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Monday, September 26, 2011

Using Microsoft SharePoint For Acculturation Onboarding

When a new employee shows up for their first day at a new job, they face a mountain of paperwork, a bleak office or a stark and empty cubicle, a bunch of strange faces, a new role to learn, and a new company to learn how to fit into. You as the employer have a vested interest in helping the new employee overcome the fears and uncertainties that is natural to this situation: the quicker you do this, the quicker the new employee is helping the company. Some onboarding software vendors try to address this by offering an onboarding system that establishes a portal specifically for new hires. We call this an acculturation onboarding system, which is different from a transactional onboarding system, which really focuses on that mountain of paperwork. They tout that their onboarding portal is uniquely qualified to speed your newhire to effectiveness, that their onboarding portal is a best-practices approach to acculturating, or socializing, a new employee. But it bothers you that you're being asked to implement another portal, and you're concerned that putting up another portal that separates new hires from the rest of your workforce might actually slow the socialization process; after all, doesn't it make more sense to direct new hires to a portal they work in every day?

If you already have an employee portal or intranet, your concerns are valid. It truly doesn't make sense to implement yet another portal, particularly if you have as flexible a portal platform as Microsoft's SharePoint. If you're like most organizations, your resources are already tapped out maintaining what you have, even if the proposed onboarding portal is hosted. If an employee's first day is point A, and productivity in the company's current intranet is point B, then having the onboarding portal built on the same platform of point B seems to be the best choice.

At a recent technology trade show, an informal show of hands from the 200 or so audience members indicated about 80% of those present had an operational company portal built with Microsoft SharePoint. With Microsoft's viral adoption methods-after all, SharePoint is a free component of Windows Server-this is no surprise. You might also have an employee self service portal, perhaps provided by your HRMS vendor, and if it's as flexible as Microsoft SharePoint, then it will make even more sense for you to implement your onboarding portal there, but in this article I'll explore how you might build an onboarding portal on Microsoft SharePoint.

Let's begin with establishing goals for the typical onboarding portal. From there we'll add some of our own goals, and we'll discuss how Microsoft SharePoint can be used to achieve those goals. Typical onboarding portals offer the following functions:
· Greets new employees with messaging from the President of the company and other relevant managers and executives
· Gives new employees a place to complete tasks such as newhire paperwork and benefits forms
· Introduces new employees to their new company and its culture
· Introduces new employees to their teammates and colleagues
· Introduces new employees to their new role, projects, and work in progress
· Offers new employees a library of documents and resources about the company

We'll take the list of goals a step further by adding the goal of achieving all of the above goals within the company's existing SharePoint-based company Intranet, which will encourage and facilitate the new employee-as they are ready-to venture outside of the onboarding portal into other areas of the company's Intranet; we even wish to encourage this.

The easiest of these goals to accomplish are those that are document-centric. SharePoint, almost since its inception, has been document-enabled, allowing administrators and users to create, share, and collaborate on content. A letter from the President of the company (and other executives or managers) is simply a document, presumably written by the President, which is made available either through a link, or better yet through a document viewing frame, added to the onboarding portal. If the President decides to update their greeting letter, it's no more an effort than updating the letter's Word document from the President's personalized page in SharePoint. The same is true for all documents, such as employee handbook, policy documents, benefits descriptions, and so on: as they are updated, their associated links or frame views on the onboarding portal automatically pick up the document changes. SharePoint's natural document collaboration can be applied in many ways to achieve the goals of introducing the new employee to their company, its culture, and their new role and projects.

By contrast, if you implement a standalone onboarding portal, if the President wishes to change their new employee greeting letter, they will likely have to send the new letter to HR to incorporate the changed letter on the onboarding portal. If the employee handbook is updated, not only must it be updated on the company intranet, it must also be updated on the onboarding portal. Having a separate onboarding portal typically doubles the points of maintenance for content that is important to new employees.

All new employees have a series of tasks that must be completed, paperwork being the most obvious. Workflow-based software typically is used to drive this functionality, assigning tasks to the new employee as they are due. For example, on their first day, they might have a task assigned to them to complete their employee newhire forms package. SharePoint accomplishes this with the Windows Workflow Foundation, released as part of SharePoint 2007. Also known as WWF, it is well integrated with SharePoint, so much so that it almost doesn't make sense to use SharePoint without it. The tasks that are assigned can be any that are WWF-compatible, and might not only drive completion of paperwork, but perhaps also training and mentoring tasks, post-hire assessments, or benefits enrollment that are delayed, even if several years after the employee's start date.

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