"Onboarding is essential so that the expectations between the employee and employer are very clear," Russell says. "The employee becomes empowered because they know what resources are available and what relationships they need to start forging. It tells them they are going to have the resources they need to get the job done."
In fact, according to a TEKsystems survey of more than 2,100 IT professionals and 1,500 IT leaders, both sides see significant benefits to IT onboarding done right. Sixty-two percent of IT leaders said onboarding programs played extremely important roles in establishing a new hire's ability to be productive and add value, while 46% said they were extremely important tools for determining whether a new hire would be successful in the company long term. The IT professionals were equally bullish on onboarding: Nearly half (49%) said onboarding was extremely important to their ability to be productive, while 44% said it was critical for success in the company long term, according to TEKsystems.
Despite unilateral agreement on the upside of onboarding, most companies have yet to prioritize programs or address onboarding in a way that truly works for IT roles. The TEKsystems survey found that only 12% of IT leaders and 13% of IT professionals rated their onboarding programs as extremely effective.
Why the big disconnect? Russell says most onboarding initiatives focus on general HR policies and administrative paperwork at the expense of covering the resources that IT employees need to be successful. "It has to be more than 'Here's where the bathrooms are' or 'Here's our work-at-home and vacation policies,'" Russell says. "Onboarding programs have to serve up components that provide background on the company and background on specific roles and workflows, and they must help facilitate relationship-building right from the get-go."
Of interns and onboarding
As good as IT-specific onboarding is, it can sometimes fall through the cracks, concedes Robert Krestakos, CIO at Steelcase, a provider of office products, furnishings and services. "There's a tendency for the IT group to defer to HR and think about it as an HR problem," he says. "Certainly, HR has to be close to the IT function to really understand the kind of talent needed and the culture that IT is working in, but if [onboarding] is viewed as a clerical or administrative process, then it doesn't fire on all cylinders."
While Steelcase has a formal HR onboarding program, but not one specific to IT, Krestakos says his department has initiatives in place to guard against turnover and to immerse technology employees in the company's strategic objectives and culture. An IT internship program, coordinated at the corporate level, exposes participants to company leaders, acquaints them with all aspects of the business and includes real work assignments, Krestakos explains. As part of this program, Steelcase recruits anywhere from 10 to 15 IT interns each summer, and hires two or three permanently, he says.
Another piece of Steelcase's de facto IT onboarding strategy is to send certain new employees off to work at another location, potentially overseas, to give them a global picture of Steelcase. Depending on their role and which business experts they'll be working with, employees participate in anything from a two-week trip to a six-month assignment.
"We've learned that it's a more effective way to get people up to speed faster and it's got the added benefit of being viewed positively by employees," Krestakos explains. "It helps them understand our architecture, the processes we work to, and it helps in relationship-building."