An onboarding process in an open and distributed community
What’s our challenge here?
The growth of a company depends, among other things, on its ability to attract and recruit talents and partners. Organizations have understood this and are implementing increasingly effective talent detection and selection strategies. Once the partner is recruited, the new contributor enters an integration phase (onboarding). While everyone understands that they have to support their new partners in the early stages of the collaboration, scientific studies and professional experience feedback show that there is still work to be done on this onboarding phase. Welcome on board!
In our service business context and more specifically within our open and distributed community model, this issue of onboarding is central. In fact, due to the specificity of operational interactions and the platformization of our activity, we were able to observe our weaknesses on the theme of onboarding for various profiles of contributors (developers, quality engineers, project owners, third-party partners, end-customers). Before launching into the resolution of these problems, we took a tour of the literature and we found the excellent paper by Bauer (2011) which presents a guide to good practices on the topic of onboarding leveraging 25 years of research.
The first result of the article concerns the differentiation of 2 strategies: informal onboarding (absence of an explicit program) and formal onboarding (organizational framing around explicit standards and procedures). Studies show that a formal organizational socialization strategy has greater positive effects on new employee roles, company norms and expected behaviors than an informal strategy. By adopting this type of practice, the company promotes (1) job satisfaction, (2) improved performance, (3) strong employee engagement (low turnover) and (4) reduced stress. This first result encouraged us to think of onboarding as a practice that must be modeled. In this perspective, the article proposes two models that facilitate the formalization of the onboarding strategy: a first modeling on the contents of a successful onboarding and a second modeling on the onboarding processes.
The first model of onboarding content is based on 4 elements (4C model): (1) compliance, (2) clarification, (3) culture and (4) connection.
This model, to be understood as a structure in successive blocks, shows the different components to be developed to ensure the onboarding process.
Compliance corresponds to the sharing of all the legal rules related to the activity in which the organization and the people who compose it are immersed.
Clarification corresponds to the fact of having shared with the future contributor the objective of his new job and the fact of ensuring that the latter has understood the issues and expectations related to his activity.
Culture refers to the sharing of all organizational standards, both formal and informal.
The Connection block corresponds to the interpersonal relationships and the information network that the new employee must build to carry out his missions efficiently.
This simplified model allows to have a first idea of the elements to be taken into account in the onboarding process and it also allows to be able to evaluate the process which is set up in a structure. If the level of compliance is generally established by the sharing of the employment contract, the other blocks are more or less developed by the organizations. A systematic variation of these blocks is encouraged by the author of the article to ensure a reliable onboarding process. This model is completed by Bauer (2011) by another model focusing on the processes active during the onboarding period.
This process modeling brings a more detailed look at onboarding. It shows both influencing factors, tools (training, feedback, documentation, ...) and levers to be activated in order to succeed in the onboarding process.
Influencing factors correspond to a set of elements to be taken into account in an onboarding process. These elements belong to a specific context linked to the framework of the activity of the organization. The author invites to take into account the field of activity, the size of the organization, the culture within the field and the organization, the style of leadership established or the climate within the organization.
The tools available to facilitate the onboarding process are numerous and serve to activate the levers identified in the modeling. The first tool we were able to extract is the Realistic Job Preview (RJP). Studies have shown that by using a detailed RJP, organizations are able to decrease turnover by 50% compared to organizations that do not implement RJPs. Another interesting tool is a guidance tool that can be provided by another contributor within the organization or by an intelligent virtual agent. This tool gives the newcomer all the important points for his future contributions as well as a global view of the culture and history of the organization. Other tools / procedures appear to be essential to facilitate the onboarding process, such as the drafting of an integration plan, regular meetings with partners or even social integration time. Finally, the last point that we can extract from this modeling from the point of view of the tools / procedures is that onboarding is based on an investment on the part of the contributors already in place. Indeed by adopting coaching / tutoring attitudes in a training strategy for newcomers, individuals already integrated will greatly facilitate and accelerate the onboarding process. The mentoring posture needs to be standardized to ensure the efficiency of this type of practice.
The 4 major levers to be taken into account in the short term for successful onboarding of newcomers are: (1) self-confidence to succeed in the job, (2) clarity of the proposed role, (3) social integration and (4) knowledge and assimilation of the culture of the organization. If these levers are from our point of view relatively general, it seems that the interest of modalization lies in the necessary links between the implementation of certain tools and the activation of these levers.
Onboarding is also influenced by the time. The idea of developing an onboarding strategy is to be able to save time until the new employee becomes completely autonomous.
From Theory to Practice
This article is interesting in the sense that it points to the need to formalize the onboarding process through standards and procedures. In this perspective, we are currently developing our onboarding process by adapting the model to our open and distributed context.
The article refers to the different onboarding modalities depending on the employee's status in the company (i.e. the onboarding of executives vs the onboarding of operational staff). These two types of employees do not have the same time and procedural needs and the failure of onboarding for these two populations will not have the same impact on the company. In our context of an open and distributed community, this distinction between managers and workers makes less sense but allows us to consider distinct processes depending on the role(s) of the contributor. In addition to a methodological approach currently being structured, we are developing conversational agents capable of offering the newcomer the help necessary for their successful integration.
Special Thanks to Thibault Kerivel for this collaborative post.
Bauer, T. (2011). Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success. SHRM Foundation’s Effective Practice Guidelines Series.