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How to Onboard New Hires

What does a cooking video and a music video have to do with designing a corporate onboarding program? Both tell us how learning experiences must be designed.

Let us start by watching Master Chef Gordon Ramsay's video where shows us 5 basic cooking skills.

The video appeals to the novice and the expert alike. It has been viewed 34 million times. It uses the first of the four steps of designing a Cognitive Apprenticeship.

Here is a conversation I had recently with the hiring manager of a music streaming company about a new hire.

  • "We hired her because she is absolutely amazing as a Machine Learning (ML) expert. She has no understanding of our business even after spending months with us. During the interview we only evaluated her ML skills. She is easily the best ML expert we have, but she does not understand our business. She was off to a great start from day one and then her lack of appreciation of our business limited her impact.
  • We were so impressed with her academic background, work experience and tech skills that we did not stop to ask if she would be the wrong hire. We are a music streaming platform and she does not understand the music business.
  • Did we make the wrong hire? Should we move her into a role where business knowledge is a precondition for success? Did we not onboard her the right way?

(Some identifiers have been changed to preserve anonymity)

Onboarding is about bridging knowledge gaps

Whether it is the new VP or the summer interns from college, designing a great onboarding experience is complex. A well-designed onboarding program helps the new hire to become productive and well-integrated into the organisation. That means bridging tacit knowledge, historical context (how did we get here) and what may be critical to your role.

So, design it like a learning experience

The interview notes should tell you about the knowledge gaps to be bridged and how long it will take before the person becomes productive.

For experienced hires it could mean teaching how to avoid the 'been there, done that' mindset. For the interns it could mean helping them apply their freshly gained knowledge to a business context.

Design principle no 1: Match content (knowledge/ prior experience) to new context.

1. Teaching them new tricks

Experienced people may get off to a quick start and draw on the talent pool of previous employers. Experienced people are slow to spot the unique opportunities and unfamiliar challenges of the business.

How to do it?

  • Create opportunities for peer to peer learning with peers drawn from across the business. Spending about 15-20 minutes each day to connect with peers. (Read more Cognitive Apprenticeship - see my sketchnote below).

2. Teaching them the business

I heard a Gen Z student mention how her recent internship experience was unfulfilling.* The intern does not have the business context and cannot create the impact that they would love to. The business leaders are reluctant to spend time to bring the intern up to speed. How can the learning be designed to create value for both?

Read: Lack of Experience Can Be An Advantage

Design principle no 2: Work out Loud

John Stepper talks about Working Out Loud (WOL). The principle is very simple. When you put your work out in the public domain, it benefits others. Feedback from others helps you improve. Make your work visible, so it helps others.

Design Principle 3: Build key relationships first

The people we spend time with, shape our thinking. Yet when a person joins a new organisation, this is exactly what they lack. Onboarding is a relationship building phase first. Dumping them with information, business plans etc slows down a new hire.

The people we spend time with, shape our thinking. Yet when a person joins a new organisation, this is exactly what they lack. Onboarding is a relationship building phase first. Dumping them with information, business plans etc slows down a new hire.

  1. Create short videos and explainers to deconstruct the information, the newbie would need.
  2. Ask the new hire in each depart to write down the questions which (if answered) would help them become effective at work. Then use them to bridge the gaps and keep tweaking the onboarding experience.
  3. Conversations create clarity. Being able to talk to experts as well as somewhat more experienced peers can help the learning process.

Gordon Ramsay's video is a great example of working out loud and the first principle of Cognitive Apprenticeship.

Here is the music video I promised. This shows sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar playing with his disciple (and daughter) Anoushka Shankar. The magic that a terrific learning experience produce is for us to see.

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