Overhauling an Employee Onboarding Program

In the past 18 months, the global learning and development function at Savvis has been transformed from an order-taking operation with a limited budget to a strategic and trusted adviser to the business units it serves. This high-tech company employs 3,000 people in several locations around the world.

Led by Jim Sokolowski, director of global learning and leadership development, who joined the company in 2010 and has assembled a world-class team of 13, the function is now aligned with the company’s largest strategic imperatives, helping to formulate those imperatives as well.

When he was hired two years ago, Sokolowski had a virtual blank slate, a mandate for change, and a long way to go. Five months before he was hired, Savvis installed a new CEO, Jim Ousley, who is a seasoned executive with more than 35 years of experience leading global technology companies and who had served previously as Savvis’s board chairman.

“With that background, he really understood the importance of human capital and of investment in it,” says Sokolowski, who notes that his close ties to all members of the executive team, and their support for learning, have been critical to the success of the revamped learning function.

Sokolowski and his team sought to build repeatable and scalable best-practice methodologies focused on organizational achievement. Some of their accomplishments include participation in strategic planning to design programs in support of organizational initiatives, organizational curriculum mapping, creation of a full suite of leadership development experiences for every level of leadership, implementation of an internal strategic consulting process, and the launch of a new online university to leverage a best-in-class learning management system and a full branding campaign.

Uptake has been strong: Learning hours increased by 34 percent in 2010, and another 33 percent in 2011, for a current average of 24.5 hours of learning per year per employee. Additionally, the company’s revenue increased by nearly 12 percent in that timeframe.

To facilitate

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close ties with the lines of business, the team implemented a learning advisory council in 2011 whose primary goal is to provide insight and guidance to learning and development to ensure strong alignment between learning and business priorities.

“The biggest driver for the creation of the council was the desire to create more synergies within the business units—a more integrated approach,” Sokolowski says. “It has helped us take an end-to-end approach because the council helps my consultants understand what we do and why we do it. It gives us perspective on the big strategic levers.”

Revamping Onboarding

The learning and development team cites as its most innovative learning initiative of the past year the complete revamping of the corporate onboarding program, which directly links to the company’s 2011 strategic priority of investing in human capital. The program goal is to assist new employees in reaching full productivity and to help them build a positive long-term employment experience.

Prior to the program, effective new employee onboarding was not the norm, and analysis revealed that managers were unfamiliar with onboarding best practices. New employees were unfamiliar with key information to do their jobs effectively and time to full productivity was unacceptably high.

The program is designed with three distinct parts: a two-day “immersion” class; a 90-day, structured, on-the-job training program; and manager and peer coaching. All new employees are encouraged to attend the immersion workshop within their first 60 days of hire. This highly interactive, two-day, instructor-led workshop includes presentations from senior leaders, video presentations on values and solution capabilities, interactive games, and a tour of the global headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri.

Topics covered in the workshop include an overview of company strategy, products and services, customers, industry, competition, and new business ventures; an introduction to the customer loyalty program and methodology; and a company overview and history. The workshop frequency depends on hiring demand.

New employees are provided with a checklist prior to their first day, which provides them with a list of actions and best practices for successful onboarding (arranged chronologically from prehire through 90 days). They can access welcome videos, resources, presentations, and other company information through the onboarding web portal, a single location for all of the relevant information.

An immersion team was created for support of new employees. The team is informed when a candidate accepts a job offer, at which point a team member contacts the new employee’s manager, who receives one-on-one coaching on the onboarding program and is encouraged to provide a peer coach to assist with the onboarding process. The team seeks regular feedback from employees and managers at 30, 60, and 90 days to monitor program success and adjust the content when needed. Approximately 350 new hires will go through the program in 2012.

Time-to-Productivity is Key

The key to the program’s comprehensiveness, and therefore its success, says Sokolowski, was the design team’s approach: “We began with the end in mind, and asked, ‘What does success look like?’ We determined that time to productivity was the measure we sought, then assessed the knowledge, skills, and tools employees needed to be fully productive.”

The results speak for themselves. Not only has time to employee productivity decreased by 48 percent, to 2.5 months, but also the number of employees who understand the company leadership and its vision has increased by 18 percent.

“I think that what makes the program innovative is its depth, as well as the number of facets it contains, from live [instructor-led training] to online support, to manager and peer coaching, to that roadmap for the first 90 days,” says Sokolowski. “We really take new people and fully immerse them in all things Savvis.”

The team also has worked hard to define and implement a new corporate leadership development strategy, which had been lacking during previous administrations. They crafted and implemented their new framework in less than three months. The framework’s four tiers depend on levels within the organization and are based on a leadership pipeline philosophy. Each features rich, blended development experiences: emerging leader series, frontline leader development, mid-level leader development, and senior leader development.

Each experience lasts between four and 12 months and uses cohort groups, predevelopment and post-experience assessments to baseline current leadership behaviors, multiday skill-building classroom experiences, executive presence to kick off and close classroom sessions, and regular post-course renewal sessions to keep cohort groups connected during the experience.

In addition to the preprogram 360-degree assessment for self-reflection, leaders also receive a 360-degree review 10 months after the classroom program to measure impact. To date, the leadership development experiences have driven a 24 percent increase in the critical leadership behaviors the programs are designed to address. Leaders who participated in the program in 2011 performed on average 28.5 percent better on achievement of goals and 16.2 percent better on competencies on the year-end performance review than leaders who did not attend.

“We have seen phenomenal outcomes,” Sokolowski says with obvious pride. “We have more demand than supply, and have received anecdotal comments such as ‘life-changing’ and ‘earth-shattering.'”

Reprinted from T&D Magazine

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