Onboarding: A Personal Experience

The recent launch of our new Onboarding For Results guide made me reflect on my own onboarding experiences.  They've ranged from extensive programmes, to completely non-existent. Here I share some of them with you, and also discuss what I think is an effective formula for good onboarding.

I’ve worked for small (employee no. 4) and large (employee no. ~40,000) companies, which can best be summarised in terms of the onboarding experience, as ranging from absolutely non-existent (ie. just get on with it) to substantial (don’t get on with it until we tell you you’re ready). My onboarding experience has been reflected, to an extent, by the size of organisation.

Throughout my 20+ years of employment, I have also found that onboarding has become something that organisations now recognise as a valuable and integral part of the initial development of individuals. It therefore warrants an approach that is thoroughly considered and well thought-through.

There's a Place For the 70:20:10

Where my onboarding was apparently non-existent, in reality I think I was experiencing the 70 end of the 70:20:10 model, i.e. learning on the job through my new colleagues. This should not be under-valued, as for me it was a great experience; even in roles where I was given full onboarding programmes, the informal way (through colleagues) was how I learned and retained most of what I know now.

Having a great work buddy has been key to the success of the informal approach for me. I have actually found that a multi-buddy system works best, whereby I’ve built relationships with experts in their field, whether they're designers, programmers, teachers, snowboarders or waiters.

I have, however, found the full onboarding programme to be a bit of a mixed experience: Sometimes I've found it to be useful and motivating, and other times it's felt irrelevant and a little self-gratifying. 

But, what it has always achieved is a foundation of knowledge from which I could build, a bit like what you get through schooling. Where done well it made me feel I’d made the right career choice and more confident in facing the role ahead of me. It also introduced me to colleague relationships and indeed friendships that I have had for many years since.

So, What's The Formula For Success?

There may not be one right answer here, but for me there's a few things that can make a big difference in onboarding:

  1. Make the Effort:
    Regardless of your organisation’s size, put some time into the new employee’s experience. They (and you!) will benefit from it. Don’t just leave them to get on with it, or you may find you have an under-skilled and disengaged employee.
  2. Look at the Big Picture:
    Consider the whole journey a new hire takes, from recruitment, first day on the job to on-going career development. Make sure onboarding plays a key part in that journey, and don't underestimate the impact it can have.
  3. Keep it Personal:
    Onboarding shouldn't have a one-size-fits-all approach. Adjust and adapt where you can to suit learning style and experience of your new hires.
  4. Be Clear:
    What's your company message? If you want your new employees to relate to it and understand it, make sure you show what it means for them.
  5. Encourage Relationships:
    Make sure you introduce new hires to their go-to people, and have 'work buddies' that can support informal learning.
  6. Be Open:
    Let your learners ask questions, and encourage them to be open and honest.
  7. Utilise Your Existing Resources:
    There is a wealth of support and knowledge within your existing teams. Use this expertise to have team members informally check in with the new employee, and formally through 1-2-1's. Don't stop once they're inducted, keep this going throughout their career to maintain engagement and encourage the sharing of knowledge.
  8. Tackle Small Problems Early: Don't let small problems stack up into big issues. Tackle them head-on, as they arise, to ensure they're dealt with effectively and with minimum disruption.

What Next?

Our new Onboarding For Results guide is full of great advice, drawing on the vast experience we have had in designing onboarding programmes with world leading organisations. I hope you enjoy it!

Had an onboarding experience that you'd like to share with us? Leave your comments below, or join the conversation on our LinkedIn Elearning Professionals Group.


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