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Why learning is crucial for a successful onboarding

Evan Friburg |

For every company, no matter its size, the onboarding of a new employee is a critical moment. A successful onboarding is not limited to the first days following the arrival in the company, it can last several months. It is used to engage employees in a new organization and a new team, to make them embrace their mission and transmit to them the employer brand of the company.    

The goal is to ensure a quick integration of employees and their retention in the company [1]. Beyond the actions taken to help employees get familiar with their new environment, the onboarding aims to ensure that the employee acquires the specific skills required for the job within the company. This article focuses on this component of the onboarding.

How to guarantee the ROL of the onboarding?

The ROL is the return on learning. Guaranteeing the ROL of the onboarding means guaranteeing an optimal learning path for employees on the knowledge and skills related to their new job, which will allow them to perform well. For example, an employee who has been recruited for a technical position at a manufacturing company will be onboarded with training and learning materials on the values and products of the company, tools used on a daily basis, technical skills, safety rules…

To improve the ROL of the onboarding, the company can focus on:

  • Adapting learning paths to the diversity of profiles
  • Reducing the time spent on learning so the employee can be quickly operational
  • Assessing the performance of the onboarding process in the medium and long term

An initial assessment to adapt the learning actions to individuals

When it comes to learning, an onboarding process can suffer from the wide variety of profiles. If the employee has been recruited externally, it is essential to transmit him/her the values of the company and to train him/her on the products. However, a training on the tools used on a daily basis might be avoided (or shortened) if the employee has already worked with those tools – or already been trained to use them – in a past experience. On the contrary, if the employee is recruited internally, the training on the company’s products can be avoided in order to focus on the technical skills needed for the new job.

To adapt to these different profiles, we recommend conducting an initial assessment to define the knowledge and skills which the employee actually needs to develop. This diagnosis can be achieved with technical assessments to evaluate the knowledge (on the products, tools or safety rules for example) and with self-assessments [2], psychometric tests or serious games to assess hard and soft skills (technical skills, behavioral skills…).

From a unique learning path to a differentiated learning path

To optimize the ROL of the onboarding, the company can also focus on reducing the time spent by employees on learning, in order to make them operational as soon as possible. With the initial assessment, it is possible to measure the skills gap of the employee with regards to the job requirements. Therefore, depending on the skills which employees actually need to develop, they will be directed to one learning path or another: this is differentiated learning, a first step towards learning optimization.

We can go further implementing an adaptive learning approach, in which the learning path of the employee will dynamically evolve according to his/her learning profile and how fast he/she develops new skills. The strength of this approach is to continuously assess the skills of employees to stop their training as soon as they achieve the expected level of proficiency. For the purpose of reducing the time spent on learning, we also recommend providing short learning formats: the more micro-learning materials the better.

Leveraging analytics for continual improvement

At last, it is important to analyze the impact of the onboarding process in the medium and long term to make sure, on one hand, that the employee still has the skills acquired during the onboarding and applies them and, on the other hand, to implement a continual improvement approach in the process. Therefore, it is essential to formalize, implement the right tools and systematize the assessment of skills a few months after the learning path, or even continuous assessment. The recommended method depends on the type of skill to assess: technical assessment, self-assessment, manager or peer feedback, 360° assessment…

These actions will validate the skills proficiency and, therefore, the impact of the learning actions taken during the onboarding on the long-term retention of those skills. What if the performance of the onboarding process is insufficient?

  • If the analytics show that the skills were not properly acquired, we recommend redesigning the learning path, in terms of both form and content. Insightful analytics will be used to detect less efficient learning materials which would need to be reviewed.
  • If the skills are acquired but not retained in the long term, you can implement regular learning sessions as reminders (for example, an annual training on safety rules) – which can be a significant cost for the company – or a learning reinforcement system to support employees after their onboarding with occasional, short and engaging learning materials used to optimize their skills retention. 

[1] Employee turnover, when reasonable, can have a positive impact: it comes with new ideas and approaches. However, it is crucial for companies to implement strategies to retain their best employees as they represent a true competitive advantage. Ignoring a significant turnover rate can turn out to be very expensive.

[2] In an onboarding path, a self-assessment will not be adapted to all jobs or profiles as it implies that the employee is self-conscious and objective regarding his/her skills.