Getting Managers On Board

Technology can help ease the transition for new managers and help them generate value more quickly.

By James Michael Brodie Nov 1, 2006

HR Magazine, November 2006

Jeff Burns spent his first few days as manager of the workforce solutions group at TD Ameritrade, an Omaha, Neb.-based brokerage firm with 4,000 employees, working from a temporary desk. During his first week on the job, as he was still trying to settle into his new position at the company, he had to leave town on a business trip.

“I worked from a temporary office, I didn’t have a BlackBerry to communicate with others, I didn’t have any of the basics,” says Burns, who joined the financial services company earlier this year. Part of his job is ensuring that future management-level hires enjoy a smoother transition. That means doing more than making sure these employees have a desk and a working computer.

Many businesses have found that automating processes for employee onboarding—especially for management-level employees—can improve employee retention, reduce turnover, and increase compliance with internal policies and regulatory requirements.

TD Ameritrade, like other employers, is helping managers accelerate the transition into their new positions with web-based tools designed to help them manage workflow; learn about the company’s policies, processes and philosophy; and build relationships with other employees as quickly as possible.

Burns is anticipating the automated processes that TD Ameritrade began implementing this summer through its Kenexa applicant tracking system will shorten the time it takes for managers to become productive.

Making sure that managers get off to a good start is important because how well managers do their jobs affects employees throughout the organization, and how new managers are integrated into the organization can color their impressions of the company for a long time.

“Our emphasis on onboarding is stronger for managers because they impact the work experience of every associate,” Burns says. “You don’t want a manager to start off thinking they made a mistake in taking the job.”

In fact, research has found that one out of three new managers fail or fall short of their expected contribution, another reason employers are harnessing technology to deliver vital information to new managers when they need it most: during their first weeks on the job.

The Need for Speed

According to Bob Damon, president of North America for Korn/Ferry International, a Los Angeles-based personnel recruiting firm, a thorough onboarding process “can dramatically reduce the amount of time a new executive needs to reach full capacity and ultimately increase their chances of success within an organization.”

His point is reinforced by a study by Corning Glass Works, which found that employees who participated in a structured onboarding program were 69 percent more likely to stay with their company after three years than those who did not go through a program.

Despite such benefits, a June study by Korn/Ferry found that only about 30 percent of global executives surveyed were positive about their employer’s onboarding and assimilation process.

“Our findings suggest that too many employers miss out on the unique opportunities for building relationships, clarifying expectations and establishing priorities that formalized onboarding efforts afford,” Damon says.

Employers that are behind had better move quickly to catch up because changes in workplace demographics are expected to put even greater pressure on employers to get new managers up to speed quickly.

In the next few years, as baby boomers begin retiring, organizations will have to ramp up a large corps of managers to replace them, which will carry a huge potential cost, says Darren Guarnaccia, vice president of technology at RedDot Solutions, a New York-based software company. Technologies that accelerate this process will become crucial to maintaining business growth and profitability.

“This trend is expected to continue as up to 40 percent of the North American workforce starts to retire,” Guarnaccia says. “Middle management could be the hardest hit by this trend.”

The impact could be even greater in some industries, such as high-tech fields. Offering web-based tools to onboard managers can ease the leadership transition.

“Time-to-productivity are important metrics for companies with demanding product schedules and high-level skill needs,” says Jill Sligay, senior project manager for HR technology at Rockwell Collins, an aviation electronics and communications company based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “Onboarding technology allows the company to coordinate all of the variables involved in the successful integration of new team members into projects.”

Making The Connection Online

Guarnaccia says one of the toughest problems new managers face is not knowing what they are supposed to know.

Some companies are addressing this knowledge gap by creating intranet portals and web-based tools to give managers access to a centralized site to find key information. The content on these sites usually covers a broad range of areas, including performance management, hiring, termination, ethics, procurement policies, and many other policies and procedures. Some have “survival guides” that contain information new managers will refer to on a regular basis.

At Rockwell Collins, for example, a web-based onboarding tool rolled out at the company’s headquarters this summer—delivered through the company’s Taleo talent management solution—gives newly hired managers access to e-mail groups, HR forms and employee data that managers need to perform their duties.

And Chicago-based insurance carrier Bankers Life and Casualty Co. developed a web-based portal to provide timely and pertinent information to its branch office sales managers, consolidating information that was previously spread across paper files, e-mail and other systems.

“As we are onboarding new managers and field agents, we needed a single point of access to information from the numerous departments within the home office,” says Paula Smith, vice president of business solutions and sales technology at Bankers.

The six-member team that worked on the technology conducted monthly meetings with managers and agents in the field and visited more than 30 branch offices before rolling out the new technology nationwide in January 2005. Since then, the company has introduced additional tools to help managers perform administrative tasks, track sales leads, monitor field agents’ activities, process electronic forms and review updated product information.

Bankers credits the portal with playing a key role in helping its sales managers meet the company’s business goals. Health care provider Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts also is supporting new managers by deploying an online onboarding module this year. The module moves much of the organization’s onboarding process to the Internet.

Blue Cross’ system will provide managers with:

  • A “customized assimilation kit.”
  • Organizational information, including business goals and organization charts.
  • Business plans.
  • A list of key stakeholders.
  • Status of key projects initiatives.
  • Personal/HR-related information.
  • An HR onboarding toolkit which includes benefits- and HR-related electronic election forms and instructions for enrollment.
  • IT-, finance- and facilities-related information to process requests.

“Our system will streamline the transactional processes while providing key information to new managers,” says Steve Capuccio, director of human resource information systems/payroll.

Capuccio says the process is being integrated into the company’s HR information system and is designed to provide the information necessary about the company, its direction, its current business initiatives and its organizational structure.

The key, he says, is to take care of much of what happens during a manager’s first few days on the job and have it handled before the first official day in the office.

“We have found that providing managers and associates with critical information as soon as an offer has been accepted facilitates getting them off to a great start,” Capuccio says.

James Michael Brodie is a freelance writer in Baltimore.

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