induction onboarding course learning

Induction Journeys

David Becker Rethinking Learning

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Dissonance between content and experience

Perhaps you’ve experienced an induction that goes something like this:

  • Step 1: Watch a video welcoming you to the team, fill out some paperwork
  • Step 2: Do some (lots) of boring eLearning, meet some people, not sure why, forget names.
  • Step 3: Try to login to systems, fail, fill out some paperwork.
  • Step 4: Attend some classroom training. Too much information.
  • Step 5: Visit an intranet or maybe a collaboration site. Not much going on there.
  • Step 6: Here’s your desk. Off you go.

At some point you realise that your employer claims to be collaborative, innovative and fast moving. But what you’re experiencing is something different…

Ever since gamification and augmented reality (AR) emerged, I’ve been keen to rethink orientation and induction by resolving the dissonance between the content and the experience and by focusing on what’s really important, people and feelings. I finally got my opportunity. Here’s what I learned.

No second chance to make a first impression

The saying is largely true. Thanks to cognitive slicing our brain makes unconscious judgements within a minute of two of meeting someone and it takes a massive amount of effort to revise that first impression. Well the same goes for meeting a new organisation, so it’s critical to wow new starters with an experience that shows them what you genuinely stand for.

One way to do this is through staging and theatre. This can mean technology like music, lighting and projectors. Or perhaps it means props, food and people. It really depends on what your company genuinely stands for. But it must communicate and/or generate feelings that align to your core beliefs.

For our client we used scale, music and imagery to create a heroic sense of vastness, but with a focus on ordinary people, to communicate the importance of people to the vision.

We also used an outer waiting room and several activities to create mystery and a sense of anticipation, so when they walked into the room they were impressed, but also felt a sense of connection with the environment. We also used a variety of pre-activation activities starting several weeks prior to the main event to create a slow burn foreshadowing of things to come.

Create and share stories

So often, company values are simply pushed as information. But that’s not how humans find resonance in values. We do it through sharing stories that subtly communicate ‘we are alike’. So we developed a series of activities starting with business leaders talking about their values related achievements, but in a very human and accessible way.

Then we used an app (like a museum tour app) to allow participants to explore more stories from staff doing small things with values related results. Next we invited participants to share their own stories of similar moments and lastly we invited participants to talk about what it might mean if thousands of people all did small things towards the same goal.

This was extremely successful because it brought the similarities between organisational values, staff lived experience and the values of participants together in an authentic way. Then it generated an ah-ha moment around what that actually means when its intentionally directed at scale.

Less is more

The whole orientation probably had no more than a few thousand words of content and most of that was in easily accessible, bite sized content on their phones and a few bits on cards or paper. We set out to push content into the background, minimise cognitive load and maximise emotional engagement. There were no participant guides and no slide decks.

We pushed content to their phones or handed it out, only when it was needed and we pared back content to only what was essential and directly applicable to activities. Nothing was wasted and nothing was peripheral. This also contributed to keeping a great rhythm up.

Like theatre, orientations and inductions need to have a pacey narrative arc that ushers participants towards a destination. If you don’t engineer this, then the rhythm is instead dictated by content structure, blood sugar levels and boredom.

Build trust early and often

In addition to storytelling, we went to great lengths to build trust between participants and between them and the organisation. This started before the main event through social media activity, continued during the anticipation phase with a speed dating type activity and into the main event with several small group activities that required collaboration and communication within and between teams.

None of these were team building activities. Instead they were organisationally relevant activities that simply relied on collaboration and communication.

Provide experiences, not information

A great deal of the main event was anchored to learning how customer service works in the organisation both for internal and external customers. Participants were taught specific processes and tools and given multiple opportunities to use these to solve real customer problems (using case studies collected from the field).

This ensured they not only learnt the material, but applied it in ways that strengthened the idea that this was not business rhetoric, but instead is the real way ‘business is done around here’.

Another brilliant experience we created was an Augmented Reality game that saw teams visit various sites around the building to ‘capture’ points and complete activities relevant to that point. Like identifying ways in which diversity and inclusiveness were actively pursued, or unlocking and combining parts of the business strategy to reveals how it delivers on the vision. This was loved by all, not just for the novelty and theatre, but also because they got to go places, meet people and do things.

It takes a village to raise a team member

The entire program was underpinned by concentric rings of influence, starting with coffee meetings with their manager and one colleague in the first weeks, then building a personal network during the event, to broader divisional networking approach in post event field placements.

We did this because not only was business networking a strong motivating force for participants, but also because they needed a fast way to build a strong internal network. This combination of stronger relationships with their manager, team and orientation cohort, combined with weaker relationships with people in other divisions was the closest we could get to giving them a village.

It has to scale

By now you’re probably thinking this sounds great but how does it scale to 10 locations and five thousand people a year. We handled that by prototyping kits and support mechanisms that would make the facilitators job bullet proof and by using digital mechanisms wherever possible to make it scalable.

We’re still working through how to make the online social media aspects scalable because a thriving community needs support. We’ll probably use gamification and keep refining the online activities to make them so valuable to participants that they want to engage. But it’s possible we may need to resource the community to really make it sing.

Make the end the beginning

Finally, we used the end of the event to set up the beginning of the field experiences. Not only would the placements give participants exposure to various areas of the business, but they would also provide more opportunities to apply the experiences of the day to the workplace context. To extrapolate and experiment,  fail, build resilience, build networks and see more examples of the values in action.

We designed these experiences to carry forward the momentum of the day and the sense of community built between participants through activities like work out loud, virtual Friday night drinks, Ask Me Anything (like Reddit AMAs) leader sessions and reporting back activities.

The real pay off

Perhaps more important that creating consonance between the espoused and lived values of the organisation, this approach started participants on a journey to self-efficacy. The facilitator really did facilitate. It was the participants that decided, acted, shared and took their experiences to the field and ultimately back to their permanent roles. New starters that are confident, bold and feel authentically connected to the vision of the organisation. That’s the real pay off.

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About the Author

David Becker

DAVID BECKER For over two decades I've founded and worked in digital content and learning businesses, while taking a keen interest in STEM and the humanities. This has brought me here. Obvious Choice blends disruptive thinking, evidence based design, emerging technology, content and marketing to 'rethink learning'​. As CLO I separate the wheat from the chaff, evolving our adult learning practice based on evidence based experimentation. The potential for disruption in adult education space is truly breathtaking and I'm delighted to be neck deep in it.