Research conducted within the last five years has uncovered new data on the effects of employee training and onboarding. These findings could make you rethink your company’s onboarding strategy.For example, in BambooHR’s research on what employees look for in the first week at a new job, on-the-job training was ranked first among 76% of new hires, while “orientation,” meaning a review of company policies for new hires, was a close second.
However, while acquainting new employees with standards and procedures is important, orientation alone does not result in long-term benefits for employees and companies. Combining on-the-job training and orientation boosts employees' productivity and retention in the long run, not to mention improves company culture.
This is where “onboarding” comes in. A structured onboarding program combines both training and procedural orientation. This approach builds upon orientation, resulting in an ongoing team-building function wherein new employees fully immerse themselves in the company culture and mission while becoming deeply knowledgeable of their job expectations.
But even with the substantial amount of literature in most support of onboarding practices, research performed by the Aberdeen Group in 2011 and 2013 showed that only 37% of employers extend onboarding programs beyond the first month, 15% extend onboarding beyond six months, and a modest 2% offer year-long programs.
In this post, we’ll outline the data supporting the benefits of extended onboarding and provide you with a template from which you can start building your own new hire training program.
Why Employee Onboarding is Important
With respect to the many benefits of long-term onboarding programs, this is an ideal time for companies to consider how the duration and structure of their onboarding efforts could boost the ROI of new hires. Here are some of the many ways extending onboarding adds value to the newcomers in your company.
Onboarding Improves Retention RatesResearch supports the notion that high turnover rates is a hefty price to pay for inadequate onboarding. TalentWise, a hiring-focused tech company, reported in 2013 that employee turnover costs an estimated 150% of the annual salary associated with a position. You can expect a variety of unexpected costs to arise when an employee leaves an organization.
The same report showed that 70% of an employee’s knowledge leaves when he or she quits, along with a negative impact to company culture.
To boost retention, companies such as Rover.com, a dog-boarding site, implement personalized onboarding programs that allow new hires to begin making an impact quickly. Scott Porad, Rover’s head of product development, encourages new developers to make live updates to the company’s website on day one. Research supports Porad’s methodology as autonomy, learning and feeling productive has been shown to increase employee satisfaction.
Onboarding Enhances Work Culture
Successful onboarding programs focus just as much on work culture as they do on policies and tactics. According to 2011 survey data by Training Magazine, on average new employees who are given a summary of the organization’s mission were shown to begin making significant contributions four weeks earlier than those who were not.
Culturally-appropriate onboarding programs create employees who are well-connected on multiple levels. First, culturally-aware employees are better versed on the company’s brand and mission, which creates energized individuals who are excited to promote the brand to customers and beyond. Such onboarding training also strengthens connections between new employees and trainers. As a result, employees become productive faster and trainers are given the opportunity to hone their craft.
One company that demonstrates an effective work culture-focused onboarding is Tastefully Simple, a Minnesota-based gourmet food sales company. According to Tastefully Simple’s vice president of team relations, Edgar Timberlake, the company assigns all new hires a “buddy” to welcome them to the team. The buddy provides new hires a tour of the office, offers support and socializes with them during breaks.
Buffer is another company that implements the buddy system with new hires. The first 45 days is considered “Buffer Bootcamp”. During this period, the company and the new hire work to determine whether there is a good culture fit.
New employees are assigned three “buddies” to help guide them during bootcamp: A Leader Buddy, a Role Buddy and a Culture Buddy. Each buddy connects with the new hire in one-on-one chats to offer coaching, feedback and check-ins. As a fully remote company, these one-on-ones are essential in keeping the new hires engaged and do a lot for promoting Buffer’s company culture.
A Training Manual Template for Better Onboarding
There are many ways onboarding can be leveraged to impact employee retention and work culture as demonstrated by companies such as Rover and Tastefully Simple. If your company is just starting out with developing a comprehensive onboarding program, the first step is to outline the information you want to communicate. Using a training manual to accomplish this is a great way to not only document your company’s mission, processes and culture, but also place it in a format that can be easily distributed for a new hire onboarding process.
An onboarding training manual saves you from re-explaining processes or tools and lets your staff learn on their own schedule. Over the long term, it serves as a reference guide employees can turn to whenever they get lost. Rather than composing a series of ad hoc manuals, however, follow this training manual template to ensure yours is consistent and effective.
When you look at the best, most impactful training manuals, you notice the same core elements are always present. Adhere to the five points in this training manual template, and you will have an onboarding guidebook that succinctly and successfully provides your team with the background and skills they need to be highly motivated and productive in their role.
1. Welcome your reader
To make an onboarding training manual as accessible as possible, go into the writing process assuming your readers have no previous experience with the topic (which for new hires, may oftentimes be the case). Ease them into it with a brief introduction.
The intro should give context about what trainees will learn and explain why the skills they will gain are vital. This is especially important for training manuals that cover information that seems disconnected from the trainee’s day-to-day experience. Explaining the significance of the content ignites the learner’s interest and motivates them to take the instruction seriously.
