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Innovative strategies for effective induction

This post first appeared on the LINE website on February 10th 2011

Ed Lines attended a recent LINE Lunch Forum to find out what makes an engaging strategy for successful onboarding.

First impressions

Your first day, starting life in a new organisation, is a daunting prospect. Induction policies are as diverse and varied as the companies that deliver them, if they deliver them at all. An effective induction policy means that new members of staff understand the organisation’s values, they understand their job role and they build up a rapport with members of their team. They take pride in their work, in the business and in themselves – an altogether less frustrating, happier experience. And crucially, happy employees are productive employees. Essentially a new employee is going to assimilate into the culture quicker and thus become more productive quicker.

On the other hand, a poor induction process is in place – or lack of one. A new member of staff is at risk of not understanding the business and their role within it; they could feel overwhelmed by unfamiliar tasks and they might not form bonds with other members of staff very quickly. The lack of understanding could lead to frustration, boredom and confusion; the new employee will lose confidence, creativity and enthusiasm and, above all, you can bet that those symptoms will be more than apparent to potential and existing clients. In comparison to effective induction, productivity will be far lower.

Organisations are increasingly challenged to come up with innovative strategies to satisfy a rapidly changing workforce. And with first impressions counting for so much, it all starts with the onboarding scheme. But what constitutes an innovative strategy for effective induction?

LINE hosted a discussion forum in London’s L’Escargot restaurant to find out.

Culture is king

Comparing notes from their own experiences were delegates from a range of organisations including L’Oréal, Hitachi, Boots, Amos Laycock Consulting, Veolia Water and Plain Talking HR. The event was chaired by Irene Murphy and Steve Ash from LINE and Fabiola Williams from L’Oréal.

Very quickly it was apparent that all the delegates shared an understanding that the culture of an organisation should be central to the induction process and the importance of that first impression should not be underestimated. Irene Murphy and Fabiola Williams discussed the importance of debunking social myths that can be created within businesses, taking a step back and celebrating the multitude of smaller things within that make them unique. It’s about finding out, as Irene described, “how it feels walking into reception, sitting in the coffee area, organising a meeting, being in a meeting, watching a presentation, having lunch and chatting with people in the lift.” Summarising the smaller things in the working atmosphere at L’Oréal, they described the employees as being creative, very social which led to an holistic interest about the company and other members of staff, and they liked to be well presented. These smaller aspects formed the basis for the “Discovery” programme. As Irene and Fabiola illustrated – it’s about encouraging participants to ‘learn the culture by behaving the culture’ right there on the programme.

New employees embark on a three day programme where a small team is tasked with leaving the office and researching one of the L’Oréal brands in a retail environment. They are required to collate the information they discover into a presentation to the brand managers. The benefits from this approach are numerous. The new employees get practice at standing up and talking in front of an audience; the procedure is highly participatory so they discover more about their colleagues and form bonds with them at an early stage. They have fun whilst learning about business relevant material. What they learn is more memorable and a useful exchange of information occurs between the fresh-eyed new staff and the experienced brand managers.

The notion of integrating new hires with more senior employees was echoed by at least half the delegates present. One such delegate described his organisation having both new and experienced employees attend regular group discussion sessions. Knowledge is disseminated two ways between the experienced and non-experienced members of the organisation.

Telling stories

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Another inherent issue for new-comers in a work environment (or any new environment for that matter) is confidence. A new starter will not have the same confidence levels as someone with five years’ experience at the same organisation. The confidence develops through an extended period of knowing their job proficiency as well as the social circumstances around them. It acts as a driver for forming close bonds with the team and gaining an understanding of how different people respond to different situations. Essentially, a closer understanding of your job and your team leads to greater productivity.

It was universally recognised by the group that an effective induction scheme can speed up the process of forming these crucial bonds. Two delegates from different companies declared that getting the inductees to tell a group or an audience a bit about themselves was a great catalyst. Another example included a process where they have to pick their first or last name and tell a story about it. In this way new staff practice public speaking skills, they form the bond that comes with being in a similar situation as someone else (ie. having something in common) and, at an early stage, a small level of intimacy is collectively shared amongst their team.

Incentives & rewards

Whether with their current organisation or a previous one, many of the delegates had experienced reward schemes that they said incentivised staff engagement. In some examples it was monetary, with one case where 20% of employees’ discretionary bonuses were dictated by their level of people engagement.

Many of the forum attendees found that reward schemes existed throughout their organisations and could either help establish the culture there or further contribute to it. Many included awards like Employee of the Month and the significance of such titles included certificates; personalised parking spaces right outside the office doors; award ceremonies; medals; gift vouchers and monetary rewards. Steve Ash pointed out the case of a major beverage corporation, which after listening to employees’ wishes, issued skills training as a reward for good work.

Social media

“It’s no longer the cigarette break, it’s the iPhone break”, said Nic Laycock from Amos Laycock Consulting, referring to the number of offices that have banned social media on its servers, so employees access it on their smartphones instead. It’s providing a big dilemma for organisations as new generations of employees have grown up using social platforms as a means of communication and indeed learning. So when they arrive in the workplace to find them forbidden they can find themselves in a less comfortable situation. The opinion of the group was summarised by one delegate who declared succinctly, “It’s here; get used to it”.

However, Steve Ash issued a warning that people shouldn’t get too wrapped-up in the hype of social networking, drawing on examples of its main champions who would have you believe that Facebook is the only platform for the future of learning and development. Instead, he proposed that social networks can form a small, yet significant piece in the general L&D architecture.

Barriers

As Kaleem Bhatti summarised, when he posted on the LINE networking site, after the event: “Anything that stops us getting where we want to is a barrier – although of course we can’t control every impediment – but once you’ve mulled over as many obstacles as you can, the secondary step would be to consider your ‘circles of influence’… Who do you need to cajole and get on board? Who could be the most reluctant, but important stakeholders?”

At the event, when possible blockers to effective induction were discussed, the group unanimously agreed that technology can be a barrier not only to effective induction but also to L&D in general. Most frequently those at the decision-making end of management provide the resistance to new technology and create these barriers. Getting them onboard is the key.

Three questions to take away

• Do new hires within your organisation ‘learn the culture by behaving the culture’?
• How can you get the most out of the new generation of incoming employees?
• What/who are your barriers to providing an effective induction?

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