Unlike traditional onboarding, which is often seen as an HR or administrative check-the-box task, adaptive onboarding is designed to meet the specific needs of individual employees. This personalized approach to onboarding can better engage, shape and retain new talent.

In this episode of The Business of Learning, Melissa White, director of business operations at The Kool Source, and Nina Redding, senior learning resource consultant at Alberta Motor Association, share their insights on:

  • Common challenges L&D professionals face when it comes to training new employees.
  • How adaptive onboarding can help overcome those challenges.
  • Tips for implementing adaptive onboarding to fill skills gaps in a digital economy.

Listen now:

The transcript for this episode follows.

Sarah:
Hello and welcome to the Business of Learning, the learning leader’s podcast from trainingindustry.com. I’m Sarah Gallo, associate editor here at Training Industry. This episode of the Business of Learning is sponsored by the Certified Professional and Training Management Program. Although my co-host, Taryn Oesch, won’t be able to join us for today’s episode, I’m excited to discuss a topic that’s become increasingly prominent in the L&D space: adaptive onboarding. Unlike traditional onboarding, which is often seen as an HR or administrative check-the-box task, adaptive onboarding is designed to meet the specific needs of individual employees. This personalized approach to onboarding can better engage, shape and retain new talent. To discuss adaptive onboarding today, I’m speaking with Melissa White, Director of Business Operations at The Kool Source and Nina Redding, Senior Learning Resource Consultant at Alberta Motor Association. Melissa, Nina, welcome.

Melissa:
Hi. Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here. Thank you.

Nina:
Hello. Thank you. This is Nina. Thank you for asking me to join.

Sarah:
So, to start, what are some common challenges L&D professionals face when onboarding new employees? Melissa, why don’t we start with you?

Melissa:
Sure. Some of the common challenges when onboarding … one is to make sure that you properly convey the culture of your company in a way that’s exciting and impactful so that that new hire, the new employee, feels that they’ve made a good decision. So essentially that onboarding period is reaffirming their decision. So, you do some pre-boarding to get them all excited, between the offer and then the first day starting, whether that’s sharing newsletters with them or just maybe [sharing] some pieces on culture or social media posts and even announcing that they’re with your company. Those things all affirm that they’ll be [happy to be] there. One of the challenges, though, is during onboarding: Are your expectations aligned? So companies, employers, HR directors, we all have this idea or definition that we’ve put on paper, hence a job description with roles and responsibilities of the employee. Well, that same employee has their own list of, sometimes expressed, but often times not fully expressed, a flushed out [list of] expectations of the role when they enter. The other challenge is, once those things have been clearly flushed out (hopefully within that 90 day period), it’s do you go back to meet again to align what, “Hey, is what I thought would happen” and “[This is] what truly happened?” Did the new employee feel a sense of alignment with our culture, our mission, vision and values? Did the company really see the benefit and the true fruit of who the person said they were on paper and in the interview? Are they seeing those traits, characteristics and their duties fully executed? Are they seeing a level of excitement and them assimilating within to the culture? One other challenge I’ll mention is it’s a tricky thing. Even before we get to the adaptive piece, is somehow during the onboarding, some of the very traits and knowledge base or characteristics of the people we hire, if we’re not careful [and] if the culture is so strong in your organization, if the person doesn’t align they may assimilate to a point where they can’t be themselves. Some of the innovation, the creativity [new hires have], does your culture at your company nurture that or does it wash it away during the onboarding and you lose the essence of the person you hired? So those are just some of the basic things to consider and the challenges of onboarding.

Sarah:
Definitely. And Nina, do you have anything to add?

Nina:
Well, I agree with Melissa and everything that she said. Absolutely, ensuring that the culture and the personality of the new hire can match right is difficult. And yet, what we make sure our onboarding aspires to hit. I think one of the biggest challenges we have is after we do an orientation day and after that day, which does exactly what Melissa talked about in affirming that the new hire made the right decision coming [to the organization] and they are aligned, is when they join their business unit, the trick is to ensure that the culture is truly conveyed throughout [their time at the organization]. They’re so excited to get a new position that often they can be [too] overwhelmed on that first day there [to] hit the ground running. And that is really important, to temper with the right amount of information [to give new employees] so that they feel successful in their new role. Likewise, one of the other challenges can be that you are so worried about overwhelming them, that you onboard them at a snail’s pace so that they really feel like they’re doing menial tasks. It’s a really delicate balance and there’s a lot of work to be done to help ensure that transition is just balanced.

Sarah:
Yeah, for sure. And how do you define adaptive onboarding, and how can it help overcome those challenges we mentioned? Nina, why don’t you start with this one?

