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Jun 2014

5 ways to create onboarding with empathy

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Shaping the future of learning

Our onboarding guide makes the case for empathy in the design of onboarding experiences. It’s business sense: with nearly one in three new hires leaving their jobs within the first year, it’s in our interest to do a better job of welcoming them and meeting their needs. Is that all down to learning experience design? Of course not, but it’s part of our responsibility.

Here are five design approaches that build more empathy into the onboarding experience:

1. Pace and space

Not everything is important immediately to the new hire. The employer may want to push as much new information down the pipes as possible. The new joiner is more likely to choke on it than digest it all. More is definitely not better during the onboarding process. Day 1 and, arguably, day 10 isn’t about compliance and rules. It’s about culture and welcoming. With hat tipping to Maslow, the new hire’s hierarchy of needs is more about feeling than facts:

2. Show some love

What’s the most important message to convey in onboarding? In our view it’s simple: 'we love you – we’re glad you’re here'. We don’t say it enough (in life, never mind onboarding). Start from there and your heart is in the right place. All the messages about how great it is to work here, what we expect, how to progress – that can all follow. But it’s not an alternative for that warm first feeling.

How do you love you new hires? We’ll let you count the ways, but among their number could be:

A helping hand – helping people feel it’s not all on them to figure it out is a supportive way of showing some love. Consider what those first few weeks should look like – how do you want them to feel welcomed and engaged? Share that roadmap and let the new joiner say how it feels to them, like City & Guilds do here.

A personal welcome – the welcome that line managers, buddies and teams give has a huge impact on new joiners’ well-being. This is the strongest signal of whether they will fit in and flourish. Are you training and preparing your wider team to be welcoming and supportive?

A big fanfare – Barclays pushed the boat out with a high-end, high energy welcome animation. Make a big deal of onboarding to get learners buzzed and enthusiastic.

3. Tell your stories – true ones

One really empathetic step you can take in onboarding is to share the stories of the business. Not the pathé news reel of your great triumphs, but the real stories of how we do things. Honesty in those stories is the best onboarding policy. Share your disasters as well. Say what went wrong and most importantly, what you learned from them. Like this consulting firm did when they shared a true story of losing a big deal over a little detail:

If you do that, you’re telling the true stories of the business and revealing the most important C word in onboarding: not compliance, not corporate structure, not even culture, but that more rare bird: character. And isn’t that what you want people to get from onboarding – what’s the character of the business?

4. Remember what it’s like - ask people who can remember

We all had our first day in a new job. We all remember it because it’s packed with emotion. So put yourself in the shoes of the new joiner. That’s the textbook definition of empathy. Anticipate the hopes, fears and needs and cater for them. A simple act of compiling all of the questions you think they will have, and sharing all the answers, can go a lot further than a classroom session that assumes the new joiner just wants to listen.

Your recent new joiners are a great asset here. Find the people that have been through the onboarding process in the last 6 months. What do they know now, that they wish they’d known in week 1? What did people tell them in week 1 that still hasn’t come up in practice 6 months later? Doing this regularly will help fine tune your onboarding and keep the content honest and relevant.

5. Make it personal

Not everyone’s onboarding should be the same. Where you are in the business – front line or not, in Europe or not, in this division or that one – this all influences what’s relevant. Making people do irrelevant things is the anti-empathy. So do what you can to personalise it, through diagnostics, role selection or other relatively simple design steps that help to make the experience more focused and more empathetic to the individual’s needs and experience.

Take it further

Download our guide, Onboarding for results - it takes these points further and shares a whole new way to think about onboarding.

Have some ideas on how to get more empathy into your onboarding? Share with us using the comments box below.



Shaping the future of learning

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