Onboarding is getting a much-needed makeover.

Traditionally, onboarding has been treated as a single event rather than a process: New hires are passive participants in a one- or two-day orientation. They receive information about policies and procedures, sign lots of paperwork, and are perhaps given a tour.

Current changes in the workplace and the workforce require forward-thinking organizations to reassess how they assimilate new employees into the company culture and get them up to speed so they can be productive as quickly as possible.

“Effective onboarding of new team members is one of the most important contributions an HR professional or hiring manager can make to the long-term success of the organization,” said George Bradt, founder and managing director of PrimeGenesis, an executive onboarding company headquartered in Stamford, Conn., and co-author of Onboarding: How to Get Your New Employees Up to Speed in Half the Time (Wiley, 2009). “It can drive new employee productivity, accelerate learning and significantly improve talent retention.”

HR has a crucial role to play in the development and implementation of any structured onboarding program or process. But successfully taking on this role may require a different way of working in the HR space.

There are two kinds of HR professionals, Bradt said. There are administrators who police policy and leaders who are true strategic business partners. While both roles are valuable, leaders are more visionary and future-oriented. When you see onboarding as part of an overall talent management strategy, you position yourself as a real leader. You need to see the big picture, understand the company’s long-term vision, and then align HR programs and processes with the company’s overall strategic plan.

As the competition for talent heats up, it is increasingly important for employers to give more thought to how they can integrate new employees and keep them productively engaged from the get-go. By focusing on developing an effective onboarding program, they can set their employees up to be successful, which, in turn, sets the organization up to be successful as well.

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