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Martin Baker

Clear Lessons & The Charity Learning Consortium


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Employee onboarding: is compliance killing your L&D brand?


Learning and development has a real image problem. A training department’s first contact with staff is often dreaded compliance, as part of an uninspiring induction, and that’s what L&D will be remembered for.

Yes, compliance is necessary, but don’t lead with it - build a relationship with your people first. If you did a straw poll of your staff and volunteers and asked who likes compliance, I suspect there would be no show of hands. Put simply, mandatory training has a bad image. Let’s face it, it can be rather dull, but a necessary hoop to jump through.

If you don’t want to become known as simply the ‘kings of compliance’, then timing is everything.

I’m not saying for one moment that you should stop ensuring your staff are compliant – it’s essential for front line staff that are working with children and vulnerable people to know about safeguarding, for example.

Also, not all of it is bad: there are some good examples out there. On the whole though, it’s seen as something that has to be done.

Why oh why, then, does learning and development lead with it, often as part of an uninspiring induction programme which puts the needs of the organisation (rather than the learner) first? It really doesn’t have to be this way.

First impressions count

When you sit new staff and volunteers down on day one and put them through compulsory training, their first experience of L&D is at best forgettable, and - far worse - probably negative.

It doesn’t matter how much you apologise, the damage to your reputation has been done.

If you don’t want to become known as simply the ‘kings of compliance’, then timing is everything.

In my experience, organisations frequently lead with the mandatory stuff, then they might look at helping staff to do their jobs better, with technical training or time management, for example.

Last of all comes resources and courses to support individuals, like resilience, mental health, burnout and stress.

I find this approach quite odd, as ultimately, if staff are more resilient and able to take care of their mental health, that’s going to be great for your organisation.

If we truly want to transform L&D so that it’s fit for purpose, to shake off the old image of the tick box training department, then we need to turn this on its head.

Putting new starters through compulsory training as soon as possible may be an organisational need, but it isn’t what learners need. So how can you do things differently?

Transforming learning and development

Compassion in World Farming International (CIWF) starts its onboarding process 30 days before new starters join the organisation.

It’s a really clever approach, because once someone has handed in their notice at their old job they’re usually excited to be joining yours. They’re at their most receptive and eager to learn about their new organisation.

The small development team at CIWF has set up a system so that as soon as new staff digitally sign and submit their acceptance form, useful information is electronically released.

They’ve tried to put themselves into the shoes of a new starter and thought about what information they might want and need beforehand, such as where to park, the dress code, and where to eat lunch. This is aimed at helping the individual, not the organisation.

In an ideal world, compulsory training would always come after content that is aimed at supporting staff on a personal level.

Similarly at World Vision UK, its induction transformation started with the premise: let’s try and eliminate anything that doesn’t add value for the employee. What a refreshing approach.

Yes, it still has to ask new starters working in the field to go through compliance, but they’re not leading with that.

The whole focus is on supporting people to settle in, and includes useful videos they’ve created, with tips from existing staff, and an afternoon tea.

You might need courage to do things differently, but as these charities demonstrate, budget is rarely, if ever, the issue.

Enlightened practitioners in these organisations are simply putting the needs of their workforce first, and in doing so they’re building a great reputation from day one.

Transformation isn’t necessarily quick or easy, but the results are worth it.

Just have a look at this tweet from a recent new starter, which I think says it all: “Thanks World Vision UK for an amazing first day at the office. What a welcome!”

As a new member of staff, if you’ve been supported in this way and you are then asked to go through GDPR training, it’s within the context of knowing that L&D really is there to help and support you.

People first

In an ideal world, compulsory training would always come after content that is aimed at supporting staff on a personal level.

I know that isn’t always possible, but please don’t continue to put people’s personal (but essential) needs last. Intersperse the compulsory with other things.

Take the CIWF and World Vision UK approach of putting learners needs first and include content that shows that you care about your staff and volunteers as individuals.

Even the language of ‘compliance’, ‘mandatory’ and ‘compulsory’, has a negative ring to it.

So before you mention those dreaded words, build a relationship with your staff and volunteers first.

Four tips to transform L&D

  1. Don’t lead with compliance. Yes, mandatory training has to be done, but don’t make it the first experience that staff have of L&D, otherwise that’s what you’ll be remembered for.
  2. Try putting the personal needs of your staff and volunteers first, whenever possible. Ultimately your organisation will reap the rewards.
  3. Take a good hard look at your induction programme. Do new staff feel valued and supported by you, or are you just ticking boxes? Building a great relationship from day one makes it easier to then tackle compliance.
  4. Think about the language that you use when marketing courses and resources to your workforce - why should they care, what’s in it for them? I’d love to hear about great examples of tackling compliance and induction.

Please leave me a comment below if you have a case study you’d like to share.  

Interested in this topic? Read Employee onboarding: how to get new starters off on the right foot.

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