Nina:
So, adaptive onboarding for me means that, in a world where data is king, that you’re able to use the data through complex programming that can customize training for the new hire so that rather than onboarding them and teaching them everything under the sun that they need to know about their new role, that you can find out what they already know and expedite your onboarding because the gaps will appear and you can target more of your training.

Sarah:
Definitely. Melissa, do you have anything to add?

Melissa:
Yeah, Nina did a great job explaining that from the corporate perspective. I think [how] we’re looking at adaptive onboarding by definition and benefits for the employee is that the adaptive piece not only allows you to collect data as she said, but also [begs the question] “How do you use that data to now differentiate?” So it’s using the adaptive capability and the technology to adjust the learning path, whether it’s through e-learning or instructor-led learning, so that you are now using differentiated methods when presenting the corporate career path as well as how you share information. Being adaptive is also determining what type of learner your employee would be and then how to then now share the company information, whether that’s processes and procedures, whether that’s the culture piece or any facet of their job and roles and responsibilities, [and ensuring] that you’re giving it in such a way that, as Nina said, I like the use of the word “expedite.” It not only expedites the [onboarding] process for the company, but it expedites the learning path and makes that employee feel successful in their learning journey.

Sarah:
Yeah, and by now we know that onboarding is critical in terms of talent retention. And with that in mind, how can adaptive onboarding better serve these new employees and help set them up for success within the organization?

Melissa:
I think I’ll take that one. So interestingly enough, Sarah, only about 12% of employees really feel their organizations do well at onboarding. And then what I’ve also recently found out is that, whereas we traditionally look at onboarding as a 90 day period, most companies are not consistent in [maintaining] that onboarding period anything beyond a week. So the unfortunate piece of that is, if we’re not careful, employees are deciding within the first few days — probably even day one — if they want to stay. We can’t forget as companies that the onboarding is just as much for the employee as it is for us as protecting the investment we’ve made in our recruiting efforts. But the retention piece is really solidifying or jelling [the idea that] that our values align with the values of the employee. And I think ultimately, if the values are aligned and all the other tools and support are there, the employees stay because they feel a sense of belonging and a sense of connectivity to the organization.

Sarah:
Definitely. Nina, do you have anything to add onto that?

Nina:
Yes, I like how Melissa has put that forward. It’s … I think that with our onboarding, we even look beyond the 90 days. We view it as a six month [timeframe] as the critical period where you can lose a new hire. So, all along the way, there needs to be connectivity and touch points with the new employee so that they are helped along on their journey as they stay. And making sure, exactly, that they are suited for the [organizational] culture, [that] they like it here [and] they feel they can be valued and successful. And I think the type of learning that happens is there’s the variety of learning so that they can be engaged themselves. We’re trying to add a lot of self-directed learning so that they can learn when they want, how they want.

Nina:
And that’s one of the new things that we’re really working with. We also do what we call is a “stay interview.” We do it, rather than doing an exit interview, we want people to stay because exactly as Melissa said, you spend all this investment in wooing in somebody to come to your company. So don’t just forget them. So [do] the check-ins with them to ensure that they are being successful and that involves coaching from managers. It involves setting rapport with managers. But also we have an HR stay interview where we just find out how things are going, what’s good [and] what could be improved, so that we can help them rather than have them get frustrated and just leave.

Sarah:
Definitely. And going off of that, we know that the skills gap is a growing challenge for organizations across multiple industries. How do you think that adaptive onboarding can help close those skills gaps within an organization?

Melissa:
In relation to the skills gaps, first you have to identify that employee’s strengths and do they align the areas where you have gaps? And I think the adaptive learning process aids in that. Another way that you can identify gaps is even in terms of collaborative work within groups. One thing that I’ve seen [that] does successfully, even within our own organization, along with personality testing during that onboarding period, but doing it in a fun way to figure out who are people in your organization that are like learners. To group them in situations where it’s not so much like communicators but like learners, where they pair well for a buddy or peer program during the onboarding process, that can identify a gap in collaboration and to help solve that issue. Another way to do that is not only through those touch points. Oftentimes, a new hire will see gaps in the organization that you don’t. Oftentimes we’re so close to the situation, so give them the opportunity [to share their ideas]. What we do here internally is a one week check-in, then [after] two weeks, and then [after] 30 days, and then on from there. And for example, at the 30 day check-in, that gives them enough time to learn the things that work well. They have gone through the processes and procedure with a very clear, unbiased perspective now. We have to give them a platform to express it. And so adaptive learning in conjunction and paired with touch points that we keep our schedule on, whether it’s a calendar reminder and even sometimes doing it so we’re away from the office so that it’s a neutral ground and they feel comfortable sharing that feedback, is really important. But use that feedback from someone who’s a new hire who is still assimilating to your organization and give them a platform, a springboard to share the gaps that they see and empower them to include their ideas.

