All aboard!

by 14 Oct 2008

Online inductions are being used by some organisations to streamline and transform the on-boarding process. Teresa Russell looks at how companies have discovered that inducting new employees online supplements, but doesnt replace, the face-to-face orientation process

With the advent of new technology, companies have been able to automate many HR administrative processes. Usually first cab off the rank is employee self service. Then, depending on the business needs and funding, an e-recruitment system/module is next implemented and online induction and other e-learning systems follow.

One early adopter of online induction systems was McDonald’s Australia. As one of the country’s biggest employers of young people, McDonald’s implemented its online induction system three years ago.

Operating 768 McDonald’s restaurants across Australia, the company and its franchisees employ around 75,000 people. An average of 4000 crew (workers, not management in restaurants) are inducted online each month.

John Whitehouse, McDonald’s national people resources manager, explains that online inductions are part of the group’s e-recruitment package. “We are working towards [having] our e-recruitment platform eventually including not only inductions, but also e-communication (including a crew portal that allows sociability and blogging), and e-learning, beginning with things like traineeships,” he says.

In the world of ethical pharmaceuticals at Sanofi-Aventis, Scott Jones, organisational development manager for Australia, says that the company has started with online inductions as its first venture into e-learning. “The system we choose will be a part of our local learning management system and connect with our global system in the future,” says Jones.

Sanofi-Aventis employs just under 1100 people in its Australian/NZ business, including 480 who joined a few months ago, after the acquisition of a Queensland based consumer business.

Drivers for change

Before its online recruitment system was launched, applicants would apply to individual McDonald’s restaurants by filling in an application form. “With today’s competitive pressures and simply due to the volume of employees we hire, individual employers don’t have the time to spend on traditional recruitment and induction methods,” says Whitehouse. “We also want to have an efficient system that allows employees to learn basics in a consistent way,” he says.

Although McDonald’s has recently changed its EVP (employment value proposition) to “An Employer of Opportunity,” encouraging applicants of all ages, Whitehouse concedes it still employs a majority of Gen-Ys who are very comfortable receiving visual information online. “If there is a change to legislation or a policy, it is much easier to change things online, rather than via the older, paper-based systems.”

Once a crew member is hired by McDonald’s, they are paid for two hours (at their hourly rate) to complete the online orientation, which supplements, but does not replace, orientation in the restaurant. According to Whitehouse, this has streamlined the time required for face-to-face induction.

At Sanofi-Aventis, the main driver for change was almost the reverse of McDonald’s. Online inductions offered a cost efficient way of delivering timely information to a low number of new employees scattered around the country.

“We have never had enough new employees to justify running a national corporate induction program monthly, so we used to wait for a critical mass to build up and do 30 to 40 people on a quarterly basis,” says Jones. “We saw an online system as providing both timely and relevant information on the first day,” he says.

Choosing a provider

McDonald’s search for a provider of an online induction system was actually a search for a good e-recruitment platform that could evolve into the complete e-recruitment, e-learning and e-communication tool it wanted.

“Whenever we look for providers, we spend time making sure they understand our business,” says Whitehouse, who adds that any system must fit in with the organisation’s overall IT strategy, to avoid a piecemeal approach.

At Sanofi-Aventis, Jones started building a business case by providing a snapshot of what was happening with inductions at the time and identifying “pain points”. He noted the potential to minimise induction costs, (including indirect travel and accommodation costs) and to decentralise orientation back to the local level.

“We needed a standalone, scaleable system that had authoring tools and was able to be accessed via our intranet. It also had to provide flexible licensing arrangements and fit into a very tight budget,”says Jones.

McDonald’s chose Workstar and Sanofi-Aventis selected Sav-ee’s system. Although pricing is commercial-in-confidence, readers can assume that the prices paid are at either end of a broad budget spectrum.


Whitehouse says McDonald’s was conscious of the fact that it might get only one chance at implementing the new system successfully, so it was extensively tested before release.

“We made sure when we rolled it out that everyone understood it was designed to supplement the face-to-face induction process, not replace it,” he says.

At Sanofi-Aventis, new employees now receive a printed pre-pack before they start work. On their first day, they look at the online induction module and still attend a facilitator-led quarterly induction run by HR at its Sydney headquarters.

“Because it is the first e-learning that our company has implemented, we are concentrating on ensuring that people are comfortable and responsive to online learning first, before expanding the function,” says Jones.

Online inductions are not yet being used across the whole organisation. Jones says that it needs to be properly positioned to all hiring managers to ensure a successful company-wide implementation.


McDonald’s franchisees accepted the new system well because they saw the advantages for their operations. One of the other innovations welcomed by the franchisees has been a follow-up induction phase.

“Because there is a higher rate of turnover in the first 90 days of employment, we now send the new employee a questionnaire at day 45 to check the level of training they have received and assess their engagement levels. Often if people miss some of the training they should get, in time, you will lose them.

“A report on the questionnaire is fed back to the management team who can then address any concerns the new employee has,” says Whitehouse.

Those who have gone through the whole online induction process at Sanofi-Aventis have been happy with it, according to Jones. The pharmaceutical industry is relatively incestuous, with new employees often recruited from competitors. “Online inductions have helped us stand above the rest in the competitive ethical pharmaceutical recruitment industry,” he says.

Return on investment

It is impossible to isolate the costs of the on-line induction system and its benefits to McDonald’s Australia because it was a part of a larger recruitment initiative. However, Whitehouse says that the results of crew opinion surveys have continued to improve over the last three years, turnover is trending downwards and the loss of employees in the first three months is also trending downwards.

“We are still able to attract a substantial number of applicants and we are moving them quickly through to the induction phase. The benefits far outweigh the cost of not doing anything,” says Whitehouse

Jones says that Sanofi-Aventis is saving on airfares, accommodation, materials and time off the road for sales representatives. The latter costs $600 per day.

“The fact that smaller ‘modulised’ pieces of information can be accessed at any point in time and not lost in a classroom is another benefit,” says Jones.

Lessons learned

Whitehouse advises companies to define their escalation points for all e-solutions, not just online inductions. “Instruction manuals are often bypassed if people don’t understand something. They need a hotline or someone there to answer questions that are not clear in the online system,”he says.

Despite the very different applications, audience and industry, McDonald’s and Sanofi-Aventis agree that online inductions should complement, but not supercede, face-to-face orientation, so that new employees can still make a personal connection to the organisation.

1. Select a platform that offers custom tailoring, flexibility and the ability to add in or gain access to

other courseware

2. Utilise a provider that has instructional design capability for gaining better learning outcomes and engagement

3. Choose a provider with flash as their primary authoring tool for better interactivity

4. Choose a provider that gives you easy access to update information – keeping it fresh is important

5. Choose a provider that is internet-based v software-based for better user access

6. Choose a provider with experience in a wide spread of industry sectors – experience counts

7. Commit resources to the development phase – someone who can work alongside your provider

8. Gather all your content prior to commencing the development of the induction – this will save time

and money

9. Work with a provider who offers helpdesk and account management post implementation

10. Remember, a good online induction forms part of your employer brand – invest at the right level

Source: Michael Solomon, CEO, Learning Seat Compliance