I spend a fair amount of my time educating people on onboarding (even though we have several other products that I think are as valuable, if not more valuable; but onboarding – particularly paperless onboarding – is a hot topic).  So I also spend a bunch of time reading about it, surfing other people’s blogs and websites, and studying how other people respond to the questions of what is onboarding and why you might need it, both topics of which I’ve written about a pretty good bit.

A common problem I’m running across is confusion over the onboarding process versus the onboarding system.  A recent online forum I participated in had its fair share of “good onboarding is making a new employee feel welcome”, “on the new employee’s first day, throw them a party”, “show them around the office”, “assign them a mentor”, etc.  All noteworthy suggestions, don’t get me wrong, but whether these things are appropriate as part of an onboarding strategy should be evaluated by the particular organization, not cited as the definition of what onboarding is.  Employees being onboarded into a pizza delivery restaurant don’t need to be “shown around the office”, and likewise, neither do employees going to work for a bright-white collar company who happen to work remote or telecommute.

These suggestions aren’t components of a good onboarding system at all; they’re suggestions for tasks within an overall onboarding process that might apply to certain companies under certain circumstances.  The onboarding process, therefore, is much broader in scope and can include steps such as these that endeavor to assimilate the new employee more effectively.  The process typically addresses a grander, yet much more subjective, goal, such as improving retention, or quickening time to efficiency.

An onboarding system is the automation that supports onboarding tasks, not only these subjective assimilation tasks (or what I prefer to call acculturation), but also all of the mundane and rote tasks, such as is used in deploying a paperless onboarding system.  A really good system is going to be flexible and agile enough to accommodate ALL kinds of tasks.  The onboarding process, therefore, defines the business’s procedure and policy (all the tasks) in the workflow of onboarding a new employee, including tasks regarding assimilation/acculturation AND paperwork, forms, eliminating re-keying, eliminating shipping documents around, etc.  The onboarding system, on the other hand, is the system (software + hardware) that is put in place to enforce the process – even if that means holding someone accountable for “showing the new employee around the office”.

Don’t let anyone tell you that onboarding is “so much more than just the paperwork and the legal stuff” – this is the stuff that’s most important, most costly, most fraught with risk.  Ignore the quality of your I9s and you could face tens of thousands of dollars in fines; a new employee probably won’t fine you for not throwing them a party on their first day.  But most importantly, consider YOUR particular onboarding process when you evaluate onboarding systems and determine if that system can accommodate YOUR needs and achieve your company’s unique objectives.

On a completely different note, a quick product endorsement: I’ve lost 25 lbs on Nutrisystem since May.  There’s no magic, just controlled portions that cut down on calories.  It works for me because I don’t have to think too much about what I’m going to eat, I don’t have to measure, the meals and snacks are color coded and I can grab them and go.  I was hungry the first few days of the diet, but not afterwards; now I’m hardly ever hungry and I’ve got more energy than I’ve had in years.  I hope to lose about 20 more pounds – wish me luck.

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Update: Chuck sold Emerald Software Group in 2011. You can learn about his new company by clicking here.

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