Sarah:
For sure. And Nina, do you want to add onto that?

Nina:
Yes. I really like the social learning aspect of the adaptive learning that Melissa was talking about, especially the collaborative efforts of the groups of people. We also add to that in all those checkpoints that Melissa was speaking about. We also have personalized touch points with coaching and so we call it an on three or a one on one that you would have with your supervisor or manager. But they happen frequently and they are always scheduled. There’s an email reminder, and you never waiver from that because that time with the new hire is valued. You never want them to feel that they’re not valued because another meeting impedes it. So we set up these sessions and they’re roughly a half an hour or so, [so] that they build rapport between the supervisor and the new hire, but also the new hire then speaks [to their experience]. They[can] speak about gaps and what are obstacles people are having themselves [or] having trouble coming over, or what do they see [that] could work better on the team? Just like soliciting that feedback that Melissa is talking about. And it creates this wonderful environment early [on] for a rapport and discussion to build, and to [let] people truly be heard. So, it’s just another format [to] adapt to besides the social learning aspects.

Sarah:
Oh yeah. I think that is so important. And when looking at the skills gap, how can L&D professionals actually determine where they exist among new employees?

Melissa:
I think one of the primary ways to do that is when we talk about adaptive onboarding, to me, the technology is critical. Having some type of dashboard or leaderboard or somewhere to house that data [is important]. It’s one thing to collect the data, and that’s how you’re using the platform. Now, once you collect the data, [the next step] is for L&D professionals to really sit with the data and look for where there’s discrepancies or things that don’t match their processes. You have to have some type of benchmark or KPI to say, for example, they want employees to adopt a new technology within a six month period fully with roll outs. Well, a part of that is essentially onboarding them to the products, new hires and existing ones to get perspective, and then looking for the lag time in adopting that policy or that new technology. You have to have somewhere, some learning management system that houses this information and then reporting, really reviewing that. And quite honestly, as much as the proponent is [focused]at technology, I’ll never get away from humanizing that process of identifying skills gaps. As leaders, we have to personally challenge ourselves to sit with the process, to sit with those whose daily job is to implement that process and to look for the pain points. Where do they get stuck? And I know that sounds very industrious to say, “Hey, look for that,” almost like an assembly line, but it is. Whatever your business is, there is an assembly line or a process to how you roll out the product or service you offer. So stick with those who are charged with the task of completing A to Z for your business. That is a part of onboarding, and even when we talk about cross onboarding. As you have your new hire learn and train, have them sit with other team members and observe a true observation, not them giving feedback, but looking and notating what were the glitches they saw, what were the things that they didn’t understand that may not have properly been covered in your e-learning module that you need to go back and identify. But having cross training, sitting with your team members, boots on the ground, and identifying where the lag is in your processes and then assessing that through your data [is critical].

Sarah:
For sure. And Nina, do you have any thoughts?

Nina:
Yeah, there’s a lot involved with it and there’s a lot of reporting done nowadays, absolutely. And I think our process is really one that works with blended learning. So, we will have both an online learning [component] and then exactly a coaching session so that they can, as Melissa was talking about, they absolutely need to observe, in our case, a customer interaction. And then, [they need] to really identify what works well and then they have to practice themselves. And what we’re instigating is a practice session that we would observe and work with them on a scenario in a sense. And then you help coach them as they start with the public. And it’s this sort of balance that we talked about, of landing all of these ways, the types of learning that one can do, both e-learning, social learning, [learning] by doing scenarios, and working and coaching with others and observation, that really give people all the chances to learn the best way for them and be successful.

Sarah:
Yeah, definitely. And going off that, we know that closing skills gaps from the beginning is just so important, but do we think that there’s any industries that may benefit more from adaptive onboarding than others? And why do you think that is?

Melissa:
I’ll let Nina take that one. I’m thinking through that from an industry perspective.

Sarah:
Alright. Nina, do you have any thoughts?

Nina:

I really had the same thought. I was surprised by that question and I thought about it and thought, I don’t know that there’s really a bad industry for adaptive onboarding. I think from small to large companies, you can do it, but I think it’s the way in which you choose to be adaptive. Not all companies have a budget to support a huge logarithmic system that would be able to analyze everybody’s data and figure out what they need to learn and what they’re good at. I think other ways of doing it are exactly what Melissa and I have been talking about. When you get people together in groups and start talking and they expose their ideas, and when you observe and coach, that you can see some of the gaps. So I think there’s ways to adapt for any business out there just with the budget that you have. I don’t know Melissa, how would you [describe it]?

