At your current or previous jobs, how did you get introduced to your position and to the organization? It probably involved formal meetings, reviewing policies, reviewing printed materials and attending new employee orientations. You were probably introduced to some of your new colleagues and even a tour of your new campus. This process probably only happened in the first few days or weeks.  The process I described is called onboarding or organizational socialization. I first heard about this concept from Dr. Don Lubach, UCSB Assistant Dean of Students, at a human resources workshop at our university last week. According to Wikipedia, onboarding “refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insider.” The process of  onboarding ” lead to positive outcomes for new employees such as higher job satisfaction, better job performance, greater organizational commitment, and reduction in stress and intent to quit.” Can organizations improve this process?  I think that social media, used internally in organizations, can certainly help with the onboarding process.

Becoming effective organizational member, in my opinion, requires going beyond getting familiarized with the formal policies, organizational structures and procedures. It requires understanding the culture of the company and knowing colleagues beyond their formal titles.  Enterprise social software like Yammer, Sharepoint, IBM Connections and Telligent can enhance the onboarding process by providing new employees with additional means to understand the organization and their colleagues organically.  Consider some of the benefits of these “emergent collaboration systems” as offered by Jacob Morgan in his book The Collaborative Organization: A Strategic Guide to Solving Your Internal Business Challenges Using Emerging Social and Collaborative Tools:

  • Knowledge Sharing and transfer using wikis and blogs, new employees can quickly read through relevant and up-to-date information produced and maintained by a collective group.
  • Identifying subject matter experts through the use of profiles. Employees can tag themselves with keywords identifying their areas of expertise. Their colleagues can also add their tags as well. These tags can then be used to search for individuals within the company for specific expertise. In addition, through the use of status updates, new employees can ask other employees who may be able to provide them with their projects or tasks.
  • Listening. These platforms allow employees to understand activities and ideas from not only their own department but other departments as well.
  • Cross-department, cross-company and cross-boundary communication.  Given the structured nature of organizations, compartmentalized by formal boundaries defined by functions (IT, marketing, customer service), the flow of information oftentimes does not flow organically and silos exist. New (and long time employees) in most organizations are not aware of the activities happening in other departments and even worse, new employees do not have any clue on who their colleagues are.  These enterprise platforms can breakdown silos and promote organic flows of information by providing transparent access to other parts of the organization. New employees can better understand the relationships and issues beyond their proximity.
  • Building Trust and Inspiring Employees. Trust can be started by finding commonalities between individuals. Personal information shared via profiles can lead to new employees building communities based on shared interests and geographic locations. These relationships can be deepened by interactions within these communities.

Ultimately, these enterprise social platforms are just tools that enable collaborations and communications within organizations. For these platforms to be effective as they relate to onboarding, organizations must have a culture of trust, transparency, and openness.  If organizations are committed to the success of their new employees, organizations should consider using social enterprise platforms to enhance the onboarding process.

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