There are two basic approaches to training new employees, and I think of them kind of like how I think of buying either a new hat or new shoes. Much like finding a hat, employee onboarding is often treated as a one-size-fits-all process. However, when thought of in this way, it isn’t able to provide each new employee with what she needs, and in the long run, the company is worse off because of it. Instead, the company should aim for individualized onboarding that resembles buying new shoes. This will enable it to fit with each employee’s experience and background and also provide the necessary support and tools needed to perform the tasks expected of her.
When you need a new hat, the trying-on process is not very thorough or detailed. You expect that most hats will fit you just fine. On the other hand, buying new shoes is far more exact. You want shoes that will fit you just right, so you try on a few to ensure they will provide the support you need for the purpose you have in mind. After all, the shoe I need to go running is very different from the shoe you need to go hiking, not only in design but also in size and weight.
The Problem with Generalized Onboarding
To return to the world of individualized onboarding, rather than having a standardized orientation program for all new employees, the company should develop a branching system that takes employees down different paths depending on their new roles and assignments. It is a waste of time for both the company and the employee to train her on material that is not relevant to her position. Nevertheless, this is precisely the approach that is taken by far too many organizations, often out of the misconception that it is saving time by only creating a single, universal training program. While this may make sense in the short term, the resulting time drain and under-performing employees will quickly end up costing more in the long run. It’s just like how size 18 shoes will technically fit everyone on your team, but not enable them to work optimally.
Implementing Individualized Onboarding
So, if an individualized onboarding process is the best approach, how does a company go about implementing one? Well, it turns out that it is not a difficult concept, but it does require a shift in the way we think about onboarding. For one, we need to keep the employee at the center of the process. The system should have a different track assigned to each role within the company, and once an employee is placed on the appropriate track, she will then be presented with only the materials relevant to her job assignments and expectations. Or in our shoe analogy, someone with size 7 feet shouldn’t be presented with sizes 5 through 11.
Dividing up and assigning resources like this is a crucial part of creating an effective and individualized onboarding solution. However, it’s important to note that this does not necessarily require that each resource be created and tailored to each possible job role. For example, if three different roles within your company use ladders from time to time, each of these roles should be trained on proper ladder use. But the training they receive about ladders can all be the same session, video, or manual. What makes their onboarding experience unique is the particular configuration of resources, not necessarily the resources themselves. Of course, you may choose to have one role watch a more detailed or in-depth video on ladders than the other two, but this does not have to be the case in every situation.
The Value of Individualized Onboarding
By spending the additional time setting up truly individualized onboarding, you can save countless hours re-training or hiring new employees. What’s more, retention of information will improve because each employee is able to focus only on the material relevant to him or her. To return to our analogy, the employee can try on only the shoes that are her size, rather than having to look at each shoe, even those that won’t fit. In this way, individualized onboarding makes employees more competent and successful and saves company time, allowing you to get more accomplished in less time.