on the technological front.
Although it still occupies an immature market, onboarding technology can help organizations improve both HR and business metrics such as time to productivity, engagement, and retention. In fact, according to Aberdeen’s report, Onboarding 2012: The Business of First Impressions, organizations that are implementing onboarding technology are seeing results in various areas: hiring manager satisfaction, the ability to achieve organizational key performance indicators (KPI’s), and customer retention.
Clearly, onboarding technology impacts the business. But what should organizations consider when investing in onboarding processes and technology? What are the barriers for building a base?
Below are a few themes in onboarding to consider:
What does onboarding technology include?
Onboarding comprises three areas: forms management, tasks management, and socialization. Automating forms management through the use of an onboarding solution can ensure that forms are automatically populated with data collection as well as upload and store the latest employment documents and ensure that they are being completed through email alerts and notifications. Tasks management includes configurable task lists, email alerts, and automated requests and reminders. Tasks management can both save time and improve efficiency for any organization, regardless of the complexity of the onboarding process that it employs. Socialization in the company culture can provide long-term benefits in the realms of employee satisfaction, retention rates, and maintenance or improvement of the company brand. Technology providers offer new hire portals to provide a personal experience for employees, and in many cases they can be extended throughout the employee lifecycle.
What are the barriers to success?
In the survey conducted by Aberdeen, organizations cited limited budget and resources as the top barriers to automating the onboarding process. Unsurprisingly, as organizations recover from a weak economy, cost and resources are typically a great concern. Unique business requirements were also cited as a top barrier by 27 percent of organizations. As organizations go through mergers and acquisitions—or expand globally—requirements are often difficult to define, and this imprecision can create roadblocks to prudent investing in technology. Solutions can be found, however. Organizations can overcome these barriers by centralizing the onboarding function and ensuring that its objectives are aligned with organizational objectives.
What options are available?
The onboarding technology landscape is confusing, complicated, and (at times) riddled with contradictions. With various providers offering capabilities from forms management to workflow to socialization, any organization can find it challenging to navigate through this landscape. The majority of organizations that Aberdeen surveyed in March and April 2012 reported that they have been leveraging their human resource management system (HRMS) providers for onboarding capabilities. Although integration with various talent and business processes represents a significant benefit of using an HRMS, these providers often lack the requisite depth of functionality. Applicant tracking systems (ATS) and learning management systems (LMS) have also become popular sources of onboarding solutions, because many of these providers offer several capabilities—or even full modules—for onboarding. Currently, only 6 percent of organizations are leveraging best-of-breed onboarding solutions, and only 2 percent are leveraging social media sites. Organizations that are looking to differentiate their new hire programs and accelerate success will likely turn to these providers in the future. The depth of functionality from best of breed, coupled with the ability to engage new hires through social media, offer a more effective and efficient process for making new hires.
Organizations that are looking to drive improved performance through a new hire experience are turning to both existing and innovative technology providers to achieve the results that they are seeking. But that doesn’t mean that they can simply have a provider lift and shift the challenge. Organizations that are considering an investment in onboarding should carefully identify their list of “must-haves”, diligently strive on to overcome any barriers, and constantly work on understanding the landscape.

Madeline Laurano is Aberdeen Group’s research director for talent acquisition solutions. She can be reached at

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