Jeremy is a new hire at Company X. He is going to be working at a call center, a job he has done before but not for this particular company. He is excited about the new opportunity. This company seems to be interested in career progression and he feels like it may be a place he could work long term.
He arrives for his first day of work where he encounters 15 other people hired at the same time as he was hired. They are greeted by an HR representative who escorts them to a classroom, hands them a stack of documents to review and sign, puts a PowerPoint on the screen, and tells them this room is where they will report for the first three weeks of employment for onboarding.
Jeremy asks if any of that training time includes time in the call center. The HR rep lights up and tells him they will get a tour next week and after three weeks, they will get to listen in on live calls.
Jeremy thanks her but hears his internal voice telling him this might not be the right company for him—three weeks before they are even exposed to the actual job? When he arrives home, he tells his spouse about his disappointing first day. The spouse tells him to stick it out and see what the first week is like.
At the end of the week, after 6 to 7 hours of PowerPoint presentations for five days straight, Jeremy goes home, cracks a beer, and starts looking for another job.
What could Company X do better?
One chance to make a first impression
You can have the best hiring and recruiting programs in the business and still blow the retention of employees because of a bad onboarding experience.
Did you know that nearly 1 in 5 new hires quits within their first week and 17% leave after the first month? (BambooHR, 2023)
Jeremy’s experience above is one example; another is the “orientation day”. And that is it. One day mostly focused on paperwork for HR. Day 2 on the job is just “on the job”.
How about that first impression? We can do better and here’s how we do it.
Send a preboarding welcome message, maybe some company swag? Make sure someone from their work group is there to greet them on their first day. Paperwork will be there and can usually wait a little bit.
Take them on a tour, introduce them to some people. Then sit your newbie down with HR to do some paperwork for an hour or so. Maybe there is a compliance eLearning they need to have on Day 1? Knock that out. Schedule a departmental meet-and-greet over lunch. Let them spend a couple of hours job shadowing and just getting a feel for the workplace.
A variety of activities keeps your new hire engaged. The variety also gives you a chance to offer them unique experiences that can only be found in YOUR organization. One mistake I commonly see when working with onboarding is going too corporate. I will write more about fun later but for now, just think about the things that make your organization unique and use them to put some spark in what can often be a mundane experience.
Let’s look at some ways you can spice up the onboarding experience beyond the first impression.
Informal learning in a formal process
When you hear the term “informal learning” you may jump to peer-to-peer learning or job shadowing. I encourage you to expand upon those and think about things like Instagram Reels and TikTok. I am not necessarily saying use these apps…I am saying embrace the idea of them.
We have been talking about content chunking, etc., for years—think microlearning. The approach these apps take to the short bites of information is not new for learning but the style—unscripted, quick, relevant information that can be replicated right now—is compelling.
One of the coolest practices out there is letting existing employees create content. They are probably already creating social media content in their off time–videos of cats, taking pictures of their food, etc. Why not harness some of that production talent on the clock as well?
Strap a Go-Pro camera on line workers so they can show how to properly make or build something. Make it a contest at work! Ask employees to record themselves performing a task—per the company process—and have employees vote or select the best one to use in training or to put in a content repository of on-demand, task-focused materials.
Does someone need to curate the materials? Verify it follows company processes safely? Absolutely. But instead of spending three months in video production, you could conceivably spend an afternoon.
And once a person has seen it in onboarding, the repository makes it available on-demand for reinforcement and remediation.
The trick to variety is to take all the pieces and put them together in a meaningful way for each learner.
Insert these informal items into a formalized onboarding program, curriculum maps, and journey maps.
A picture is worth 1,000 words
Did you know that 87% of respondents in a survey by Kaltura indicated that video helps train employees at a faster rate? (Kaltura, 2017)
Use video, pictures, graphics, and other visually appealing options to grab attention. For onboarding, I like to recommend a “hype” video. Spend a little cash making a high-end production video for your company. Use it in hiring, recruiting, and onboarding.
Email it to a new hire about a week before they start to welcome them to the company. Why not show them your culture instead of just telling them about it?
Videos offer several benefits to onboarding:
- Training consistency. Even the best-designed facilitator guides do not guarantee a consistent message in virtual or in-person classes. Facilitators should be telling the same stories and referring to the same information for every class, but we all know that sometimes doesn’t happen.
- Reinforcement opportunities. In all the excitement of a new job and new responsibilities, it might be difficult for some learners to really retain training information. Videos allow them to revisit the video on-demand when they think they need it.
- Engagement. If you have a remote workforce, a hybrid workforce, or a workforce that is spread out all over the globe, video offers you a way to bring all those people together. This plays into consistency but it also plays into the welcoming culture you are hopefully trying to convey.
