Improve your onboarding through experiential learning

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Welcome to our fifth blog in a series of articles exploring four ingredients to effective onboarding.

In the previous article, we explored the importance of ‘belonging’ and how to help new hires feel ‘at home’, in this article, we will cover role effectiveness.

Role effectiveness means ensuring those new in role have the necessary skills, knowledge and tools to do their job. Typically, local leadership are accountable for this function with support from L&D. Consistency of experience is frequently a challenge with this function, with some leaders providing a very positive experience, whereas in more frantic environments with multiple priorities competing for leaders’ time, new hire experiences can be average or indeed negative. A Tiny Pulse (2014) study showed that:

‘A quarter of employees lack the resources they need to be successful in their roles’

Our observations:

We were recently honoured to work with a client who having seen a disconnect between training delivered and performance in the field, wanted to focus on experiential learning. They had realized that too much focus was given to the training with inadequate workplace practice to measure and validate that new hires understood crucial principles and had the capability to apply it in the workplace.

This project involved harnessing the capabilities of mobile devices to do more than provide content to new hires through their onboarding process.

We helped design a program which invited new hires to demonstrate learning in the field and how they applied the learning by inviting them to provide evidence whilst out in the field. By submitting evidence this enabled local leaders to assess new hire progress, performance and development, we call this ‘taking the classroom to the field’.

The project had an interesting follow on benefit, many of the field engineers were falling to progress to the next tier of expertise, not because they lacked knowledge or skills, but due to language barriers. To gain promotion, engineers needed to complete a written test to demonstrate their competence. Many were either avoiding the test or failing to progress because they lacked the linguistic finesse in their second language to articulate their answers satisfactorily. When the client introduced evidence based assessment in the field, this community approached the test with greater confidence and promotions increased.

There are many lessons in this story, not least, be sure to test what you want to test. In other words, if you use a theory test, does it assess competence or does articulation play too big a part in determining the outcome? By harnessing the photo and video features of the mobile device, this group became producers, they created portfolios demonstrating evidence of their work in the field to show what they could do and in many cases the quality of their work.

Recommendations:

Close the gap between ‘content and application’ using operational milestones

In order to close the gap between theoretical content and the need for application, establishing early operational milestones for new hires is a great way to build confidence both for the new hire and their local leader. It also engages the local leader more powerfully as they can relate to the language of the milestone more readily than development language, this encourages them to contribute and feel valuable in the development process. Using operational milestones and then constructing experiential learning activities that connect to their achievement also avoids the problem of over-training and under-developing, whereby new hires seek to learn lots of new skills and knowledge but then struggle to apply ‘too much all at once’. An operational milestone might be to successfully install one product or make a first sale of a specified product.

Empower the learner as curator

Facilitation of learning as a technique in the classroom has long been understood to be one key way to engage participants in the learning process and strive for a learner centric approach, and yet all too often digital learning assets are anything but engaging. This is due to many factors, but principally because it pushes content and presents a passive learning experience. Modern mobile devices are wonderfully synchronous in their capacity to share. We advocate mixing different learning activities into your development strategy by creating tasks that invite and encourage the learner to produce evidence of their learning, demonstrating their soft skills such as presentation, selling, customer care skills, can all be achieved by making videos demonstrating different aspects of these capabilities. Photographing, scanning and screen-shots are all ways to share evidence of technical skills and approaches and finally asking learners to reflect on shadowing activities and consider what they observed and learned through the process, really drives reinforcement of the learning process.

The value of feedback

We have never heard anyone doubt the value of feedback but in reality, when giving feedback and the observer is not present, there is no tangible evidence to consider or time has passed between, then the power of observation and feedback all diminish along with its likelihood to occur. By empowering the learner to provide tangible evidence, some of the issues diminish and if the evidence is shared in a speedy manner, feedback can even be ‘immediate’.

So, by linking development to operational milestones, encouraging your new hires to evidence their development and application and providing opportunity for local leaders to share feedback on focused, tangible evidence, we can create a more cohesive, consistent and potent approach to role effectiveness. Indeed, we have seen tangible uplifts in speed to competence and speed to performance through this approach, along with more satisfied local leaders who feel more engaged and empowered in the process.

Want to improve your onboarding experience?

If you would like to discuss your onboarding requirements and how our onboarding Web App can help your new hires be more effective in their roles, connect them with those that are best placed to support them, as well as provide them with an experiential onboarding experience, please do get in touch.

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