Employee New Hire Training: A Tale of Two Employees (Part 1)

This is the first in a series of three articles that focus on how to improve your employee onboarding program.

Resource Article ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When I think of all the employee new hire training I've experienced in my career, a famous quote comes to mind:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness..."

Although I'm sure Charles Dickens didn't intend his words from A Tale of Two Cities to be applied to such a concrete topic, they do portray the wide range of onboarding and orientation programs that are implemented every day. To illustrate this, let's follow a tale of two employees who experience very different new hire programs so you can determine how to make your own training the best it can be.

Program Purpose

Sydney Charlie
Sydney is so excited to start her new career at Acme Company! In her offer letter, she learned that she will be taking an orientation class that will prepare her for the job. Charlie just received his new hire kit in the mail from Zeta Company. He's eager to read about the onboarding program he will be taking.

What's the difference between orientation and onboarding? One primary difference is the program's purpose:

Orientation focuses on swift acculturation through presentation and little or no training. Consider this: the 2012 Allied Workforce Mobility study reports that 25% of companies surveyed say their new hire program does not include any training. It is typically conducted by Human Resources or administrative staff at a company, and it focuses on:

  • Getting new hire paperwork signed.
  • Presenting an introduction to the company and its mission, vision and values.
  • Getting new hires "up and running" as quickly as possible.

On the other hand, a full-fledged onboarding program has a more comprehensive purpose. It focuses on accelerating the employees' ability to perform effectively in their new role, but through a longer term approach. It typically includes an initial orientation plus several other customized segments presented and supported by subject matter experts and managers. Onboarding helps employees gain knowledge they'll need on the job, build relationships with other new hires, meet and work with mentors and feel like they are an important part of a team.

Program Approach

Sydney Charlie

It's Sydney's first day on the job, and she's ready to make her mark! When she reports to her manager, she discovers that Acme Company offers its one-day orientation the first week of the month. Today is the 10th, so she will have to wait three weeks to take the class. In the meantime, the manager gives her an employee handbook and three large manuals on team processes to read over the next couple of weeks.

Sydney's zeal just dropped a notch or two.

Charlie's new hire packet includes instructions on how to access the employee intranet so he can watch a couple of company videos and take a Welcome to Zeta Company elearning course. He also thumbs through the onboarding schedule that explains the three units in his six month transitional training program.

"Wow!" he thinks. "A company that's willing to invest in training me? This is going to be great!"

If you struggle with how to get new hires oriented to the company, get them productive as quickly as possible and realize profits from your staffing investment, you are not alone! However, taking a "short cut" approach may be detrimental to both the employee and the company. Here's why.

Programs like the one Sydney is experiencing can last from a few hours to a couple of days, so new employees can get the information and get to work. However, because of the approach, it doesn't allow for any real-world application of the new information. Companies like Alpha may also wait to hold classes until enough employees have been hired. What are some ramifications of this approach?

  • Employees like Sydney may have reduced productivity during the initial waiting period.
  • If they are put to work without effectively learning the proper processes, they could make costly errors that can increase liabilities and risk, and affect customer service.
  • Employees who wait for orientation and are given "busy work" to fill their time may have fewer positive experiences in their first weeks of employment. They may even become disengaged if they don't get adequate training or feel initial success.
  • Managers become frustrated at the lack of skilled employees to respond to their pressing corporate directives.

Onboarding programs like Charlie's can begin as soon as the new hire accepts the job and may continue for anywhere from three months to one year. By using this approach, you can provide a scalable method to ramp up employees. During this time, employees engage in small segments of "learn then practice" so they can quickly build their skills and responsibilities while splitting their time between learning and fulfilling their daily responsibilities. What benefits can you realize by using this approach?

  • This just-in-time learning reduces managers' frustration because they can quickly get their employees productive in some areas while continuing to build their skills in other areas.
  • When employees can immediately practice what they've learned, their confidence grows and they feel less overwhelmed.

Can you relate to Sydney's situation? Would you like to make the same impression on your employees that Charlie experienced? In our next article, we will discuss more strategies for improving your new hire program.

Continue reading:
Employee New Hire Training (Part 2) →
Employee New Hire Training (Part 3) →

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