Onboarding has been a proven way to get employees off on the right foot. And, as more powerful digital tools become available, employers are providing richer, more engaging initiations for their new hires.

Beverage and snack food giant PepsiCo, for instance, saw an opportunity to make training for new staff more job specific using a system from Appical, a human resources technology firm based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Appical’s cloud-based program delivers instructional videos, educational webinar, slideshow-style “how-to” presentations with quizzes, workbooks and reference materials. It is presented in English, Spanish, Chinese, Brazilian Portuguese and will include Arabic and Russian language support in the near future.

Pepsi Co. global headquarters.
Pepsi Co. global headquarters.

In April 2017, PepsiCo signed a contract to deploy the Appical pre- and onboarding program to the entire procurement department with plans to eventually support the marketing, supply chain and other teams. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Appical, founded in 2012, had also counts Heineken and Dutch airline KLM as customers, but PepsiCo was its first deal for an enterprise-wide implementation.

For Alison Hansen, director at PepsiCo University, the division that oversees the company’s e-learning and job training initiatives, onboarding had to be more than just a friendly and informative welcome to the company. In addition to easing pre-boarding activities, where new hires enter their names, addresses, social security numbers and emergency contact info, onboarding within specific divisions can take up to a month of intensive education to learn how PepsiCo does business on a global scale. (New hires sign up for payroll and employee benefits on a separate system.)

“In 2016, we were looking at our strategic initiatives and the head of the global procurement at PepsiCo said we need to do a better job of onboarding,” recalls Hansen. At an annual meeting at PepsiCo University, the director of procurement said that new hires across the globe were not receiving consistent information about their new job responsibilities, how to meet goals, and how the company operates. PepsiCo wanted to create a standard e-learning and onboarding systems so that every new hire received the same training for their division.

“We wanted it to be a great experience where everybody gets on the same page and has the same fundamentals,” says Hansen.

How it works

According to Peter Straatsma, vice president for Appical, the app has two stages.

There’s the pre-boarding portion, which prompts a new hire for their contact data and instructs them where to go for their first day of work. And then there’s the onboarding, educational portion.

Once PepsiCo employees accept a job offer at the company, the PepsiCo HR team emails them a link to access the Appical program either through a secure PepsiCo website or by downloading a mobile version from the App Store or Google Play. The mobile app works on tablets and Apple iOS and Android Smartphones and saves a person’s work and data as they proceed through the system. According to Appical, users spend on average of 9.25 hours on pre-boarding activity before their first day of work.

Next comes onboarding. In the case of Pepsi’s global procurement division, getting a new hire up-to-speed takes weeks of interactive lessons and lectures. “We designed a program that had e-learning, personal experiences, reference materials and all of that is housed in the Appical solution,” says Hansen.

Use of the videos, quizzes, drag and drop worksheets is tracked and progress can be measured to make sure that new employees are not left behind or rushing through their instructions. The schedule also allows for new employees to leave their desk, interact with their new managers and even visit distribution plants and go along on a ride with delivery drivers.

PepsiCo’s onboarding process for the new global procurement hires is segmented into four weeks.

During week one, a new hire’s onboarding focuses on PepsiCo’s history, corporate culture and structure, compliance requirements, strategic planning, and business priorities. Week two is an overview of the global procurement functions and how to work with suppliers. Week three drills down into contracting, bid analysis and negotiations. Week four focuses on finance and the new employee’s potential career path in PepsiCo, according to Hansen

The process of organizing and designing the PepsiCo’s onboarding system went quickly, according to Hansen. A team from Appical flew out to PepsiCo University’s Dallas, Texas, offices, and the soft drink giant’s procurement team went over its wealth of education materials -- many of which were paper-based and stored in binders -- and peppered Appical with ideas on how to best present the information. After one month, a pilot worthy version of the pre- and onboarding software was made available for new procurement hires to download and use for the four-week course. During the pilot program Appical engineers would tweak the system per PepsiCo suggestions.

PepsiCo now sees onboarding is not just a way to efficiently get new employees into PepsiCo’s work stream, but also sees it as a way to retain newly acquired talent.

“We have maybe a hundred new people coming in every year and while that doesn't sound like a big deal, we want to keep them. We think a good onboarding program is a big part of retention,” says Hansen. “If they came in the right way and had connections to other people then you can retain employees and get them to be productive faster. You could accelerate the learning curve.”

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