- Cost. Videos, especially when produced informally, can cost little more than time to produce and provide to employees.
As mentioned above, short, quick videos are great for demonstrating a specific task or concept. Have something short you want to emphasize? Instead of burying it inside of an eLearning or waiting for a class time to share it, make it a stand-alone video deliverable that can be accessed whenever it is needed.
Need something a little longer, but still want to keep it chunked and on-demand? eLearning is a great option. There are a ton of talented developers out there that can make the current authoring tools bend to their creative demands.
I encourage you to also think about flipped classroom methodologies for onboarding. Use eLearning to deliver foundational knowledge like timelines and vocabulary to learners a few days before they attend a hands-on classroom session. Not only does it keep you from spending valuable classroom time on basics, it offers a chance to reinforce what was learned in the eLearning through actual use of the information.
These modules are also great for teaching software processes and if you create them for onboarding and chunk them up effectively, they can also serve as on-demand reinforcement you can use for everyone.
No, the written word is not dead
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Quick Reference Guides (QRGs) and other job aids in a written document. The thing to remember about these types of tools is to keep them brief.
For a new hire, job aids, checklists, and anything that can assist them is usually viewed as helpful. Writing an entire manual will not serve your learners well. The idea is to break out the most commonly missed items or most difficult things and make aids to assist people on-demand.
For example: You have an eLearning module that shows learners a process and even lets them practice it through a simulation. However, when learners get back to their job, they are not quite sure what Step 3 was. A quick checklist or cheat sheet they can pull up and refer to is a great tool.
Want to save some development time? Ask this question: Does this task really need a course? I know—I am a vendor—what am I doing? Well, I am here to tell you that a training module is not always the answer. And if you come to me for recommendations, I am going to ask you that question. And I am going to be 100 percent honest with you if I think a module is not necessary.
Onboarding is not just about ramping someone up for a new role. It should also be about developing a relationship with your new hires. Here are some of my favorites:
Virtual tours: If your new hires are required to report in-person or are hybrid, create a virtual tour of the offices or location where they will be working. You can use an informational video or even create a quick module using 360-degree images with hotspots. You can create a game out of it—like a quest. Have them “collect” things around the office. Send this to them as part of an onboarding welcome package so they know where to go the first day and have some level of familiarity with their new work digs.
Coffee talks: This is great for employees reporting virtually, hybrid, or in-person. On their first day of work, schedule coffee talks with immediate supervisors, managers, and anyone providing support during onboarding, mentors, etc. Keep them to a half an hour and reserve the time specifically for the “get to know you” conversations.
Lunch dates: If you have a new hire that is going to be interacting with different work groups or departments in your company, there may be too many individuals to meet. So why not schedule a lunch with the marketing department? Or finance? This can work in any of the work situations. Make it mandatory for existing people so they don’t try to avoid it. I would also recommend that you don’t pile up a lot of these in the first week. Maybe one a week for the first few weeks, in order of importance to the newbie’s role.
Mentors/Buddies/Onboarding coordinators. Whatever you want to call them doesn’t matter. We will get into this deeper in a later article but providing a new hire with a specific contact is a great way to provide some variety to the process. You can develop activities around this interaction that can ramp a new person up for productivity and provide them with a personal connection right out of the gate.
Job shadowing. Nothing acclimates a newbie like watching a pro in action. Don’t wait to introduce new people to the job they were hired to do. This also builds team rapport and fosters relationships.
Work tasks: Yes. Provide some training and then let new people do some actual work. Make performance metrics that are specific to new employees and have them complete newly trained work tasks between formal training events. Let them try their new skills, even if it is under the supervision of a training staffer or mentor. Keep the tasks appropriate to their level of skill. Some people are quick learners. Don’t let them get bored.
The important part of this one? Track performance.
Did you know that 33% of organizations agree that reducing time to proficiency is an onboarding goal, but only 7% measure it? (Kronos, 2017)
Do not give people busy work, conduct an analysis (a-hem) to find out what the right metrics are, provide them to your new employee, and then let them work.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
A great onboarding experience cannot be done on-the-fly. Create an itinerary for a new hire’s first day and then also for their first week. Send it to them in advance. Show them you are invested in their role at your company. Does this require some attention and thought? You bet it does.
It is easy to hire someone and either “orient” them in a day or even sit them in a training room for a few weeks, but the results are probably going to be similar. This is where the variety of modularized materials comes into play. Each learner could have unique needs, so plan before they arrive and then sit down with them and review the plan, get their input, and adjust.
Offering an experience with variety requires preparation and planning. This is just a brief peek at different methodologies and activities that can make your organization’s onboarding experience something unique. Don’t be afraid to be bold and creative.