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There are many hidden costs in onboarding new talent. From HR salaries, to the nuts and bolts of your HRIS system (annual application spend; infrastructure costs), to the more amorphous spectrum of marketing ROI (was it a win to advertise at that latest job fair or not?), bringing in and managing human capital is one of the biggest and most important expenditures a company can make. But once that’s done, what does it actually take to make the new hires effective?
Some reports show that it takes a long as 8 months to fully ramp up new employees. Other reports show that these processes can cost upwards of 1–2.5% of total annual revenue to do so. This is a huge expenditure. Being able to effectively ramp up your new team members will not only contribute to your bottom line but will also create a more engaging workplace. I would argue that often the effectiveness of these ramp-up plans can be directly correlated to how effective they are at communicating their intent and status, and this in turn is aided (or not) in a huge part by visual indicators. I’ll look at why visual indicators are so effective in onboarding training and how you can use lessons learned to cut down your ramp-up time so your employees can be off to the races.
For brevity’s sake, I’m going to section off new hire training into three broad categories. Generally, I would view these as increasing in level of difficulty for a new hire to get trained on:
I’ll address each of these separately, starting with culture. But first, we need to address the other elephant in the room: what is a “visual indicator?”
Visual indicators are exactly what they sound like: an indication of something, visually. When designing for UI/UX, things like status, progress, ownership, etc. are popular heuristics for design. I think this can be extended more broadly though to include things like office design, color palettes, dress code, etc. Walking into a new hip dot-com company with low lined, open cubicles, snazzy bean bags, and pool tables is very different than walking into a courthouse or wall street hedge fund. All of this is by design (whether you recognize it or not). So in all of the discussion below, think about how you can step back and design your processes and indicators to be communicated visually. Now that that’s out the way, let’s tackle what’s first on our list: culture.
Helping you define your company culture is beyond the scope of this article. If you don’t know what your company (or team) values are, we have bigger problems. The point is though that you should have one, whatever it is, and it should be known. At a macro level, culture allows us to develop relationships of fictive kin. I’m not just employee ID #123 getting paid by company Tax ID #XYZ. I’m a member of a team and company with a defined vision, and this vision inspires me to do great things. Hopefully. Peter Drucker was right when he famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
So, you’ve got culture, but how do you get people to buy in? For starters, make an explicit attempt to do so. This may sound superfluous but I’m being serious here. A good place to start: visually.
A few years ago, I was at a company and saw people (FWIW, they were not HR, but rather fellow team members) decorating a desk for a new hire. It wasn’t anything elaborate, no swanky new iPads or even monogrammed hoodies. It was basically a company branded koozie, pen, and writing pad. The kicker though was two things: handwritten sticky notes from each team member welcoming the new employee (and providing important contact information, because who knows how to search the address book on Day 1?) and a unique shade of green tassle tied around the desk chair (this company’s color-scheme included this green). It was like creating a branded present waiting to be unwrapped; inside was the start of a new career path and a shoutout from all your teammates ready to help you along the way.
Without me even knowing this company’s values or mission statement, if I were to walk up to this desk vs. one with just a laptop and phone, I can tell you which I’d pick to engage more with from the start. So before you even begin to train on the culture side, make an attempt to show that you have one, that you’ve thought through this new partnership you and your new employee have decided to embark upon, and it’s not just about filling empty seats.
Another popular method is to have core quotes, values, or mission statements visible in the workspace. These shouldn’t be just any cute aphorism poster you found online. Every time you read something, it makes a copy in your brain. Let me repeat that. Every time you read something it makes a copy in your brain. Wouldn’t it be good then to have your core values constantly shown so that those are what are being copied? Have an iconic leader? Put a picture of them up. Not every company needs or can have a Richard Branson or Steve Jobs, but almost all of them have cultural stallworths that embody what it means to be part of that team. Show them the love, and create educational talking points in the process.
What about conference room naming? If I asked you to go to a conference room named after an iconic local location or sports team, that says something about who you are. Sponsor a local charity? Throw that up. Or just add some plants. All of this is about visually creating an environment that is unique to you and not everywhere else an employee could have gone.
Culture should be what gets and keeps people in the door. If it’s not, you’re creating an alliance based on commodities. Your competitors may have more clout in that area, so it’s important you establish an identifiable relationship up front so your employees can latch onto something bigger than themselves.
The extent to which you can affect administrative strategies may be limited unless you’re specifically in HR. Some documents just need to be signed by certain times, no questions asked. But this is still an area where you and HR (if you’re not in HR) can work in partnership. Take, for example, onboarding checklists. Let’s do an experiment.
Print off and stack all of your important HR documents (I9s, employee handbooks, policies requiring signatures of acceptance, etc.) and stack them on top of each other. Flip through them, marking each document when done. Now step back, and see if you can name each document you just “signed,” when, and why it’s important. I bet you’ll have trouble.
Now, do the same thing, but add a one-pager document on top. This document should list boldly each document in the stack, a checkbox for when it’s completed, a second checkbox if follow-up is needed (are there questions still about the contents?), date, and signature of the employee. Be sure to include a due date in big bold letters. Now, go through each document, and instead of marking the individual documents, use the one-page on top to track your progress. Now step back and see where you’re at. How much easier was that for you?
The scenario above was just an experiment, but again, one built on visual indicators. How else might you think about using visual indicators to show and/or get through this process?
Unless employees know how to do the job you hired them for, in your environment, they won’t be effective. Technical ramp-up plans usually take the longest to get used to. Every company has their own way of doing things, much less products to learn about, sales strategies, customized applications, code bases, etc. So where could visual indicators come into play here?
For one, do you offer ramp-up plans? If you hired a Level 2 support technician, are there certain things they must know how to do in order to be perceived as technically competent? What list of recurring issues or questions are continually asked? Once you have those, develop role-specific ramp-up plans and skill-belt areas for them to pass.
For example, let’s say for every Level 2 employee, you’re required to do the following:
Track each of these individually. You could start with something small, just a checklist and/or certificates of levels passed posted prominently in new hires cubes. Later on down the line, maybe you want to have fully interactive dashboards showing you details across a spectrum of applications or processes. The point is to be able to define and communicate things visually.
Human beings evolved to be discerning animals. A large portion of that discernment is based on visual input. Seventy percent of all sensory receptors in our body are dedicated to sight. So, while we may not be the fastest, strongest, or have the best sense of smell, we definitely dedicate a large amount of interpretation (for better or worse) based off of what we see right in front of us. If you are looking for ways to ramp up your employees more quickly, consider using visual indicators as a way to jump-start your onboarding and training programs. These initiatives should be distinct, eye-catching displays of who you are (culture), what you need your new hires to do (administrative), and what you want them to learn (technical). Combining all of these elements into a holistic, visual approach will take you from 0 to 60 in no time flat.
Adam Rauh has been working in IT since 2005. Currently in the business intelligence and analytics space at Tableau, he spent over a decade working in IT operations focusing on ITSM, leadership, and infrastructure support. He is passionate about data analytics, security, and process frameworks and methodologies. He has spoken at, contributed to, or authored articles for a number of conferences, seminars, and user-groups across the US on a variety of subjects related to IT, data analytics, and public policy. He currently lives in Georgia. Connect with Adam on LinkedIn.
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