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Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today Magazine

Could do better

A good induction programme will enable new hires to hit the ground running, yet many organisations don’t have a formal onboarding process or, if they do, it doesn’t include training, says Beryl Oldham. It’s time to work smarter, not harder, she says.

A colleague recently recounted her experience of starting in a newly-created, extremely busy corporate role only to find no computer, desk or log-in organised when she arrived for her first day on the job. It took 10 days of make-do arrangements before she was finally set up properly, and another month before the company held its next induction course for new starters.

She felt the day-long induction course was good, but could see that it involved many different managers and clearly took a lot of effort to organise. She enjoyed meeting new-starter colleagues from different departments, and found she retained a special bond with them throughout her time with the organisation. However, the day-long download provided her with far too much information to take in and she admits to promptly forgetting much of it. The entire onboarding experience left her feeling the organisation, while well-intentioned, could have done so much better

If done well, induction programmes are a great way of welcoming employees into an organisation and equipping them to hit the ground running from their first day on the job. This is important because employee turnover is on the rise, while average tenure is decreasing.

Research suggests that some organisations lose as much as one-quarter of all new employees within a year, and many other new hires never reach their target productivity levels. Common factors for short-tenure turnover include poor leadership, poor communication, lack of skills training and feeling undervalued.

Employee turnover is more than a nuisance; it is expensive! It has been estimated that, on average, losing a member of staff who has been employed for a minimum of 12 months will cost the organisation 1.5 times their salary, and this cost can be much higher, depending on the industry.

A positive induction experience not only improves employees’ engagement; it also creates a strong knowledge base on which to build. Importantly, it also ensures they are aware of—and fully understand—important compliance requirements, such as health and safety policies.

Many organisations don’t have a formal onboarding process or, if they do, it does not include training. Organisations that do include training often comment that the induction courses are hugely time-consuming and expensive to co-ordinate and deliver, creating a significant burden for the HR team. This is particularly true for large organisations that have employees in different centres or countries.

The logistical challenge becomes even greater when representatives from different parts of the organisation are involved in presenting. Economies of scale make it commonplace to wait until a certain number of new people have started before holding the induction course, meaning that some people have been with the organisation a month or more before they are formally inducted.

Although it saves time and money because fewer courses are held, this approach can create productivity losses for inductees who must complete the course before fully coming up to speed on their jobs.

The challenges of traditional induction courses are compounded by new starters being overwhelmed with too much information. People learn in different ways and at different paces, so it is impossible to make a one-size-fits-all approach work to everyone’s advantage.

Some businesses have met the onboarding challenge by replacing their face-to-face group sessions with on-line delivery that can be completed at employees’ leisure. While that addresses some problems, it can cause others if the elearning is not well thought out or delivered.

The choice of learning management system (LMS) provides a strong foundation for a programme’s success or otherwise. The easier, more intuitive and more flexible the LMS tool is to use, the better the end result is likely to be. There are several LMS software applications on the market, but some are better than others. Questions to ask before purchasing include:

  • • 
    Does it use universal (as opposed to proprietary) standards, such as SCORM, Tin Can API, OR xAPI?
  • • 
    Is the application flexible enough to enable non-linear design?
  • • 
    Is it well supported and accepted in the L&D industry?

eLearning programmes are quicker and easier to deliver than face-to-face ones, but that doesn’t mean that that they are quicker and easier to develop. Rigour still needs to be applied!

Although it can be tempting, do not try and take short-cuts when developing an onboarding programme via a LMS platform. A common shortcut involves uploading largely unmodified face-to-face content to the online programme. This typically results in very linear, word-heavy content that is unappealing and unengaging.

Be disciplined when uploading content because it can be easy for online learning management and onboarding systems to become information dumping grounds. Develop an onboarding and learning strategy and ensure all content fits with it—even if that means starting from scratch.

The next step is to review all proposed content and delete all but the most necessary information. Then go through it again and delete some more.

A good LMS will make it easy to create tailored options for the organisation’s onboarding programme, which is ideal because taking a one-size fits all approach tends to suit few employees, particularly if the organisation spans different regions and even countries.

There can be significant departmental, regional and national cultural differences between employee groups, which is important to take into account when utilising onboarding materials provided by an offshore head office. For example, American style languaging and imagery does not always sit well with a New Zealand audience; the differences are even greater between Asian and New Zealand audiences.

A good onboarding elearning programme will also offer role-specific induction material as well as company-related information.

When developing an onboarding programme, think beyond the first 90 days of a new employee’s tenure. Expand the programme’s horizon by including ongoing personal and professional support and development by way of ongoing training, mentoring and coaching. A good LMS will allow you to set up learning plans for professional development pathways using a blended approach.

Also think about how induction can be done before the employee’s first day. Pre-employment induction is ideal for compliance and policy-related topics, ensuring the new starter is well-versed in the “rules and regs” from their first moment on the job. Handily, online compliance training enables built-in knowledge testing, and it also provides a digital record of training completion.

Extend the onboarding programme from pushing new starters into compulsory participation, to pulling them into taking an active role in their ongoing development where they can access learning assets and reach out to process and product subject matter experts as required.

The system must be intuitive to use so, before it goes live, pilot test it to identify problem areas. Employees will be reluctant to use it on an ongoing basis if it is difficult to use, so make it easy for them to find the information they need, when they need it. However, just because people have been informed about something does not mean they will retain that information, so build information links into all content so inductees and trainees can check back.

Successful online onboarding programmes also include line managers because they are the primary interface between new employees and the organisation. Having an induction programme that is largely online does not absolve managers of their responsibilities in the process. Get them actively involved by being clear about the organisation’s expectations of them, including setting onboarding related KPIs. Support them with on-line manager-specific induction tool kits and access to advice should they need it.

Although learning management systems provide a cost-effective and efficient way of onboarding new employees, face-to-face delivery can still have a place. Where possible, consider a blended approach that combines online onboarding for compliance and content-heavy topics, with face-to-face for some of the lighter topics and Q&A sessions.

Many new employees comment favourably on the bonds that are made with others during onboarding, which can turn into a support network that lasts for years. Although face-to-face sessions are ideal for encouraging people to get to know each other, it is possible to use online communication tools to develop and strengthen bonds between employees. Examples include forums that allow interaction between participants, and enabling employees to share content and resources.

Remember to plan how you will evaluate the effectiveness of any changes made to the onboarding programme and be sure to collect the current programme’s cost data so it can be compared with the revised programme. Doing this will help you calculate the return on the onboarding upgrade investment.

Even though an onboarding programme’s return on investment will vary from organisation to organisation, one constant applies to all—the value that will be gained from doing it well. Avoiding short-cuts and make-dos may be painful in the short term, but doing a thorough job and getting the foundations right will reap long-term rewards—for employees, the organisation and the HR team.

BERYL OLDHAM is managing director of Complete Learning Solutions. For more visit:

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