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The Anatomy Of Great Onboarding eLearning

Onboarding is the first impression your company makes on a new employee and can have a huge impact on staff retention. With such high stakes - it is important to get it right. In this post I look at the most important aspects of onboarding and share our 4 part framework for creating great onboarding elearning.
The Anatomy of Great Onboarding eLearning

The Great Onboarding eLearning

So here's the standard onboarding drill for most new starters;

They are given the employee handbook, a few slides with lists of bullet points and a site plan.

They then spend the next three to six months – (if they stay!) - gathering knowledge through observing co-workers, who themselves may have incomplete information.

In general the results are not good - and the time and energy spent by everyone involved carries an obvious cost for the organization.

In fact, the statistics are incredible - it has been estimated that as many as 1 in 3 people leave their organization within the first year, either voluntarily or involuntarily (Wynhurst Group 2007, SHRM Presentation) and that 22% of staff turnover happens within the first 6 weeks of staff joining.

So what's the answer? Surely there must be a better way to do onboarding?

So, what is Onboarding exactly?

Notice I say “onboarding”, not “orientation”. Onboarding is a process that takes place over time, while orientation is usually a one-time event (often a forgettable first day in a one-sided face-to-face or web event). Onboarding flips the usual concept of orienting a new starter by giving them easy access to information when they need it, rather than waiting for someone to have a spare moment. And let’s face it, that spare moment may never happen!

Why onboard effectively?

Why not? If 1 in 3 people are leaving within the first 12 months, one major reason for investing in formal onboarding is surely to improve retention. The cost to an organization of losing an employee within the first 12 months can be as high as three times their salary cost. According to PWC, that’s around £42bn in UK industry alone.

But there are other drivers, for instance;

  • employee engagement
  • getting people excited to be in the organization
  • demonstrating the relevance to them of being there

During work with a major UK banking group, early research unearthed that a key driver for the business was to increase the speed to competency of new starters. Other drivers commonly unearthed include compliance and safeguarding.

But onboarding is a two way street.

Sure, as eLearning designers we need to be working with our clients’ business needs, but let’s not forget the employee in this.

An informal, unstructured and unscheduled process results in wasted time (ergo money) for the business, but also results in employee dissatisfaction.

That’s why effective onboarding needs to be a formal and well-developed program.

Onboarding is the first impression your company makes on a new employee, and needs to address;

  • company strategy
  • performance review process
  • development track
  • and the company culture

All the usual questions that are all on the minds of new starters. A good program will attempt to find out what employees think about the company (restaurants survey their customers all the time).

From what this unearths, build a program that is relevant to the needs of new starters and makes them feel welcome and valued.

So what does good Onboarding eLearning look like?

A great onboarding eLearning program will want to cover the following 4 part framework:

1. Membership

Promoting a sense of belonging. Most of us are familiar with the phrase “Winning hearts and minds’, and this is essential in onboarding, helping ensure new starters feel part of the organization as soon as - or even better, before - they set foot in the door.

How can eLearning achieve this?

  • Welcome messages from key folk – this can be done with short videos.
  • Interactive timeline of the organization’s key moments, highlighting achievements and focusing on the strengths and what makes it a great place to work.

2. Culture and values

Create a positive attitude that makes them proud to work for you. The onboarding program needs a strong brand, an identity that is in keeping with the company culture and helps new starters experience early on what it’s like to work here. Brand – give it personality, visual or emotional e.g. a branded story that people can connect with, make it a talking point between people.

How can eLearning achieve this?

  • Case studies representing a variety of ‘stories’ about the organization, what its customers think of it and what other employees think about being part of it.
  • Short vox-pop style videos or podcasts of employees in different roles talking about the organization, their roles and their achievements in the organization

3. Behaviours

Be clear on expected behaviors. Make it outcomes-focused and practice-oriented (as close to what the person will do in their day-to-day role) designed with key competencies and with practice tasks, not abstract or theoretical e.g. fully simulated tasks chunked up into manageable steps and practiced in ‘walled garden’ environment so people can make mistakes safely, practice as much they need and learn from and build on mistakes and stages.

How can eLearning achieve this?

  • Simulations and interactive practice activities so new starters can get to grips with processes and specific tools they’ll be using in their day-to-day work e.g. software simulations
  • Scenarios are great ways to demonstrate soft skills needed. These can be done in humorous ways whilst retaining relevance and technical or procedure detail through great scripting and visuals.

4. Performance support

Provide real practice in real contexts to help reduce the time to competency. Great companies integrate their onboarding program into their whole talent management process and continue support as new starters move into role. Make it relevant and personal not mandatory – give people different tracts through according to needs.

How can eLearning achieve this?

  • Just in time bite sized and job specific tools, e.g. an learning nugget, built on a responsive framework which can be loaded on any device, such as sales tips on a new sales rep’s mobile phone which is available just before going into the first client meeting.

What else to consider?

Online polls, quizzes and competitions can be developed for all of the categories above and provide great ways to engage staff and help them monitor their own journeys, with scores and feedback providing guidance on how well they are doing, and what else they need to cover.

However, whilst there is a lot to consider, creating great onboarding eLearning doesn't have to be hard. At Elucidat we've tried to take the pain out of authoring high quality onboarding eLearning.

Good onboarding takes account of different learner preferences, such as where, when and how learners can access it, and takes advantage of BOYD by making the design responsive to multiple devices; understands that learners can be located in different offices, different countries or may be home-based; and provides easy to use tools for the people who know to take control of the design and development of the training.

And finally...

All good onboarding eLearning needs to be fresh and relevant, and that means updating and refreshing the course regularly, so making sure the process is as easy and efficient as possible will help ensure onboarding is always a good experience for everyone involved.

So what do you think? What else should go into great onboarding eLearning?

Let me know in the comments below. I'd love to hear.

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