Why Onboarding Programs Fail
A 2014 Bentley University study revealed that the majority of recent Millennial graduates gave themselves a C- when it came to their level of preparedness for the workforce. Many people from this huge generation, an estimated 75% of the global workforce by 2025, are arriving to your organization lacking skills, knowledge and cultural awareness they will need to be successful in the short and long term. When they arrive at our corporate doors, we must begin the process of onboarding and getting these new employees indoctrinated into our cultures. But are we doing it well? Are we reaching this generation who will be critical to our success?
Beyond the office tour, the overwhelming series of introductions, and the welcome lunch, here are a few suggestions on how to make your organization’s onboarding process more appealing and beneficial for your Millennial audience.
Use the classroom sparingly The need for training on your organization’s “basics,” like your policies, technologies, processes, products, services, benefit options, and other key organizational knowledge, is never going to diminish. Millennials need this information, just like all your other employees did upon their arrival, and a classroom (virtual or in-person) is a natural venue for disseminating this type of knowledge. But can you remember your last onboarding experience? The one where you sat for eight hours in a classroom, drinking from the proverbial fire hose of information and feeling like you might die, either from your brain exploding or from excruciating boredom? So do I, and it’s hard to argue that this experience isn’t dreadful, which in my opinion is a missed opportunity to get Millennials excited and prepared for their jobs. My suggestion is to use the classroom sparingly to deliver the basics. Think beyond the classroom by including other activities from across the 70-20-10 learning continuum, like job-shadowing, connecting with peer mentors and coaches, and learn-as-you-go or experiential learning opportunities to help make the process more engaging and meaningful (and not just for your Millennials!).
Bring them into the cultural fold
I am going to make a shocking suggestion: people learn people skills and expected behaviors best from other people. In this way, social learning relationships are key to the onboarding process, for Millennials and non-Millennials alike. Just like any other “outsider,” newly-hired Millennials are completely clueless when it comes to cultural expectations, so it is helpful to give them access to peers and colleagues whom they can ask questions and use as examples to model their own behavior and to fit the established cultural norms of the organization. These trusted advisors can help new hires understand everything from how to dress on casual Friday to how to best bring a new idea to senior leadership or navigate your organization’s internal politics. In my experience, Millennials have an almost exaggerated need for affiliation, most likely due to our inclusive nature and prolific participation in social communities. Add that to this generation’s lack of general corporate experience and cultural awareness, and the need for social learning opportunities from day one becomes clear.
Provide continued learning and support Have you ever learned everything you needed to know from your [insert number of days here] onboarding? Even if your onboarding falls in line with 70-20-10 learning principles and learning during the process is maximized, it’s nearly impossible to get totally prepared (especially when you start off with a skill deficit like most newly graduated Millennials) in only a matter of days or weeks. As a result, I think that there’s huge potential in creating a learning environment wherein Millennials can continue to collaborate, learn with and be supported by their peers. Give them ways to join skill-specific social learning groups and find supplementary training materials that fall in line with their on-the-job learning needs. Creating such an environment where Millennials can address their just-in-time learning needs or where they can learn more about that one thing they didn’t retain during their onboarding can help shorten their overall time-to-productivity and benefit both new hires and the organization itself.
Why not take advantage of an opportunity to get Millennials excited about your learning and development options and their new roles? Why let your onboarding program be remembered as those overwhelming few days marked by boredom, death by PowerPoint, or feelings of alienation? Do your organization and your Millennials a favor, and create an onboarding experience that fits how adults learn best and will help young (and maybe even not-so-young) new hires become productive members of your workforce more quickly!