The components of an induction program
To me induction programs are about "making new hires comfortable" in an organisation. To feel comfortable, a new hire needs the following things. I'm sure you will recognise these steps in an induction program though I'm guess different organisations label these steps differently.
OrientationEvery organisation has a set of policies and procedures that people need to know about. Everyone needs to know about the systems that keep the lights on, and the people that keep the engine running. These are pieces of information that define how the organisation works. Fortunately enough these are so black and white at most times, that it perhaps makes sense to take the facilitator out of the picture and consider the approach of conveying this information through some online learning. That said, this part of the induction experience is common to everyone, you have the economies of scale working in your favour and you can actually choose to do this with a bunch of people in a room, with a facilitator leading the session. That it is extremely boring to sit through a series of "Powerpoints" conveying nothing but facts, is a separate issue to consider.
Context SettingThere are other aspects of an organisation that lend themselves to more generative discussion. A company's purpose, mission, values and the rationale behind them; their business model and the surrounding challenges; the career development framework and the surrounding support systems, all merit significant discussion. It makes a lot of sense to get people together, either in a synchronous, online environment or preferably, in a colocated environment with a specialist business representative in attendance. Again, this is the part of the induction experience common to everyone, so doing this together with everyone makes perfect sense.
Competency BuildingOrientation and context setting aside, the bulk of most induction programs is the part around project readiness. Unless you're hiring people in purely transactional roles, there's very little chance that you can achieve the economy of scale to get a fair number of people in the same room to train them on a specific set of skills. An analyst with 2 years of experience will have significantly different training needs from a developer with a decade's experience. In the same way the training needs for a senior project manager could be significantly different from that of a fairly senior quality assurance analyst. This is where the challenge comes in designing the 'right' induction experience. How do you design an induction program that absorbs the variation in training needs for such a diverse audience. Obviously, a one-size-fits-all program will fit nobody.
Competency Building - how about a pull-based approach?
Learning is a process, not an event. Malcolm Gladwell's book - The Outliers, explains how it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become good at something. Many months back, Tom Kulhmann wrote about how learning happens over time. Often out of the dozen skills an individual needs to perform her job, there's only one or two skills that one needs to 'get started' at their job. This is key. There's a common tendency to throw the kitchen sink at the induction program. Trainers, designers, SME's and the business will say - "but they need to know X as well!" My belief OTOH is that your induction should serve the purpose of kick-starting an individual's learning process. From that point on, its upto the individual to seek out continuous learning opportunities as the need comes by. Learning is a process, not an event (and yes, I know I'm repeating myself).
What other opportunities do people need to learn?So, its easy to say that its upto the individual to seek out continuous learning opportunites. 'What may these continuous learning opportunities be?' and 'How should the individual seek out the bare minimum training they need?' Let me answer the second question first. Here's where I see a great role for elearning. If a training department can create a bouquet of online training programs that are bite-sized to the extent that they help people perform specific actions, then new hires can pick exactly what they think they need. There's an obvious question that comes up when I talk about this.
What if a new hire needs more than what they think they need?
I feel this is valid question -- you can't expect everyone to be a 100% self aware. This said, if you can create a culture of feedback then no error in judgement is an error for very long. Its only until someone gets feedback that the 'mistake' remains a 'mistake'. In a culture of failing fast and learning from one's mistakes, the ability to choose the learning resources you need puts the power right back in the hands of the learner. Yet again the power of online, self-paced learning is the fact that individuals can exploit them the way they deem fit. They can access the resources as many times as they want and they can access only as many resources as they want.
So with the second question answered, lets get back to the first question - "What constitutes continuous learning opportunities?" Let's look at the picture above. There are a number of ways to create continuous learning. Of course there's elearning -- but you'll see some other modes up in the picture. Many of us know about learning lunches and some of you may have read my previous article on the role of social media and why synchronous learning makes so much sense today. The fact is that if people can choose to attend some of the more formal training events, based on a need they perceive, it lends a great deal of effectiveness to the training program itself. Every facilitator knows how much fun it is to train a group of people that are motivated to learn.
Above all, the best way to foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement, is to foster a culture of continuous feedback. Pat Kua knows something about that, and I recently aggregated some of his posts here. The last part of continuous learning in an induction experience is the hugely underestimated part around project onboarding. If projects can learn how to practise lightweight, onboarding practices then very early in their career in your company, it helps new hires develop an awareness about what it will take for them to be successful on their first project.
So what I was trying to say in this blogpost was this -- how about an induction program that is colocated only to the extent of providing an orientation and setting context about the organisation? You can't need any more than a few days for this. How about, from that point people pull every piece of training that they need, by themselves? How about you put the power back into the hand of your learners?
Let me know what you think. I'm sure your thoughts will help me focus my thinking for my own project. Post your comments liberally and write to me if you need to.