New-Hire Portals Doorways to Employee Success

Web-based solutions pave the way to a smoother transition.

By Drew Robb Jan 15, 2016
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HR Magazine December 2015
​Employers eager to make a good first impression are deploying onboarding portals designed to put new employees on the path to success. These Web-based tools can simplify the assimilation process and help new hires start strong. However, many businesses are still relying on manual processes to transition incoming staff.

“Too many companies use paper forms. They’re disorganized in their tracking of employees’ progress, or they wait until employees are just starting work to begin onboarding,” says Zach Lahey, an analyst at Aberdeen Group.

He and other experts suggest that online onboarding solutions can alleviate these shortcomings with affordable, flexible systems that require little internal maintenance or support.

Many have features such as a new-employee portal, a component to coordinate forms and a task management function to facilitate communication with other departments. Most are offered through a software-as-a-service model, while others are available as stand-alone solutions or as add-ons to applicant tracking or performance management systems. Generally, content can be customized to reflect the company’s brand, structure and unique needs. The implementation phase can take two to six months, depending on the system’s complexity. Employers can set up parameters to tailor the onboarding experience to an individual’s job type and location.

Depending on the product, additional capabilities may include interfaces with third parties, such as business card vendors, and side-by-side benefit plan comparisons. Also available: integration with other HR systems, such as online learning; streaming video; and social networking capabilities to connect employees with other new hires, mentors, managers and team members.

A Smarter Start

Before launching its new-hire portal in 2014, Louisville, Ky.-based market intelligence firm Genscape Inc. welcomed incoming staff with a mountain of paperwork. Not only did this require hours of manual data entry for the employee, it afforded little interaction with colleagues. The company’s HR team was burdened with the time-consuming task of tracking and managing new employees’ forms.

HR manager Merabeth Martin, SHRM-CP, says the situation prompted the organization to create a portal designed to support new employees by giving them access to mentorship tools, collaboration opportunities, key documents and a wealth of company resources. Genscape also wanted an automated process that would easily integrate with its other HR systems.

To develop its portal, Genscape chose SilkRoad Onboarding, which is integrated with background screening and employment verification platform HireRight and with E-Verify, the federal government’s online system for Form I-9 verification.

Via the portal, newly hired employees can:

  • Meet the company’s HR team virtually.
  • Watch a video welcome message from the CEO.
  • Review benefits materials, complete paperwork and learn about the company’s mission and values.

“Our onboarding portal has enabled us to pre-board new team members, allowing them to spend their first few days getting acclimated to the business and culture, rather than being consumed with new-hire paperwork,” Martin says.

As with any technology, it’s important to make the online experience personal. HR professionals should highlight the information each new employee will need to do his or her job.

Martin learned some hard lessons while implementing Genscape’s online solution, including that it can require a lot of time, effort and resources. She cautions HR leaders not to be too focused on achieving perfection but to instead recognize that the platform will require fine-tuning as organizational needs change.

“We set aside time each month to update the tool, as it is a work in progress,” Martin says.

The effort has been worth it, she adds, laying the foundation for increased employee productivity and engagement while easing the feelings of anxiety that starting a new job can bring.

Faster Assimilation

With up to 6,000 new hires each year, NCR Corp.—a consumer transaction technology vendor—found it impossible to personally engage with staff during onboarding. That left some new hires frustrated, and those negative feelings were underscored by low employee satisfaction survey results.

“Without a formal process or onboarding portal in place, it was difficult for HR to guide the new hires and difficult for hiring managers to take a bigger role in the process,” says Wendy Smith, NCR’s head of candidate and new-employee experiences based in Germantown, Md.

In response, the company established a yearlong onboarding program based on a portal based on Taleo’s Transitions solution and integrated with Taleo’s applicant tracking system. NCR developed a virtual orientation to allow new hires to interact with one another with built-in social networking capabilities tied to virtual learning platform CorpU. Managers can assign an onboarding plan for each new hire, track his or her progress, and solicit feedback about the individual’s performance. Smith’s team also partnered with marketing staff to make the portal design appealing and fun, as well as to ensure a consistent branded experience for all employees.

“Mapping out our goals for the platform before we designed it kept us focused and allowed us to avoid trying to push the platform to be something more than it was intended, thus potentially diluting its effectiveness,” Smith says.

The effort worked, according to the results of an internal survey. NCR has seen:

  • A 9 percent increase in respondents saying their onboarding experience is focused on their needs.
  • An 8 percent rise in those who said they feel like they matter.
  • A 9 percent increase in new hires knowing where to find information.
  • An 8 percent boost in respondents who say they understand NCR’s history.

For HR managers, giving every employee a strong start is sure to pay dividends that last long after onboarding ends.

Drew Robb is a freelance writer in the Los Angeles area.

Web Extras

HR Magazine article: HR Technology: Not Just for HR Anymore
SHRM research report: Onboarding Practices
SHRM toolkit: Managing the Employee Onboarding and Assimilation Process
SHRM human resource vendor directory: Onboarding
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