How To Design An Effective Onboarding Program

The first day on a new job can be daunting. People are walking into a group who have already established relationships with each other and found their place in a company. Like being the new kid at school, new employees may feel lost and out of place before even walking through the doors of the organization, virtually or physically.

This week on the Train Like You Listen podcast, Marci Morford, Manager of Onboarding, Culture, and Innovation Programs at Salesforce, spends some time with us to discuss onboarding. During this podcast, she takes time to discuss onboarding as a concept and how to use that concept to set practical goals for new hires. She highlights important moments for employers to consider when designing an onboarding program, gives us advice on how to design an effective program, and explains what needs to be asked of managers to make these programs successful.

Listen using the player below. Please leave us your thoughts in the comment section or on twitter @train_champion.

Transcript of the Conversation with Marci Morford

Brian Washburn: Welcome to the Train Like You Listen Podcast, the weekly podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. Today, we are joined by Marci Morford, who is the Manager of Onboarding Culture and Innovation Programs at Salesforce. Hello, Marci.

Marci Morford: Hello. Thank you for having me.

6-Word Introduction

Brian Washburn:  Well, thank you for joining us. Today, we’re going to talk a little bit about onboarding, which is right in your title. And as we get started, and as we do with guests every week, we’ll always invite them to give a little bit of an introduction to themselves using exactly six words. So for example, I would say, “I always like to feel welcome”. Do you have a way to sum up your life experience in six words?

Marci Morford: “Give me something to do.”

Brian Washburn:  That one works as well. And I want to dive into that a little bit more deeply because that really gets to the heart of onboarding. So when we talk about onboarding, can you talk a little bit about what is onboarding and what value can a well-designed onboarding program give to companies?

What is Outboarding?

Marci Morford:  Yeah. So I think “onboarding,” the noun, is just a period of time between when somebody signs their offer letter and when they can go a whole week without asking how to do something or where to find something. I think “onboarding,” the verb, what we do as professionals is the act of accelerating that period of time in a way that improves business outcomes and makes the new hire feel welcome and confident in their new role.

Brian Washburn:  All right. So that makes sense. And if we want to boil it down to something that’s a little bit more practical, going from the conceptual to practical, what would you say it would be three or five of the most important components that go into some sort of effective onboarding program?

What is Needed in an Effective Onboarding Program?

Marci Morford: There’s a lot of ways to achieve a good onboarding program, and I think there’s 500 valid ways to onboard somebody well. But I think if I had to boil down three of the most important things that an onboarding program should do, and then the way you execute those can be various, it’s #1, can a new hire quickly find the people and the things that they need to do their job tasks in the moment that they need to do them? I think a lot of onboarding programs miss that mark by not giving them the resources they’re going to need three months down the road.

The second thing is, can the new hire accurately and confidently state what it is that their new company does and where it’s going, what the company is supposed to be doing in the future, and how they and their new role fit into that? And then the third thing, that the first few weeks of work, a new hire should go home every day with these warm, fuzzy feelings that they haven’t made a huge mistake by taking this job or working with this company. And I think if the onboarding program can do those three things, then it probably doesn’t suck.

Brian Washburn: (LAUGHING) So you have three things here. So can people find what they’re looking for? Can people see what the company does? And do they want to come back tomorrow? And I think that those are really important big picture goals for any onboarding program, and that’s really important, I think, for people to keep in mind.

Now, the tricky part is how do you actually turn that into action. Can you talk a little bit about what some of the things that you’ve done when you’ve designed onboarding programs that really make people feel like they might want to come back tomorrow, that they haven’t made a mistake?

How to Implement a Successful Onboarding Program

Marci Morford: Yeah. I think that the “I didn’t make a mistake” feeling comes from two human feelings that you want to nurture. The first is, when people start a new job they are really nervous that they’re not going to fit it in on a personal level. They don’t know anybody, and there’s that Katie from Mean Girls sitting in the bathroom with the lunch tray thing that everyone– that runs through their head when they start a new job. Like, “who am I going to be friends with? Who am I going to eat lunch with? Am I going to drink coffee alone until I die?”

That fear is very real when somebody is joining a new company. So I think that when you’re designing an ongoing program, you have to nurture that fear of connection by building really, really deep opportunities for connecting people. So the thing that I try to do is avoid those, kind of– frivolous is not the right adjective, but, “I’ve set you up with three people to have lunch with. Go– now I’ve connected you.”

People don’t really connect in those, kind of, forced ways. So when you’re building the program, you want to build activities that feel like they’re learning, but where they’re actually deeply bonding and connecting with other new hires, with actual experts that are coming to talk to them, with their boss or their actual colleagues on their team. How can you really connect them in a way that, if they see them in the hallway, it’ll be something deeper than “hi” tomorrow?

Brian Washburn:  I think that that’s actually a really– you had two important points there. One is that it doesn’t matter how old you are, whether you’re in high school or you’re in your 40s or 50s. You’re starting a new job, you don’t want to feel like, “oh, I don’t know anybody here. I don’t know who I’m going to have lunch with. I don’t want to feel alone in the company.” I think it’s a really important point.

