Wednesday, January 25, 2012

5 Tips for Designing An Onboarding Program That Keeps Them On Board!

The value of an onboarding or an induction program is far more than it is perceived. A good onboarding program helps new hires understand the organization and settle in quickly. More importantly, an onboarding program is instrumental in motivating and retaining new hires by helping them understand their role in the bigger picture.

However, not only onboarding programs are able to meet these objectives. Some programs get caught up in a dump of information about the organization mission, vision and values and others expect new hires to be able to appreciate the details of their roles and daily tasks within a few hours.
So, what is the right balance? This post focuses on my reflections based on my experience of designing, developing and delivering several onboarding programs for my last organization. These programs were designed and delivered for newcomers in the fields of Instructional Design and Training Development and varied from 2 weeks to 3 months.
What should an onboarding program include that would make it a good program? What are the elements of an onboarding program that help new hires get comfortable in their jobs and become a productive participant of the team? What should an onboarding program have to help new hires continue to stay on board?
Here are my top 5 tips for designing an effective onboarding program:
1) Keep it flexible: The role of planning in designing any training program cannot be overemphasised. However, planning takes an even more crucial role in the design of onboarding programs because new hires join the organization at various times during the year. The design and delivery of the onboarding program should be such that it allows a new hire to participate in a program within the first month of joining the organization. Any later, and they have already lost interest or have become totally confused by all that is going around them! Besides, it is possible that you may not always have the ideal sized group of 15-20 participants. Sometimes, your organization can hire conservatively and you may need to run the program for as few as 5 participants. Be ready and open for this and plan for multiple sessions with varying batch size. 

Envision your training model such that it supports multiple sessions through the year that can cater to both smaller and bigger batches.

2) Focus on the needs of the organization and the audience: There are so many things I’d like to tell new hires but do they really need to know all of it in the first month of joining? Ask this question to yourself when you are designing the content for the onboarding program. There are pressures from every division and department to include everything that can be possibly included. Steer away from any pressure and focus on your audience. There are some things a new hire NEEDS to know and most other information is a NICE to know. While it is important to ensure that organization needs are met in an onboarding program, be careful about including too many things that don’t matter or can be easily ‘taught’ using informal methods or by allowing and encouraging new hires to talk to their colleagues. Distinguish between what’s relevant to their immediate work life versus what’s good to know in their life at the organization. 

Ask questions around what’s important to know on the first day, during the first week, first month, first three months and first year to develop the content outline for the onboarding program.

3) Include teamwork within the onboarding program: We learn mostly using informal methods of learning such as conversations, social learning and learning based on our mistakes. However, most onboarding programs utilize only formal methods of learning such as classroom training by an instructor. Ensure that the onboarding program reflects real-life and how employees are expected to learn and work on-the-job. If you expect new hires to read, learn by practice, learn by talking to their colleagues and participating in team activities, then you must ensure that the onboarding program includes a blend of all such forms of learning. Most training content, if not all, provides an opportunity to learn in a team environment. Teamwork facilitates an interactive and informal platform that is sometimes crucial for learning. The learning styles that new hires utilize in the onboarding program will lay the foundation for the learning styles that are expected from them within their jobs. 

Using teamwork and a blended learning approach will help new hires become more responsible for their own learning and development and not rely only on formal training programs arranged by the HR or their manager to upgrade their skills.

4) Use a buddy or mentoring system: This is perhaps one of the most critical elements that helps new hires get comfortable in their job. New hires can be reserved and hesitant. They may fear that their questions may be silly and sometimes don’t ask questions. At these times, it is useful to have a buddy or a mentor who can empathise with the new hires and anticipate their feelings and emotions. The buddy or mentor can help and guide new hires without judging their questions and provide the right support and just-in-time feedback. Besides, talking to a buddy or a mentor is an opportunity to socialize, appreciate the organization culture and understand the finer aspects of organization policies and procedures. Hand-pick the buddies or mentors and choose people that like to help, share information and also have skills such as leadership and initiative. 

Match the buddies or mentors to new hires to ensure a long-lasting mentoring program. Ensure that the buddies or mentored are trained and understand their role and responsibility within the onboarding program and the ongoing success of the new hire.

5) Use feedback to improvise the program: The design of the onboarding program should allow for both formative and summative feedback and evaluation. Be sure to involve all stakeholders in this review and feedback process including new hires. Infact new hires are perhaps a better judge of what works and what doesn’t especially after they finish the onboarding program and get into real life. Plan for focus group meetings and post-training interviews that allow individual feedback sessions. Use these communication tools to obtain candid feedback about the areas covered in the program, the tools and techniques used to train and any gaps in the program. Focus your questions around whether new hires feel confident about the work, are their expectations and needs of their managers being met and do they feel they are a productive asset to the team. Sometimes, all you need is a sheet or two of FAQs to fill in the gaps. At other times, you may need to rethink the training design. 

Be open and flexible to the idea that feedback can change things. Trust that feedback is always for the betterment of the program.

A good onboarding program is the first impression a new hire gets of your organization. It is an opportunity to reinforce their decision to join your organization. It is also an opportunity to help them extend their stay in your organization. Good onboarding programs help bridge the gaps between expectations and reality and help align the organization’s expectations with the skills and competencies of new hires. However, onboarding is not an event. It is an ongoing process where you are constantly helping employees get equipped with what’s relevant and required to help them succeed in their jobs. Spending time and energy designing, developing and delivering an effective onboarding program is an investment in both the new hire and the organization and the benefits are multi-fold.