Connect the content of the manual back to your trainee’s role and the organization’s goals. Trainees will be more enthusiastic about learning your complex contact management system (CMS), for example, when they understand how the particular system will make their jobs easier or how it supports the company’s overarching objectives of communication and efficiency.
2. Clarify the learning objectives
Just as this training manual template makes it easier to create an onboarding guidebook, an outline of learning objectives makes it easier to learn. Before you get into the meat of your training manual, map out a clear, concrete list of learning goals so trainees can see where they’re going and how they’ll get there.
By using easy-to-understand language, you can turn your learning objectives into a bullet-point list of topics and subtopics. Be specific yet concise. You want to preview what they’re going to learn, but too much - content at this early stage can be overwhelming.
Even when your topic seems basic, providing this kind of outline is worth your time, both as a way of mentally preparing the learner and as a checklist for exam review.
3. Teach the material
As you work to present the onboarding information in a way that’s easily understood, keep three main points in mind.
First, as with the learning objectives, you should break the content down into digestible chunks. As a rule, this makes learning easier, because small units of information aren’t as hard to wrap your head around. It’s especially important in a training manual because your learners may read in short bursts during training sessions or work breaks.
Second, include real-life examples, especially if your training manual teaches the reader to perform a specific task. This will link the instruction back to the everyday work of your employees and make it resonate with them on a tangible level. If you can incorporate visuals that demonstrate the instruction, even better.
Finally, focus on actionable tips and strategies trainees can use. Manuals should ideally help people develop new competencies quickly, and the best way to do that is by emphasizing information with practical value they can incorporate into their work.
4. Administer assessments
Since you want to make sure your trainees have actually learned what’s in the training manual — particularly if the content is part of your onboarding process — you should incorporate some form of assessment.
You could offer interim assessments to gauge knowledge after each section, a single summative assessment at the end of the training manual, or both. The volume and difficulty of the content will influence your approach.
Whichever path you choose, include lots of practice questions and quizzes along the way so readers can prepare for examinations.
If you’re comfortable with self-assessments, offer an examination that includes access to the answer key. If your assessments will require formal submission, proctoring or additional materials, include relevant instructions.
5. Close out your onboarding manual with a signpost for the future
The closing pages of the training manual are a good place to offer a final review of the material your new employees can use to study for their assessments, and it’s where you should put the instructions if you haven’t included them elsewhere.
The end of an onboarding training manual is also an opportunity for you as a trainer to leave a positive impression on your new hires. Consider adding an afterword that provides meaningful last thoughts about the topic to welcome them to the company and help them see the knowledge they’ve just acquired in a different light.
You can also offer next steps for the trainee by previewing what’s to come in their overall training progression. This is an excellent way to set expectations for future courses, or inform the learner of where they stand in completing the greater learning path. Additionally, you may offer sources for more information on what they’ve just learned or ways to practice and apply their new skills.
Formatting Onboarding Content for Today’s Learner
When you decide the format for delivering your training manual, think “digital native and cloud native.” Your new hires don’t want the version control headaches of installed word processing and coordinating drafts. Nor will they want binders of content to read through. And you don’t want your training content going stale because updating it is too many steps.
Cloud-based formats avoid all that. They give you better version control for your team, a better experience for your learners and the ability to update on the fly.
Early on, Google Drive products work well with small teams of 20 or fewer. You can use Sheets for tracking and staying organized. You can draft your written materials in Docs. And for the simplest manuals with straightforward information, Slides or PowerPoint decks work well.
As your workforce expands to 100 and beyond, those early hacks with Sheets, Slides and Docs probably won’t keep up. Our customers tell us that’s the point when they start to be held back by “technical debt” in their training operations. They want to streamline their onboarding and training so they can improve their KPIs on workforce churn, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction and sales efficiency.
The sales, customer service and operations units that experience these problems turn to a cloud-based employee training software like Northpass for scaleable training delivery that also supports strategic goals. It lets them track employee engagement with training materials, offer it when and where it's needed and tie it all back to improve business results. Investing in anything without a way to measure it's effectiveness is a fast track to failure.
Final Thoughts and Next Steps
Productive, self-sufficient and engaged employees offer ongoing contributions to your organization. These individuals’ infectiously positive attitude and efficiency are invaluable to the work culture. To this end, empowering employees through extended onboarding programs is essential in retaining great talent in your organization.
Integrating a training manual can then aid in supporting these individuals as their contributions prove to offer excellent ROI for your business. Finding balance between concise and comprehensive is a challenge best met — like with all great training materials — by measuring the effectiveness of your manuals and tweaking their content as needed.
As you move forward with your onboarding program, expand upon the offerings to help new hires feel welcomed and comfortable in their roles. Integrate videos into the training content, arrange a department lunch, or engage in team-building exercises. By prioritizing your onboarding strategy and aligning it with the ever-changing landscape of your company, you’ll set yourself up with attract and retain top talent, while bringing out the best in your employees.
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