Building a dynamic onboarding program for Martians


Chances are that you have been through some form of schooling (high school, college, maybe some random instructional education) and have hopefully figured out that everyone learns differently.

For me, learning and passing my classes meant that I showed up to all classes, took no notes – just listened and the day or so before a test or final, skim through the text books (if i had purchased them) and then just showing up for the tests. Once I figured out how to do that very well, my last 3-4 semesters for my Bachelors, Comp Sc were filled with A’s and my Masters, Software Eng was a solid 4.0.

Was  it a piece of cake? Nope, but I surely made it seem like it was.

So whats the secret? or whats the relationship to that with onboarding? or well what is onboarding?

From Wikipedia

Onboarding, also known as organizational socialization, refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders.[1] Tactics used in this process include formal meetings, lectures, videos, printed materials, or computer-based orientations to introduce newcomers to their new jobs and organizations. Research has demonstrated that these socialization techniques lead to positive outcomes for new employees such as higher job satisfaction, better job performance, greater organizational commitment, and reduction in stress and intent to quit.[2][3][4] These outcomes are particularly important to an organization looking to retain a competitive advantage in an increasingly mobile and globalized workforce. In the United States, for example, up to 25% of workers are organizational newcomers engaged in an onboarding process

Some organizations have great onboarding programs; some don’t. There are going to be cases where you inherit a team that has single-threaded subject matter experts and as a manager you may be expected to distribute that knowledge and grow the team – with no process or onboarding program in place. Yes, you have to create it, so where do you start?

Do you invest time in meetings? create videos? printed materials? who will read all that? who will do the work if your team is off training new hires? is that really a good use of their time? or a real-world question “Do you have bandwidth?”. The answer is No.

So, why not use what you, or I learnt during schooling? when we ourselves were learning? how did you learn? How could you create an onboarding program from nothing? and how could you be sure it would work? You really do not want to invest time in something that is  not going to work so it needs to be agile enough to change on a whim.

Okay – enough of the red flags, here is what I did. Ill try to make this as generic as possible.

I inherited a team of martians, and the problem is that they only speak a special language, called martia. Turns out that its a very ancient language and that no one really speaks martia nor is it taught in college. The small group of martians have been speaking it for 15 years and they as a team are great at it, theres just a few of them. It also turns out that there are all these documents that come in that need to be checked for grammar and spelling, and corrections – in many cases the martians really have to research and see what the intent of the document was because in some cases they have to re-write the document correctly – it can definitely be time consuming and this is the only team that can do this.

This team of martians is also aging, some have retired, others were move to other planets so I have to hire more martians – but, there are none around. So I hire a martian from a different universe and tell it that it needs to learn martia and I will help it learn this language; the language it speaks, we dont care for it. Here is the process that gets put in place

1. Every day the new hire will sit with a senior martian for 2-3 sessions and learn stuff

2. The sessions will be 30 minutes long and after every session there will be a break, during which the new hire will document all that was covered

3. During the next session, the senior martial will review notes, as a refresh to where they left off, and continue the information offload

4. Steps 2 and 3, repeat for a week or so; after which the new hire will then attempt to work the documents

5. as the new hire works the documents, it will have questions, it will document them

6. the new hire will setup additional sessions with the sr martian to get clarification and answers

So – you say this is just common sense and normal stuff.. how are we reducing the dependency on the sr martian who is already busy? here is the answer:

A couple of months go by and another new hire is brought on

1. The new hire sets up sessions with the x-new hire, i.e. the junior martian.

2. the new hire reads all the documentation created by the junior martian

3. several sessions take place where the junior martian and new hire go over content

4. a session every now and then takes place where the sr martian comes in to listen in, and see how the training is going

5. if the sr martian adds anything, its documented in the growing on-boarding document

6. the new hire then also attempts to work documents and goes to the junior martian for assistance – and if needed, they both go to the Sr. martian.

So, its somewhat like train-the-trainer you say…. yes, it is., except, the trainer role gets passed down to the newest hire. if you keep hiring, you start building a 2-tier training team, where the junior martians, through teamwork, will try to come to a conclusion, and then will be empowered to go to the senior martians for confirmation. This helps build teamwork, confidence and helps them acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders.

Sooner or later, your team of martians will grow and the martia language, once so uncommon, will become common and the perception that its the monster in the closet that only the select few can understand, soon goes away.

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