L&D Best Practices: Strategies for Success (March/April 2017)

Training magazine taps 2017 Training Top 125 winners and Top 10 Hall of Famers to provide their learning and development best practices in each issue. Here, we look at Mariner Finance's onboarding strategy.

An effective onboarding program is one of the most important training experiences for a new employee. To be as effective as possible, an onboarding program must be rooted in a company’s culture, communicating what is important to the organization and providing an employee the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful. Thoughtfully considered and properly benchmarked, an onboarding program prepares new employees for success by supplying them with the tools, resources, and information needed to understand the technical aspects of their role, as well as how to effectively use those aspects to support business goals.

If done correctly, businesses can expect to see an increase in employee morale, application of the company culture, decreased time to proficiency, and decreased turnover. In fact, according to the Human Capital Institute, 10 percent of new hires decide whether to stay or leave an organization within the first six months of joining. As such, starting off on the right foot is pivotal to both new hires and the business.

Mariner Finance’s Learning and Development Department analyzed these factors, evaluated/marked existing performance, queried internal talent, and revamped its onboarding program to include these elements in order to better assist new employees with integration into the culture of the company while developing the skills needed to be successful. The results have been stellar. Through a carefully crafted onboarding experience:

  • Total onboarding time decreased by 80 percent.

  • The onboarding curriculum increased to a rating of 4.5 out of 5.0.

  • Turnover in the first 90 days decreased substantially.

  • Thousands of hours of administrative tracking were eliminated.

Program Elements

Several factors must be considered when evaluating or designing an effective onboarding program. Some of the most critical are:

1. Instill culture transfer at multiple levels. Culture, first and foremost, should be the centerpiece of an onboarding program. Organizational culture is unique to every company, and for new employees to be successful and achieve a sense of belonging, they must understand the organization’s history, what sets the company apart from others, and the mission and vision statements. When new employees feel they are part of a group, and achieve a sense of belonging, they have more drive to make meaningful contributions. Within the first week, a new employee will learn what it means to be an integral member of Mariner Finance and how his or her individual contributions play into the overall success of the company.

2. Build an onboarding program using a blended learning approach. Incorporating a blended learning approach for onboarding is one of the most crucial components for the learner. A blended learning approach ensures that the learner is constantly engaged via the use of various delivery methods, including guided social learning, which drives both documented and undocumented skill development and culture discussions. The continuous change in the media and medium of content delivery keeps the new hire engaged and the development fun. This allows the learner a break from a single modality (i.e., only e-learning). Additionally, using a blended learning approach can have the benefit of engaging learners in their preferred learning style.

The degree of blended delivery varies depending on type of content, organizational need, and opportunity. Mariner Finance’s onboarding program consists of four components. The first two components are simulation-based e-learning in which a new employee has an opportunity to hear, watch, and practice interactions with software that is utilized daily (simulation-based learning in a “safe” environment). This interaction builds both confidence and speed. Additionally, these components include built-in activities that allow the learner to watch “live” demonstrations, as well as review company policy and procedures.

The other two components of Mariner Finance’s onboarding program revolve around and emphasize social learning and networking. During these two components, new hires are steered through an open-ended transmission of Mariner Finance culture via guided interactions, activities, and discussions with their direct and indirect supervisors.

3. Include the right elements within the onboarding program. An effective onboarding program should be succinct and possess a structured content progression, meaning specific components are learned prior to others to ensure maximum understanding and recall. For example, an effective onboarding program should teach the basic skills needed to be successful (doing), then the next-level skills (thinking), not teach the basics and then jump right into shortcuts. Another factor that must be considered is how each section of the program builds upon previously learned skill sets. Mariner Finance’s onboarding program seamlessly breaks up these components so they complement each other at various stages within the program. This can be seen as all components in a section building on the previous ones with more detail and becoming more experiential.

4. Determine how learning is going to be built, tracked, validated, and deployed. An effective onboarding program is fundamental in retaining and engaging new employees at an organization. How it will be deployed, tracked, and validated is essential to the success and longevity of the program. All three components need to be carefully created simultaneously, helping to ensure the onboarding program does not stagnate (reporting and validating key performance indicators or KPIs). As businesses grow, new technologies are integrated and policies and procedures are updated, so an onboarding program needs to be constantly evaluated to ensure it’s current and adequately preparing new employees. We use a modified Agile/ADDIE design approach that allows for easy updates.

While there are many ways to capture delivery and completion metrics (tracking, validation, and deployment), Mariner Finance found it easiest to do so by integrating a learning management system (LMS) that allows for seamless tracking and instant training validation (via advanced analytics), and serves as an onboarding delivery vehicle.

5. Be prepared to be flexible. An essential point of an effective onboarding program involves constant review of the effectiveness of the content and of how training is consumed and finally applied. Using an LMS, you can both easily identify training trends (i.e., where new employees are spending the most time, what questions they are answering wrong, etc.) and validate effectiveness of an employee’s performance by cross-validating the employee’s impact to the business (this can be calculated by determining pre-/post-qualitative data, whether sales related, output related, and more).

Reap the Benefits

An onboarding program serves as an introduction for new employees to the organizational culture, what is expected of them, and what they will be doing. And it provides them with the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful in their new organization and role. It’s important to get it right, to set the proper tone, and to lay a foundation for success with all new hires. By spending the time to create an effective onboarding program and keep it updated, employers can expect to reap the following benefits:

  • Retaining top talent (therefore, lowering turnover and recruitment costs)
  • Engaging employees early on
  • Reducing employee stress
  • Boosting employee morale and performance by promoting communication between employees and their managers from the very beginning of their new career

The next time you review your onboarding program, ask yourself whether or not you think it adequately conveys your organizational culture and will prepare your newest employees to conduct their essential duties. Remember, onboarding is about the whole person, not just skill development.

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