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

Poised for Discovery: Transforming an Onboarding Program

While much of the nation has been fighting to survive the recession, Booz Allen, a strategy and technology consulting firm, has faced a different challenge: unprecedented growth. With an increased focus on business delivery and utilization, new hires need to be equipped with the knowledge, tools, and resources to be engagement-ready. And they need to be ready faster than ever before.

The firm’s legacy onboarding program had many strong components, but lacked the cohesiveness and accountability necessary to ensure a consistent new hire experience for the firm’s growing workforce. Aimee George Leary, Booz Allen’s director for learning, development, and diversity, explained, “We needed to develop a comprehensive onboarding solution that increased new-hire readiness and accelerated time to productivity to serve the needs of the business.”

Before getting started, Booz Allen conducted a comprehensive internal evaluation and external benchmarking analysis. Their research led them to determine that it was essential the new program do the following:

•         Promote accountability and participation through a cohesive brand that defines the program.
•         Make a good first impression and generate excitement before the new hire’s first day via an online new-hire portal.
•         Maximize engagement and speed learning through a combination of immersive learning activities that expose new hires to real-world challenges.
•         Drive results by integrating performance management and career planning systems and processes.
•         Encourage virtual networking through social media and knowledge management tools.
•         Keep enthusiasm high through ongoing communication via social media, newsletters, and guides.

Booz Allen partnered with industry experts to develop a branded, phased, 12-month series of learning events and activities designed to help new hires quickly engage with the organization, feel comfortable joining their respective teams, and develop a strong level of knowledge regarding the firm’s culture and core values.

Because new employee orientation jumpstarts the onboarding process, it is imperative that the revamped program makes a good first impression, reinforces new hires’ decision to join the firm, and delivers business impact.

Promote accountability and participation

The program is broken into three phases throughout the new hire’s first year. These phases are branded Engage, Equip, and Excel. Each phase has its own milestones and objectives. The program’s design provides a recognizable framework that is applicable to all new hires, while allowing regional offices to tailor some local content for enhanced value. Orientation attendance is mandatory across the firm to drive a consistent new-hire onboarding experience for all employees.

The initial phase, Engage, is designed to excite and prepare new hires for their first year. This phase typically spans two to three weeks (from acceptance through their first week on the job). Two key program elements within this phase are the New Hire Portal and Firmwide Orientation.

Maximize engagement and speed learning

Booz Allen’s Legacy Orientation program has been transformed from a two-and-a-half-day program that occurred around the fourth week, to a four-day program that now occurs during a new hire’s first week. The new Firmwide Orientation uses experiential and discovery-based learning to create an interactive and engaging experience, connect the learning to the real world of Booz Allen, allow for practice and application, and provide for early networking opportunities.

Built on discovery-based learning activities focused on networking, skill development, and early career planning, the first day of Firmwide Orientation centers on an information-rich, table-sized learning visual called a Blueline Blueprint. This unique classroom design concept functions as a launch point for a broad range of individual activities and team challenges.

Discovery learning techniques demand that learners play an active role in the learning process and apply themselves in new and different ways as they work in cross-functional teams, explore different points of view, learn from each other’s experiences, integrate new information with past experiences and current knowledge.

In addition to its role as a launch point for a broad range of interactivities, the Blueprint serves as a visual landscape, inviting participants to explore the firm’s history, its people and culture, institutional structure, client service, and core values and mission. New hires collaborate in cross-functional table teams made up of six members each, spanning different work teams, regional offices, and levels. Working in these teams jump-starts the development of working relationships and networks, which are critical components of success at Booz Allen.

During days two and three, new hires are immersed in a realistic job preview that equips them to engage fully with the organization and the firm’s clients. Teams of three learners each compete in a simulated, year-long client engagement. A second Blueline Blueprint combines elements of a process map with a traditional board game (not unlike Monopoly or The Game of Life). It serves as the critical “touchstone” throughout the simulation.

The game also provides exposure to foundational planning tools and analysis skills that help prepare new hires for performance on the job. An adjunct instructor, who is a seasoned employee with knowledge gleaned from client engagements, adds to the experience by providing “real world” insights and examples from her career.

The fourth day, a highly interactive and hands-on workshop, is based on a firm-specific “formula for success.” New hires use laptops to explore online resources designed to assist them with career planning and development.

Senior leaders play a key role in the program by delivering welcome messages and leading personal discussions on how to succeed at the firm. Meanwhile, new hires learn the “secrets to success” and receive tips on how to navigate the company’s culture through structured networking events, which occur both in-person and online via Booz Allen’s social media and knowledge management tool.

Keep enthusiasm high

Phase II, Equip, spans the period encompassing the new hire’s second week through their first six months, and provides employees with the tools, skills, and behaviors needed for success at the firm. Key program elements within this phase include: Local Orientation; 30-, 60-, and 90-day check-ins with the manager; detailed onboarding toolkits; a six-month pulse check; and a series of e-newsletters. All of these are designed to reinforce and build on the information, knowledge, and relationships developed in Phase I by providing opportunities for learners to apply them on the job.

Drive results

Phase III: Excel, is focused on continued professional development, affiliation building, and embodiment of the firm’s values. This phase spans month seven through the end of year one, and its key milestone is the new hire’s first annual assessment.