Melissa:
So it’s interesting, I’m glad you shared your points on [the idea that] any industry can benefit [from adaptive onboarding]. And quite honestly, although I’ve spent majority of my career as a sales and marketing director and then shifting to operations, I think the only way I was really even successful in that shift in my career was because I sat in the seat of those I’ve trained for so long. And I think there has to… we have to be open minded as industries to learn and look outside of our own vertical to others’ [expertise]. And there was a period of time that I actually did some consulting. I worked with early childhood educators, with teachers, K-12 teachers. And it’s no particular bias or anything, but I just had the opportunity to really sit and see how teachers do classroom management and adaptive learning and differentiation. And I think if you can do it at the most core elementary level, and this is teachers who had to do it for years without technology, without necessarily advanced learning management systems. They learned the psychology of how to manage a classroom, manage behaviors, while still teaching a lesson in a differentiated way if they have early readers or if they have more advanced readers and things of that nature. And when I looked at someone doing that in its most simplest form, I said, “If you can do that on an elementary level, we certainly can make it applicable to large industries as long as we get the fundamentals.” So I think the fundamentals really come from observation, listening, documentation and repetition. If we do that … and that’s what I saw every teacher do in that period of me learning from them. They consistently, with every period of me learning from them, they consistently with every child at the beginning of the school year, whether it was during the report card period, they report it back to parents, they report it to their administrators. So I think when we see it done really well somewhere that we can draw from that, and that’s the best example I can reference.

Sarah:
Very cool. And lastly, how do we think that adaptive onboarding can benefit organizations in the constantly changing digital economy?

Melissa:
I think that, you know, [going] back to one of my very honestly disheartening statistics in the beginning [of this episode] is, not very many organizations do onboarding well enough, and those who are willing to take on adaptive onboarding, it would be honestly very vanguard, and I mean [those] being really consistent at it. It is a tremendous value add, not just because of the money that’s spent on recruiting, but the way I look at adaptive onboarding, now that I’ve seen it done successfully in our organization and others, it’s an insurance policy. It’s an insurance of the money and investment spent on recruiting, but it’s [also] an assurance that your team actually feels like they are a part of the organization from their knowledge base and the culture of the company. So, I think it’s going to catch on as long as we continue to provide tools and resources to help do it. It’s really going to come down to companies making a long-term commitment [to adaptive onboarding]. It’s a long game. It will not be a short fix to a recruiting and retention problem, and you have to be willing to commit to it fully and use the technology at hand.

Sarah:
Nina?

Nina:
Thank you. To add to that, which it’s true, it’s a long game for certain. And I think that what we’ve done and really worked at for many years, starting with how you attract people through the whole onboarding piece, the whole six months and beyond, is constantly changing in this world. And despite the digital changes, it’s something you constantly have to monitor and upgrade and upkeep. We had started with, we called it, a career portal. It was the entry access for all new hires to look at the possibility of their fit [in the organization], right? Could their values, could their skills be honored in a position here. And it was really, really remarkable technology and the web, and how we had created it to attract people, how we wrote it. And it’s constantly changing because you have to, because the world is changing. The way people are being recruited is changing and how people look for positions is changing. And so, for HR and learning professionals, in a way, it’s positive because there’s always something for us to be doing to keep evaluating and updating all that we’re doing to attract and onboard people. And onboarding is key to how your new hires, your new employees, will stay in this day and age, right? They tend to, with the multigenerational workforce [especially], we have [found that] some of our younger demographic is ready to leave in two to three years and it’s really [costly]. We have to continue adapting as well to continue to keep them engaged to beyond the normal six months to a year [period]. And it’s just [a matter of] constant, constant upgrading and analyzing, and seeing what’s new and more attractive. What’s a better app for getting all your HR paperwork out there, then with the old style of doing it? And what’s a better way to do learning? Is it social together hashtags [or] people working together? Is it a video learning on their own? Is it experiential learning? And we blend all of those just to keep people learning, and something will cater to a learning style that somebody has. It’s a lot of work.

Sarah:
Alright, well, Melissa of the Kool Source and Nina of Alberta Motor Association. Thank you both so much for speaking with us today.

Melissa:
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

Nina:
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it. Have a good day.

Sarah:
And as always, you can find resources we mentioned in this episode in the show notes at trainingindustry.com/trainingindustrypodcast. And of course, if you’re enjoying this podcast, we do encourage you to rate it and leave a review on your podcast app to help other learning leaders find us. Until next time.

Share