Effective onboarding builds on new employees’ enthusiasm by introducing them to the organization’s culture, people, processes and technologies (and, of course, helping them complete the requisite benefit forms). Depending on the organization and the role, a new employee can spend a few days, weeks or months in the onboarding process. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a comprehensive onboarding program can last up to 12 months.

When thoughtfully designed, an onboarding process integrates and balances the goals of talent, training and business stakeholders. It engages the new employees; provides them with opportunities to acclimate to their new surroundings and role, find their footing, and build a positive bond with their peers and the organization; and prepares them to perform.

Organizational expectations and goals evolve. In typical circumstances, the evolution occurs at a reasonable and manageable pace while, in atypical circumstances, the shift can be bewilderingly fast. Competitor moves, market shifts or innovations push an organization through more or less predictable patterns while a global crisis can jumpstart the need to revisit, change and implement new organizational expectations and goals.

Never was this reality truer than in the last year, as we saw organizational leaders move quickly to reshape their operations to be partially or entirely virtual; adopt new technologies; and institute new practices to stay up and running, serve their customers, and keep everyone safe. The speed of their decision-making, changes in direction and adoption of new work practices is a clear indicator that, to meet changing needs, employee onboarding must be – from an organizational point of view – purposeful, flexible and fast.

The end-to-end onboarding process can involve everything from recruiting, interviewing, candidate selection, and making and negotiating an offer to pre-day 1 set-up, day 1 paperwork and on from there. Here, we’ll focus on the training component of the onboarding process and how training professionals can adjust onboarding training to meet the shifting needs of the organization.

How? Here are more than a dozen ideas to help you reinvigorate your onboarding training.

Identify, Clarify, Prioritize and Integrate Stakeholder Goals

Work with business and talent stakeholders to uncover their goals, the gaps they see and how they’ll measure success. Define the goals in their terms, and do what you can to address overlapping or conflicting goals. Working toward conflicting goals means training professionals — and, eventually, a new employee — are working at cross-purposes.

Establish a routine to meet and work with stakeholders to revisit the goals. The routine can be formal or informal based on organizational norms. To improve the odds that the onboarding training is appropriately synchronized with the organization, tie the frequency of those working sessions to the velocity of change in the organization. More change requires more check ins.

Clearly Define What “Finished” Means

According to the 2014 Aberdeen report “Welcome to the 21st Century, Onboarding!”, best-in-class organizations are at least twice as likely to have specific metrics measuring how onboarding impacts employee performance. Zeroing in on role-specific performance expectations and the knowledge and skills needed to be successful is important. For some organizations, it means changing the mindset from being time-centered toward being outcome-centered (where realistic practice and performance-based assessments can indicate a new employee’s readiness).

Include in your definition of “finished”:

    • The context of the work: For example, in a retail bank setting, where any type of customer can show up with any kind of transaction, protecting a new hire from some kinds of work can be nearly impossible. In other settings, you can match work to employee readiness and increase complexity and difficulty gradually.
    • The type (complexity and difficulty) of work outputs and work tasks the individual will be able to complete independently.
    • The type (complexity and difficulty) of work outputs and work tasks the individual will be able to complete with some help.
    • The type (complexity and difficulty) of work outputs the individual will not be able to complete.
    • The competency, knowledge and skill needed to meet defined work expectations.
    • The availability of support on the job (e.g., experienced people who can coach the new employee and clearly written, readily available resources).

Revisit the Capabilities of the Learning Ecosystem

The learning ecosystem is the backbone for training. Whatever its current state, it inhibits or enables a training team’s ability to meet the dynamic and changing needs of the organization. Does your ecosystem:

      • Support a shift to different modalities?
      • Support blended learning?
      • Have untapped or underused capabilities?

Rethink the Onboarding Content and How It’s Organized

    • Keeping the definition of “finished” in mind, ruthlessly scrutinize your existing onboarding content. Your bias should be to remove anything that is too advanced or is only a “nice to have” from the onboarding process.
    • Emphasize authentic practice that replicates real work (and that works within the learning ecosystem).
    • Consider what employees need to know or learn and what they can access while completing work tasks.
    • Engineer practice so that it builds from simple, low-complexity scenarios to difficult, higher-complexity scenarios.
    • Determine the number and type of scenarios that best reflect your definition of “finished.”

Rethink How You Deliver and Design Onboarding Content

Focus first on making solid, effective design decisions. Tie learning objectives to performance outcomes and engineer content flow, practice, feedback, and assessments to best fit the need. Then pick the modality that best suits the performance, the context, the content, the practice, and the audience. Get out of old patterns or comfort zones to select and use modalities to their fullest training benefit (and that simultaneously work well in the learning ecosystem).

Revisit Your Understanding of What the New Hire Brings to the Table

Determine whether you can group new hires into cohorts with common experiences and backgrounds. Then, determine whether those experiences and backgrounds could mean different paths (shorter or longer) through the onboarding training. In a retail bank setting, for example, high school graduates with no banking experience may be a cohort that you treat differently than a cohort of college students or a group of 40-somethings. Is there enough similarity within the group, and enough differences between groups, to warrant different training?

Additional Ideas to Consider

    • Create a visual roadmap for the onboarding process that will guide new hires from the moment they accept the offer through completion of onboarding. Create a well-thought-out checklist that the employees can refer to throughout the process, and include checkpoints to ensure that they stay on track.
    • Provide a single point of contact for questions during the onboarding period and a single place — a portal, perhaps — that employees can use to find the information and tools they need.
    • Prepare managers, peers and team members to support the training process. Assign a buddy or mentor to ensure that new employees have a “lifeline” if they have a question or want a peer perspective.
    • Avoid stringing together an endless series of virtual meetings. In addition to video and screen-sharing, use breakout rooms for small group meetings, and consider creating a cohort of new hires.
    • Cultivate and encourage personal connections with managers, team, peers and other new hires by planning or providing the space for informal gatherings (virtual or face to face).
    • Schedule the pace of onboarding training to allow for adequate breaks, reflection, questions and feedback.

To be effective, onboarding training be must purposeful, flexible and fast — and it must meet the needs of business, talent and training stakeholders (and, of course, the new employee). You can use the tips and ideas shared here alone or together to help you reach your goals.