If there’s one thing that every new starter has in common, it’s the degree of hyper-vigilance under which they operate. Typically nervous to begin with, most new starters are seeking to confirm that they made the right decision and best career move with an employer who’ll help them get where they want to go. That means everything is being scrutinised, from the way the receptionist greets them, to the equipment at their workstation, the welcome from the team and beyond. Get one or more of these things wrong and you’ve created an impression that there’s sometimes no coming back from. That’s why so many HR practitioners are recognising the need for an overarching process to welcome a new starter into the fold. They’re talking about the process of Onboarding. For the purposes of this article, “Onboarding” refers to the mechanism by which new employees provide and acquire the information, skills and behaviours required to become effective organisational members. In short – become one of us.

What’s not so clear is where the process begins. To some, it starts as soon as the vacancy requisition is approved. For others, it’s when the offer is made. Yet others figure Day 1 is a logical line in the sand. In reality, it probably varies per role and employer, but what’s not in dispute is the importance of getting it right. Which begs the question of how.

Historically, every new employee knew that Day 1 was going to be about filling in forms, being introduced to all and sundry and generally taking care of administration. From there, paper was shuffled from one in-tray and out-tray to another until everyone who needed it had their piece of the puzzle. Hopefully, the right piece and with any luck, received before pay-day.

As time moved on, we embraced the power and efficacy of email, our in-tray being superseded by the in-box, which was better in every way. The paperless office was born - as long as the email got to the correct recipient, who then opened the email and actioned the task.  Nevertheless, we had made progress and were using technology to enable our processes. Until the processes became a little more complex, our work more distributed and the volume of new hires increased, in line with our dynamic and growing businesses.

Suddenly, an email wasn’t providing the solution. The data we were gathering wasn’t exclusive to one team or area and our responsiveness to email action items just wasn’t cutting it. All we needed was one secondment or long-term absence and the whole thing fell apart, and to start again risked the potential nightmare of data duplication.  Our new, embedded process needed to change with the times. So we consulted our IT providers and a new methodology was conceived. From ‘in-tray’ to ‘in-box’, a new “In” word came into being. Now, we were all about “Interfacing”. Incredible!

Interfacing meant that we could capture data at one time in one place and share it electronically with any number of other systems. Single fields of data could be exchanged and updated quickly and effortlessly. Those who needed to know did so and everyone could keep pace with their changing businesses. Of course, there were associated issues. Data updates required new interface files, data transfers sometimes failed if an ‘i’ wasn’t dotted or the ‘t’ not crossed. We got duplicate files that, oddly, weren’t the same. It gave rise to the notion of dirty data that could corrupt other systems, which was to be avoided at all costs. Once again, we were stumbling when we needed to be sailing along.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in June 2017 that there was significant growth in the Professional Services, Food & Beverage, Education, Healthcare and Public Administration arenas.  To employers, that only emphasises the importance of onboarding and the need to embrace new processes to make it a painless, everyday transaction.  Increasingly, the way forward seems to be offered by an integrated system strategy that uses workflow as a supporting tool. HR departments need to become ready adopters of such technologies and seek to create seamless processes, within which payroll often becomes a major stakeholder. 

Current iterations of this type of solution involve data workflowing in real time with access to information being granted from a single source and by authorised users only. A one-stop interfaced shop where data is captured once and made available to multiple authorised users for ongoing validation and updating, across all modules of a system.  It’s integration with big-picture thinking and the capacity to meet, front-on, the constant challenges presented by growth.

Such an approach is especially well suited to Onboarding and can commence as early as the moment a vacancy is identified. Smart systems can take position data to populate vacancy details and workflow it to nominated approver(s). Relevant recruitment teams, be they internal or otherwise, can be advised that process has begun. Advertisements can be created and configured for posting across innumerable boards and social media sites with applicant data aggregated within the same system that created the vacancy. Data around education, skills, certifications and experience can be gathered and stored to enable like-for-like comparisons of applicants.  With permission, applicant profiles can also be stored to form a talent pool for consideration when filling future roles.

Authorised recruiters can access and consider applicant data via an app, or within the HRIS itself.  Applicants can then be benchmarked against existing high-performing employees in order to find the best of the bunch. Industry-specific information, such as registrations, certifications and memberships, police and working with children clearances can all be requested and obtained electronically, often before the candidate is even invited to interview. The breadth and type of data collected is considerable and onerous to administer without smart, workflow-enabled processes that can be triggered simply by changing the recruitment status of a given applicant. 

Just stop and imagine that for a moment. We're talking about the capacity to capture and automatically populate the HR & Payroll data of a successful applicant as a flow-on from a recruitment activity.  No duplication of effort, no additional cost and no lost paperwork. Time savings aside, such processes are delivering real dollar savings, all from one integrated, workflow- driven system.

Once a new hire is made, a whole other variety of tasks and activities need to be initiated. From contract creation and signing, to organising desks and tools of trade, system access, security passes, buddies, inductions and training. Not to mention the essentials such as banking, TFN and super details.  Savvy operators are gathering this data prior to an employee even commencing; an absolute delight for payroll practitioners and a chance for new employees to start day 1 with most of the admin sorted.  All thanks to the power and efficacy of integrated, workflow enabled systems. In place of the first day admin roundabout, employees can now quickly confirm they made the right choice as employers introduce them to benefits, subsidised gym memberships, health insurance options and novated leasing possibilities.

For those HR Leaders already committed to using integrated workflow-enabled onboarding systems the choice of solutions varies. For some, the obvious choice is a total product offering such as ichris that enables a hire-to-retire platform. Still others prefer to integrate purpose-built onboarding software with their existing payroll solution.  Few providers can do it all and the levels of workflow sophistication vary across the spectrum of possible solutions.

For those still contemplating a future that includes onboarding, the struggles associated with a loosely bundled mix of systems and paper continue. The disparate systems they need to rely on still require the resources of both payroll and HR – with mixed results and dubious efficiencies. And the impression made on new employees? You’d need to ask them – after they’ve completed the paperwork and introductions roundabout and a long way before they learn about health insurance options.

But let’s not evangelise. Imagining and creating a single, integrated onboarding solution requires a commitment up front to go the distance. Not to mention significant investments of time and effort. But, by doing so, it repays the brave in saved time and significantly reduced pain-points. The ultimate payoff however is the freeing of HR resources to concentrate on more value-add activities, such as strategy while the scalable, future-ready process just happens. Every single time.