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How to Do Continuous Onboarding the Right Way

Jan. 19, 2018
Companies who have adopted continuous onboarding see a drastic decrease in safety incidents, increased employee retention and better business results.

No matter the business or industry, one reality holds true: New workers = higher risk. 

In fact, in the first month on the job employees are at more than three times the risk for a lost-time injury than workers who have been at their job for more than a year. Workers in manufacturing are at an even higher risk. Workplace injuries cost U.S. businesses more than $62 billion every year. That’s more than $1 billion every week.

But what if your onboarding experience could bring your new hires up to speed more quickly, engage the people you want to keep, sustain capability in existing employees, and save you money? Some estimates by CFOs suggest that every $1 invested in injury prevention saves a company $2.

Investing in continuous onboarding is a strategy that an increasing number of high-performing companies are adopting. Why invest in onboarding if you’re simply going to stop the learning based on some artificial timeline, a passing grade on a quiz, or a set number of learning events? Why abandon your workers and leave them to figure it out on their own after you only offer an initial bit of training? 

In fact, companies who have adopted continuous onboarding are seeing benefits that go far beyond learning expectations. This includes:

  • Drastic decreases in safety incidents
  • Reductions in onboarding time
  • Increased participation in training from existing employees
  • Improved ability to remember critical knowledge
  • Increased capability on the job
  • Increased employee retention
  • Improved ability to attract new talent
  • Better infrastructure to reach all employees (desk-based or desk-less) and deliver critical information quickly
  • Better business results

Case Study

Northgate Gonzalez Markets, for example, struggled with safety training for its employees for the usual reasons: lack of a consistent message, employees forgetting what they’d learned, onboarding that kept new hires off the shop floor for up to four weeks, and older employees who believed they already knew everything they needed to know.

For a company that knows safety has a critical impact on the bottom line, this was simply unacceptable. What Northgate needed was a radical shift in its approach to both safety training and onboarding. What the company got was a reduction in onboarding time by three weeks so that new hires were working on the floor faster. It also secured buy-in from older employees to take voluntary training and refreshers with 90% of employees participating voluntarily. This increase in knowledge and confidence on the job resulted in a savings of $585,000 within 12 months, due to a reduction in safety incidents. Some stores reported six months without accidents. 

Tips to Create an Onboarding Strategy

Here are the methods that we have seen employers use to create successful strategies:

Begin the way you intend to continue
Northgate introduced continuous learning on employees’ first day of work. New hires were given an opportunity to explore a microlearning platform that effectively enforces continuous learning with clear expectations regarding their expected participation. This is the right way to do it; introduce the look and feel of your continuous onboarding experience on day 1, and make your expectations clear.

Integrate learning into the regular workday
Don’t pull your employees off the floor to learn in a vacuum—bring the learning to them. You can do this with mobile learning through quick, easily consumable microlearning sessions. Done right, mobile learning allows ease of access. And, microlearning provides short bursts of information or reinforcement of concepts to keep critical knowledge fresh in your employees’ minds. In an effort to reduce time off the floor, some of these high-achieving companies have provided tablets or built learning kiosks in break rooms or even on the floor where forklift batteries are charged. The critical element is to fit learning and onboarding into the workflow. 

Gamify your learning
Imagine a culture in which your workers continually challenge each other over their knowledge of safety concepts. This is what Northgate and many others are experiencing by using a learning platform that gamifies the experience through gameplay, leaderboards, points and rewards. Workers are leveling up on their own and challenging co-workers to do the same. Gamification can play into your workers’ natural competitiveness and increase both engagement and, ultimately, worker knowledge.

Keep your employees engaged
Making training less of an event and more a part of the workflow, as well as your company culture. This will allow you to communicate with your people more frequently and keep them interested and excited about the organization.Avoid the prepackaged one-size-fits-all training that your workers will feel doesn’t apply to them and will be more likely to forget. 

Personalize the learning experience
Continuous onboarding should respond to a worker’s unique needs. In training speak it’s called ‘adaptive learning.’ This basically means learning that adapts to address what a specific employee needs to know or needs a refresher on. Offering continuous onboarding allows you to adapt learning continuously to fill specific knowledge gaps. It also allows you to push out new information and bring your people up to speed quickly. 

Reinforce content
We know that people forget 90% of what they learned within one month. This means a lot of time and money is lost in training for companies that stick to traditional methods. The good news is if employees are given a chance to use or practice what they’ve learned, knowledge retention rates increase exponentially. Effective continuous onboarding builds reinforcement of learning, while it also provides you with a way to expose your people to the new learning they need to have.

Be proactive instead of reactive
We’ve all been there. A major accident occurs and, suddenly, everyone is brought in for additional safety training. Done right, continuous onboarding should provide you with the right data so you know what learning you need to adjust—before there is a problem. It lets you be proactive in dealing with learning gaps, rather than waiting for an accident to occur or an investigation to be launched.

Make resources available on demand
High-performing companies with enviable safety records, provide on-demand resources from day one. Put the wealth of collected company knowledge right at your new employee’s fingertips in an easily searchable database. If they can quickly access information on how to handle a piece of equipment or a situation, they’re less likely to make a critical mistake and less likely to feel “dumb” for asking questions. They’re also going to be more confident and more engaged both with the job and your company.

Carol Leaman is the CEO of Axonify.

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