FEB 29, 2008Last time I wrote about ‘onboarding’ on the Webster Buchanan website, I got a very tart email from someone in the UK complaining about my abuse of the English language. So if you have strong views about mangling prepositions, nouns and gerunds for the sake of brevity, look away now.
What people tend to miss when they wince at the onboarding word is that it has one big upside – it’s a very concise way to talk about something utterly convoluted. A term applied to all the activities that take place between the time someone accepts a job or internal transfer and the time they’re sufficiently settled in at work to be productive, it covers a multitude of transactions and processes spanning numerous departments.
HR has a bunch of work to do, from getting new hires onto the relevant systems to managing their induction program. Finance and payroll have to firm up compensation details and make sure the new hire actually gets paid. The facilities guys may need to get involved, particularly if it’s a new role requiring a new desk. The front desk security department will want to sort out passes. And then there’s IT. HR may get the plaudits for its work in the frontline of the recruiting cycle, but the techies have their own work to do behind the scenes to make sure the new hire can access all the systems they need – and preferably a computer to go with it.
For a discipline that doesn’t have a proper British word to describe it, the stakes are pretty high in the onboarding game. With the best will in the world, recruitment cycles tend to be laborious, and the pressure to get a new recruit up and running can be pretty intense. The last thing you want when you’re waiting for a new sales executive to start producing results is to find out they took a wrong turn on the way to the kitchen two weeks ago and have since been phone-sharing with someone in AP.
Among the many issues surrounding onboarding – leaving aside the name – three stand out. Firstly, it’s partly a data management issue – organizations end up entering the same bits of information in multiple systems, with all the associated administrative inefficiencies and errors – and partly a process management problem. The solution, therefore, is bound to be technology-related.
Secondly, the scale of the challenge isn’t always obvious. If you’re only looking at your own small part of the onboarding game, it may not seem like such a big deal – but when you put all the pieces together, the true horror starts to shine through.
Thirdly, because it spans multiple business functions and departments, there’s a real ownership issue. Who’s going to take charge of the overall onboarding problem when they may not even recognize it actually exists?
In fact, there’s a strong argument that this is HR’s domain – and not just because they’re the ones who created the problem in the first place with their rampant hiring. You can actually put together a compelling technology argument for making your HR system the central source of truth for people-related information, feeding not just payroll but all the other systems that contribute to the onboarding process, and cutting data duplication in the process.
It doesn’t always sit easily with HR to be the ones leading the way on technology issues, of course. Then again, it doesn’t always sit easily with me to conspire to destroy the English language. Every so often, I guess, you just have to take one for the team…
FEB 15, 2008There’s a good reason why so many HR and payroll functions still rely on straightforward metrics like ‘time to hire’ and FTE ratios – after all, the soft stuff can be painfully difficult to measure.
A large chunk of my time over the past couple of weeks has been spent looking at how HR and payroll measure the services they provide to employees. The number of organizations that have taken to referring to the recipients of their inward-facing efforts as ‘customers’ demonstrates just how much the philosophies of sales, marketing and service are making their way into 'back-office' support functions – and with them, much of the same language. The people management world has already been grappling with the finer distinctions between employee/customer loyalty, satisfaction and engagement – the further the trend goes, the more you can expect nonsensical notions such as ‘customer delight’ to follow behind.
As Webster Buchanan has pointed out before, one of the problems of measuring these kinds of concepts in people and payroll management is that employees don’t always answer the same question that employers think they’ve raised. A shared services manager who asks an employee what they thought about the way their payroll query was answered is really looking at issues such as speed of response and first-time query resolution – the employee, of course, is much more interested in the content of the response. It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve invested in building and training your service function or how well your team did their job – if you don’t ask the question unambiguously, the answers will more likely reflect what your employees think about your pay policy, tax law or the person who screwed up collecting their pay data.
None of this is an excuse for people management functions to stick to old-fashioned metrics that have little real relevance to the broader business, of course. It’s just one example of the many glitches you can expect as organizations look to rethink what and how they measure. That's why, if you’re really serious about changing the way your organization measures people-related performance, you shouldn't expect to be delighted with the results first time round – mild satisfaction is probably a good enough goal.
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