Modern jobs are filled with a remarkable amount of tasks which take many individual skills to accomplish. Each task can have unique tools and processes required to complete. Some standard, some not. Onboarding is almost wholly inadequate. As organizations, we are burning remarkable amounts of capital, due to poor employee onboarding.
The Fire Barrel
New-hire onboarding is a fire-barrel in which you are burning more money than you likely comprehend.
Here are just a few stats for those of you who like to see supporting data:
53% of HR Professionals Surveyed believe their companies onboarding program is ineffective in retaining new hires.
The Wynhurst Group found that 22% of turnover happens within the first 45 days of employement.
Bamboo HR identified 33% of surveyed employees quit a job within 6 months.
These numbers are remarkable when you consider the amount of time, energy and resources that finding new team members requires. Add-on the investment from team members in onboarding these team members through their first days, weeks and months.
But, don’t let these numbers guide your thinking, consider your own experiences. How has your onboarding affected your perception of your new company across your career? What differences do you identify when you see good onboarding versus poor onboarding?
I suspect across your organization right now, you can identify areas of the business where onboarding is more effective than others. Team members working within a particular group are likely more engaged than those found in another, and I suggest that you may find this has much to do about onboarding.
Consider some of the phrases we hear bandied about in many organization as if proud monikers.
“Drinking from the Firehose”
“Thrown in the Deepend”
“Sink or Swim”
The Task at Hand
Consider any of the functional roles within your organization, and just in your mind make a mental checklist of all of the things that an individual coming into the role has to know to be able to do their work at an elite level. Yes, elite level.
Review recent job posting on LinkedIn or corporate hiring pages and look at the job skills requirements list. We of course make the assumption that an individual is hired against those skillsets, so let’s call that the base line.
From here, they must learn to translate all of those functional job skills into our organizations way of work. To do that they need to understand our products, our processes, our policies, but lastly and often most critically, our people. The Four P’s strike again.
Breaking down The Four P’s into individual learnings is exhausting, no matter what organization or role. I’ve done this in a number of companies now, and it’s often overwhelming to consider.
The Neverending Story
Not only is this book one of my all time favourites, but I also believe it is a poignant way to describe how I view onboarding. That is, onboarding is a continuous journey that begins before an employees first day, and continues throughout their tenure with an organization as part of their employee journey.
Firms that get this part right, do not only orchestrate their new-hire training programs in this manner, but they also architect their role mapping in this nature as well. Entry-level positions all the way up through to senior leadership is a continuous pathway of learning.
Yes, of course we need to hire mid-level or senior positions externally from time-to-time, so this is not always possible, but recognizing this step-through journey allows us to recognize the critical requirements for those jobs versus ones we are particularly tuned to train for.
Even senior leaders need onboarding, and their onboarding experience is highly relevant to their job performance and satisfaction.
Digging through Sand
How is it that Learning & Development is one of the last functions that an organization invests in? Just look at the make-up of many early-stage or mid-stage organizations. How many have a dedicated L&D team, or even an individual for that manner? How many have someone with the title ‘Trainer’?
I am going to drop a truth-bomb here, and I hope it’s not too unsettling, but here I go. Most of your Team-Leads, Managers, and Leaders are not learning and development experts. In fact, most have never invested much of their time and energy in this particular skillset. They are often high-performers in their functional roles, meaning they are capable of coaching individuals in the role, but often have no idea how to get an individual from Day 1 through to Role-Ready.
Yet, we task our front-line managers with developing the onboarding plans, and executing against them…oh, and at the same time supporting their current team and all the responsibilities that come with that. It’s like digging through sand, every shovel in one direction means the collapse of the surrounding areas of the hole. Most front-line leaders dread new hires, because it means they’re going to be buried and have to find a way to dig themselves out.
A Path Forward
So what, right? This is likely a known-known to most, and not surprising, so what?
Consider a Dedicated L&D Team Member
First and foremost, consider hiring a dedicated L&D team member early in your organizations pathway, or bring in an external consultant to help define the critical path to having an employee group be role-ready. This investment has the opportunity to fundamentally change your organization or ensure early performance, higher employee satisfaction and less turnover.
A strategy I’ve always tried to deploy was ‘chunk learning’ bare with me while I provide the definition:
“Learning by chunking is an active learning strategy characterized by chunking, which is defined as cognitive processing that recodes information into meaningful groups, called chunks, to increase learning efficiency or capacity.”
Ask these simple questions to start:
What do I need this employee to be capable of doing by the end of:
Do the EXACT same exercise but this time change the question to, ‘What do I want this employee to be experiencing by the end of:”
Find Safe Value Milestones
Find me an employee that doesn’t want to contribute as quickly as possible so they feel like the work they are doing is providing value to the organization and I will show you an employee who should not be in your organization. There aren’t many. It is our nature, to want to take pride in our work and have the opportunity to showcase our skills and abilities.
As leaders, we have a responsibility to set-up our team members for success and so it is critical that we provide them with opportunities to show their value, this also gives us an opportunity to understand what kind of team member we have and we can adapt our training as needed.
What is a task, that a team member can do, that brings value to the company but does not have risk to the organization if things go wrong.
An example in Sales: Build a prospect list.
An example in Customer Success: Write a buyer persona document.
These are two things that help the team member show they are understanding the learning, these tasks will help them in their role moving forward, and these are projects that they can take what they’ve learned and apply it immediately. Selfishly as a leader, these are tasks that can move the team member out of the classroom, which means I have time to do my work for a window of time.
Map these milestones to your chronological capability and experience expectations.
Bring it all Together
Now that you have your chronological map of capabilities, experience and value milestones. Walk it backwards to chunk your training.
Here is an example:
By the end of Week 1, I want the team member to feel comfortable in their environment. They should be excited about the path they are on (see article here for strategies). The goal here is to prime the mind for learning by eliminating the environmental cognitive overload that comes with feeling ‘safe’ in a new environment.
They have all their logins and can navigate the tools necessary for only week 2 tasks.
If you’re not having them sell end-to-end in week 2, do they really need a half-day session on your sales process and Salesforce administration at this point? No. They don’t, message me on LinkedIn if you want to debate this.
They understand the cultural of our business, not only from the classroom but through experiences we have crafted for them.
By the end of Week 2, I want the team member to understand what we do and who we do it for.
Here the focus is not on full product deep dives and technical understanding. I don’t need them to be able to demo. I need them to understand what value do we bring, to what market, and who in that market do we communicate with.
Set your team members up for success, less the burden of employee churn on your organization. Invest up front in Learning and Development, even if this means you have to invest in teaching your front-line managers this critical skill set.