Onboarding, Social Capital, and Wikis

All organizations face a similar challenge when new employees come onboard. The new employee needs to learn the ins and outs of the organization. HR typically provides them an orientation packet and a point of contact for information. Their team, or department, management gives them an overview of their job and, if they are lucky, walks them around to introduce them to their co-workers and provides any virtual introductions, i.e. email announcements, needed to other members of the organization. However, providing new employees with access to the information needed to understand how to do their work is always a daunting challenge. Referring them to policies and procedures, whether manuals or online, remains the most common first step. Sometimes the new employee even receives on-the-job-training for a few days.

Making the first few days of a new employee’s orientation smoother and making the curve of their time to performance steeper are challenges requiring ongoing innovation in the management of human capital, but also social capital. Commentators, no doubt, use the concept of social capital in many ways. However, the concept of people valuing their connections to others is a key feature common to most uses. It is not a far step to contend that onboarding involves developing social capital between new employees and other employees in the organization. The challenge is not amenable to a top-down solution alone with a focus solely on the human capital of the new employee.

Several companies sell onboarding systems, with most focusing on top-down management of information about the human capital of individual employees. Stewart Mader recently offered a clever analogy to the airline’s boarding process, arguing that onboarding employees in organizations is a task that Wikis can help solve. He noted:

The term ‘onboarding’ got me thinking that the process of getting new employees up to speed is remarkably similar to boarding an airplane. You, the passenger, are the new employee, and the airline is the organization. They need to get you – and everyone else – on the plane, in your seat, baggage stowed, seatbelt buckled, and ready for takeoff. Only then can the flight commence.

The airline needs to communicate a certain amount of information to you and all the other passengers to get everyone working together toward the same goal: taking off on time. In the same vein, your organization needs to communicate a certain amount of information to new employees to get everyone working together toward the same goal: meeting the organization’s goals.

Stewart observes that the situation requires the sort of individual and group communication that a wiki enables. Wikis allow employees to share the kind of information new employees really need. People who actually practice processes and procedures can offer descriptions of how they do them, from filling out paperwork to understanding the most recent marketing strategy.

Meanwhile, over at Personal InfoCloud, Thomas Vander Wal, points out that Stewart’s analogy for the usefulness of wikis works equally well when considering mergers and other transitions in organizations.

One large pain point in mergers and other transitions is the cultural change that brings new terms, new processes, new workflow, and disruption to patterns of understanding that became natural to the people in the organization. The ability to map what something was called and the way it was done to what it is now called and the new processes and flows is essential to success.

For all their potential, developing cultural practices that encourage the sort of information creation and sharing that wikis make possible is a significant challenge relating back to that tricky concept of social capital. The challenge merits more conversation by those considering the use of Web 2.0 for enterprise concerns like onboarding.

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2 Responses to Onboarding, Social Capital, and Wikis

  1. Mike says:

    Informative post. I was searching for some information on onboarding and other human resource policies. Really got what i was looking out for.

  2. Larry Irons says:

    Good to hear the information was helpful Mike.

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