To complement the year-long program, the onboarding team also has harnessed the firm’s social media and knowledge management tool to provide a social space designed to connect new hires, and those who support them, throughout their first year. As a member of the “Onboarding Community,” any employee can discover and contribute information, activities, and resources that support and enhance the first year experience, and can communicate via blogs and forum discussions.

The results

Since its launch in November 2009, more than 8,000 new employees have completed the new hire program. Greater than 95 percent of new employees have acknowledged the program’s positive impact, reinforcing their decisions to join and stay at Booz Allen.

As a result, attrition for employees with tenure of six months or less has been reduced by four percentage points. And new hire time-to-productivity has been accelerated by several weeks, saving the firm millions of dollars of lost revenue. Internal survey results also reveal higher (a 6 percent average increase) levels of perceived job readiness and impact among new hires.

Booz Allen’s onboarding program has been recognized as a “best in class” solution. The work has been rewarded with a Bersin Learning Leaders Award for Learning and Talent Initiative Excellence and ASTD’s prestigious Excellence in Practice Citation and Award.

Reprinted from Learning Circuits

Onboarding Program Indoctrinates New Millienials at MACH Speed

As a professor teaching business management undergraduates at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California, Chip Espinoza interacted with young people on a daily basis. Several years ago he noticed a major shift in student attitudes, behaviors and expectations regarding schoolwork and assignments. Almost simultaneously, his corporate clients began to raise a new issue during consulting projects on organizational change.

“I found that my students wanted very specific direction,” Espinoza says. “Meanwhile, my corporate clients were finding them difficult to work with.”

Espinoza, who was pursuing his doctorate in leadership and change from Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio, decided to make his discovery the subject of his doctoral research and dissertation. He wanted to uncover the reasons for and dimensions of tension between generations in the workplace. His findings were published in his book Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today’s Workforce.

Espinoza and his co-authors, Mick Ukleja and Craig Rusch, focused on managers as crucial drivers of successful intergenerational working relationships.

“The people with the most responsibility have to adapt first,” Espinoza says. “Once managers understand millennials and suspend the bias of their own experience, they will see a big change in relationships.” Every manager interviewed by Espinoza perceived millennials the same way, but how they responded and managed them differed.

The research revealed that a successful hiring and introductory process for a millennial is critical because of two common characteristics: a strong support system throughout childhood and an aversion to ambiguity. “The more the job requires education, the more important onboarding is,” Espinoza says of the process that allows companies to build successful relationships with new employees by helping them understand organizational goals and how their work contributes.

Espinoza cites Microsoft’s onboarding program, Microsoft Academy for College Hires, or MACH, as an example of one that helps young employees understand that crucial link. The Redmond, Washington-based software company launched MACH in 2005. It is a two-year program offered in tracks for undergraduate degree holders and newly minted MBAs. Its goal, according to Microsoft global curriculum manager Maryann Baumgarten, is to attract, develop and retain world-class talent.

“We’re trying to bring in innovative ideas as we encourage the next generation to join Microsoft,” she says. “We are increasing their numbers, and want them to get to know the company and one another.”

Baumgarten has developed and refined the program since its inception, although it has operated in its current format since 2008. It promises to help participants do three things—start strong, build your network and drive your career.

“It’s a critical first step in employee retention as we help them to understand our culture, strategy and customers,” Baumgarten says.

Certain jobs and roles are earmarked for MACH hires. Once in the program, millennial employees attend global and regional conferences and receive training, coaching and resources. Profession-specific training is offered in marketing, technology and sales tracks, and MACH participants become part of a global community that numbers 1,800 people in 60 countries. At the end of the first year, they participate in a 1 ½-day career planning workshop.

“That is the keystone—to put all the pieces together in a future-oriented plan,” Baumgarten says.

The program works, says Leigh Cresswell, a millennial corporate sales account manager in Australia who graduated from the program in 2010. Cresswell had previously worked at a multinational maker of office equipment; she says the program there was “just training; they didn’t understand what we wanted, which was to have an impact and a voice straightaway.

“[Millennials] are labeled in so many ways, most of them negative,” she adds, noting that MACH features dedicated roles that lead straight into work. “Microsoft sees us as very confident and knowledgeable about technology; we are extremely energetic and willing to give anything a go.”

Baumgarten understands generational differences; she holds master’s degrees from Fielding

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Graduate University in organizational management and development, and human development. She focused that knowledge on building MACH.

“I focus on, ‘Why?’ The purpose is at the core of everything I do,” she says. “[Millennials] don’t want to do menial tasks, so we give them projects that provide hands-on learning. We get them working successfully in teams across generations and cultures as they learn systematically how our business is run.”

MACH also gets managers on board. Their goals are to accelerate ramp-up time; drive performance and impact; and enhance manager capability. Baumgarten is offering resources to help managers learn to develop and retain young workers while networking with other managers.

“Managers must understand every step of MACH to support the learning and reinforce key outcomes,” Baumgarten says. She piloted a MACH manager conference in 2010 that provided education on generational milestones, characteristics and scenario training; an additional workshop on managing MACH participants, designed with Espinoza’s help, is due to launch in July.

“The Microsoft program is attentive to generational values and characteristics. But a successful onboard can be devalued by a bad manager match. If the manager doesn’t buy in and extend [the program], the investment can all be for naught,” Espinoza says.

For her part, Cresswell is enthusiastic. “From the moment I was brought in, I was given a two-year plan. The business took a complete bet on me. That makes you more loyal to the company because you can see a pathway. The possibilities for me here are endless.”

Reprinted from Workforce Management Online

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