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Onboarding the Blended Way

November 10, 2011

Guest post from my LearningAge Co-Director, Tess Robinson

We’ve all been there – the corporate induction that involves eight hours of PowerPoint, form filling and reading manual new hire formafter manual of processes and procedures. Did it make us feel engaged, enthused and wanted? Did we come out with a deep understanding of our new organisation’s culture, mission and values? I’ll bet the answer is ‘no’.

Increasingly, the more forward-thinking organisations are rejecting old-style induction programmes for something called ‘onboarding’ – the process of acquiring, accommodating, assimilating and accelerating new users into a system, culture or methodology1. Onboarding may take up to 6 months and consist of a number of face-to-face and online interactions, learning opportunities and feedback.

Onboarding is an awful term, it’s so ‘business-speak’ that it makes me cringe, but the principles behind it are very sound and done right it can improve the time it takes new employees to get up to speed, increase productivity and have a very positive effect on morale and retention.

This approach to inducting new employees lends itself very well to a blended solution. Information can be delivered through a number of channels, both on- and offline and can be tailored to the individual in bite-sized chunks. This prevents information overload and allows best medium for delivery to be chosen.

Use of storytelling, for example, via videos of employees talking about their experiences of working for the organisation can make abstract concepts come alive and be very effective in terms of illustrating culture and key values.

A well-organised wiki, which is collaboratively edited and improved by employees, can be an invaluable resource for a new starter, providing just-in-time information as it is needed.

Learning modules, covering ‘need-to-know’ policies and procedures can also be made available via an LMS so that employees can gain this knowledge at a time and pace that suits them. The information in these modules can also be modified easily, ensuring that the learning is always up-to-date. Just because the subject material is a bit dull, doesn’t mean that the learning will be dull and boring. Creating an inspiring and dare I say, fun online learning experience will reassure new-starters that they made the right choice by engaging them at the outset. The effort you put in to your onboarding process speaks volumes about the type of organisation you are.

As with any good blended programme, there is a place for face-to-face learning. At University of Cambridge, alongside their online induction, they also hold a tea party with the Vice-Chancellor for new starters. That the most important person in the organisation will take time out to meet them shows new employees how much they are valued. This is then reflected back in their commitment to the University.

All sounds good doesn’t it! So where do you start? Talk to your recent hires. Ask them how they found their induction process and what could be improved and use their feedback as a basis for your new programme. Like anything new, you will invariably need to put time and money but it will reap rewards in terms of an enthused, productive and committed workforce.

1 George Bradt and Mary Vonnegut, Onboarding: How To Get Your New Employees Up To Speed In Half The Time, (John Wiley & Sons, 2009) – ISBN 0470485817

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