And then the other point that I heard you make was it needs to be authentic and genuine. It can’t be forced. So setting somebody up with a buddy or three buddies that they’re going to have lunch with over the course of the first month, I think there’s some good intent there, but the feeling that it needs be genuine, I think, is something that also needs to be there.

Marci Morford: Yeah. I mean, certainly, setting them up with lunch is good because the worst thing in the world is to start a brand new job and eat lunch alone on your first day. So do that, but that’s just scratching the surface of what a good onboarding program would do for that connection piece, I think.

The second, I think even Millennials don’t want the participation trophy. When you start a new job, you want to feel intelligent, you want to feel talented, want to feel like you’re contributing to your company right away. And I think a lot of onboarding programs miss the mark on letting new hires feel like they’re worthwhile.

In addition to not feeling you made a mistake, you don’t want the company to feel like they made a mistake and they’re just paying you to do nothing for months on end. So I think having authentic moments in the program where they can do two things– one, feel smart and feel like they’re good at their job that they just got hired to do. And then the second is to actually do something meaningful and useful for their company early on in their tenure, really helped people feel like they didn’t make a huge mistake. “I can do this job.”

And again, I think that people make the mistake of making those moments be kind of cutesy and frivolous, when, in reality, having something built in where they genuinely get to demonstrate a skill set or a knowledge base that was the reason you hired them is going to make them feel much, much better than, for example, a Jeopardy game where they get to state some facts.

Where to Start When Building an Onboarding Program

Brian Washburn:  Excellent. And we’re going to return to Jeopardy on another podcast coming up soon. But so these– I love, kind of, the specific ideas that are coming out here. Now, for somebody who is either trying to create for the first time in their organization a new employee onboarding program, or maybe even for somebody who has been asked to reimagine what onboarding can be, what would be maybe one or two pieces of advice, some simple things that people should be doing in order to even get started, if people don’t even know where to begin?

Marci Morford: Yeah. I guess my two biggest pieces of advice, the first one would be greedy with the amount of time that you’re going to take for this program. I think a lot of times we get pressure from business leaders to make onboarding shorter and shorter and shorter. And I think what that does is it squeezes out those moments of connection and those moments of building up confidence in your new hire and ends up just being a data dump of here’s where you put all the documents and here’s the big boss’s name. And I think that’s a mistake.

I think that if you can do it in two days, ask for five. That just allows you to dig a little bit deeper with those connections and building those genuine relationships. And also, it gives you the time you need to make it fun. When we talk about how that week should be a positive week, you need time to have those activities. Activities take longer than lectures do.

The second is– and Brian’s going to laugh when I say this– lecture’s the devil and shouldn’t have them. I think if your new hires are listening to lectures more than 10% of the time, you’ve already failed. We already know from all of the data that that’s not how humans learn. So if you go into a new hire program, and on your second day, you’re told 700 pieces of data from seven different leaders of how you should do your job, we all know, as instructional designers, they’re not going to remember any of that. So don’t do it. Don’t lecture them. There shouldn’t be any PowerPoints.

Brian Washburn:  Yeah. I’m not going to laugh, i’m going to applaud. Because I am right there with you. Marci, thank you so much for giving us some thoughts just in terms of your experiences when it comes to onboarding.

Get to Know Marci Morford

Brian Washburn: Before we go, we always like to play a little bit of a speed round so that listeners get to know the person who has been speaking to them for the past five minutes or so. And so are you ready for a few final speed round questions?

Marci Morford: I’m ready.

Brian Washburn:  All right. First question, what’s your go-to food before you deliver a presentation?

Marci Morford: Coffee, coffee, coffee.

Brian Washburn:  (LAUGHING) The liquid diet. I like it. What book should people in L&D be reading these days?

Marci Morford: Design for How People Learn” by Julie DirksenI read it every single January, along with Who Moved My Cheese, and I think everyone else should, too.

Brian Washburn:  I think that Julie is one of the smartest and most accessible people in the field, so I applaud that as well. What’s one piece of training tech that you cannot live without?

Marci Morford: I think that, given enough time, effort, and creativity, an instructional designer should be able to build an awesome program with no tech at all. With that being said, Miro, which is spelled M-I-R-O, is a new tech that I have been playing with, and I think it’s really cool in the way that it allows you to map the learner journey and have them walk that path in a simulated way. It’s really interactive virtually, and I think that right now, I would die without Miro.

Brian Washburn:  I’m going to have to look that up, because that is the first I’m hearing of it. The last question I have for you is, what’s been the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Marci Morford: I don’t know about ever, but a really good one is: If you want to do something, great. Go do it.

Brian Washburn: That is a good piece of advice. And the idea of not letting somebody stand in your way when you really have it there.

So, Marci, thank you so much for giving us some time today. I think that this is a really, really important conversation because, regardless of where we stand, whether it’s coronavirus or the next thing, people are still going to come into companies, and they need to be onboarded and they need to be onboarded effectively, otherwise it’s really bad experience from the start. So I really appreciate the thoughts that you shared with us today.

Thank you, everyone else, for giving us some time and giving us a listen. This has been the Train Like You Listen Podcast. You can always download our podcast on Spotify, iHeartRadio, iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you so much. And until next time, happy training.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox.  Sign up today for a free demo.

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