We all learn on the job. With the constant flow of information available today, we are accustomed to using our smartphones as a learning tool in our time of need. When people are on their own time at home, this works great. If they want to take hours to replace the garage door opener by watching a variety of online tutorials rather than paying someone – they can. In business, it’s not so simple. There are costs and resources to be considered.

Many workplaces are practicing an informal approach to on-the-job training. Sit here, speak with this peer, watch them, do it yourself and figure it out. We would be lying if we said people can’t succeed in this environment. People do survive and build successful careers following this approach to onboarding.

The most alarming factor is what a company misses when they take this approach. With no formal plan or path to success, employees create their own definitions and perpetuate bad habits as they mentor new hires. Even experts who feel confident in their environment may have critical gaps in their knowledge base, and with an unstructured, on-the-job model, it is hard to identify these gaps until failure occurs. With the lack of consistency in this approach, your experts will pass on the same flaws to your new employees.

In this article, we break down five ways to achieve consistency in an on-the-job learning program, as well as measure its overall effectiveness.

  1. Gain Leadership Buy-In 

Your leadership needs to be on board. Without the layer of accountability that comes from your leadership teams, even the best designed programs will fail. To clarify, leadership refers to everyone from your executives down to your frontline managers. There needs to be an established culture around learning. Milista Anderson, senior vice president of learning solutions at FIS, says, “Managers should genuinely care about the development of the whole person and not just about their outputs.” If your boss asks you 10 times about your case work and never about your training or development, the silence says it all, and you prioritize accordingly. Many leaders fall into this habit – as they rush around putting out fires which causes them to think in the moment and not in the grand scheme.

To gain and maintain buy-in and engagement with your leadership teams, we suggest the following:

  • Communicate the expectations of the program to every level of leadership. Be clear about what it will do and what it won’t.
  • Build ways for them to be involved that are easy and effortless.
  • Ask for feedback.
  • Clarify what success looks like to them, and ask for data points.
  • Follow up. Be tactfully aggressive about your goal, and remind them it’s theirs, too.

Most leaders will state that – in today’s world – training staff is critical for retaining good employees and delivering an exceptional client experience. This doesn’t necessarily mean those same leaders will follow through with actions that support their statements about the importance of learning. This puts learning and development professionals in a tough spot. They can design a program without support, but what’s the point of building a playground if no one comes to play?  

  1. Add OJT as a Step in the New Hire Onboarding Program

Building structured on-the job-training opportunities within onboarding programs is a great way to gain buy-in. A big win for leadership with a program that involves on-the-job training is that the trainee is on the floor and doing work. When a new hire comes aboard, the team is typically handling more work than usual. How quickly a new employee can start carrying weight is in the forefront of most leaders’ minds.

The structural integrity of these opportunities is key. There must be structure not only around the task but who the new hire should be partnered with to complete it. To avoid a program that quickly devolves into the wild, wild, west, here are some elements to consider:

  • Define specific job functions the new hire is expected to fulfill after their initial training.
  • Map individual job functions to the learning content meant to build the skill.
  • Identify what your existing employees need to support your new hires in these sessions.
  • Ensure the existing staff will have the time and balance necessary to provide a positive experience during their time with the new hire.
  • Confirm the staff understands the expectations of the program.
  • Prioritize the most common tasks first to allow both the new hire and the team to see immediate productivity gained.
  • Design feedback loops from these sessions to improve the employee experience.

Understanding the environment and the workflow is critical to building the structure behind the program. If the training content is not relatable to the work, you will quickly lose buy-in from new hires and their employee trainers. Take your time with this step. Be certain the tasks targeted within your program are the most relevant to the role.

  1. Standardize Materials to Guide the Training and Ensure Consistency

People struggle with change, and your new hires are dealing with a lot of it. Materials to guide the training should be familiar and known. While the learner may be introduced to new topics every day, it shouldn’t feel like the first day all over again. Examples of these materials may include:

  • A welcome message.
  • Job specific handbooks outlining processes.
  • Manager and employee feedback forms.
  • Manager and employee checklists.
  • Evaluations.

Taking measures to make this process as simple as possible will go a long way in improving the clarity of your expected outcomes. It will also build the confidence new employees have in themselves to quickly become proficient in their jobs.

  1. Establish a Framework for Measuring Success

Measuring success can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. To excel in measurement, you must understand the business and its goals. It’s all fine and well to monitor attendance and assessment scores. Those metrics can give insight into whether people are making time for learning and on the effectiveness of the course immediately after the learning takes place. However, you need to dig deeper.

This is where leadership buy-in sets you up for success. Leadership must understand and define what makes a successful employee in their organization. What attributes do they admonish and celebrate? Once you’ve received clarity from the leadership team, you can begin prioritizing which are most important and monitor how new hires going through the program stack up against their peers at different intervals in their careers. To be successful here, you will need to invest time in interviewing stakeholders, as well as clearly defining and documenting the key performance indicators. 

  1. Develop an Ongoing Training Plan

After the initial onboarding period, learning should continue to be encouraged. The steps following on-the-job training require leadership to continuously emphasize professional development and foster a culture of learning. Employees should be actively engaged in identifying the skills they need. Creating a formal, on-the-job training program to kick off a new employee’s experience with your company demonstrates the emphasis and value placed on internal growth and skill development. With technology moving forward, we can’t expect to create polished content and in-class learning experiences for every new task and process. We need to embrace on-the-job learning. Challenge everyone to be a part of the solution, and share their knowledge. Once a true learning culture is adopted, the focus isn’t on how we survive but how we thrive.