Frontline managers are the most important people in modern workplace learning. They are the “boots on the ground” who drive employee performance and provide ongoing support. They hold employees accountable for their behavior AND will ultimately be held accountable for their employees’ behavior. Therefore, it is critical for frontline managers to play an intimate role in a reimagined approach to onboarding.

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Unfortunately, manager involvement in traditional onboarding can vary wildly—even within the same organization. In some cases, a manager may take on the role of frontline trainer while simultaneously trying to handle their management responsibilities. On the other side of the spectrum, the manager may be completely absent during formal onboarding only to meet the employee once they are handed off after training is complete. Neither of these scenarios involve the manager in a way that best promotes continuous, personalized development.

Managers must be involved early and often to fully enable the reimagined onboarding experience we have been exploring in our #OnboardingSoS blog series. At the same time, managers are also VERY busy people. Their expected involvement must be balanced to best maximize their position as coach/supervisor without adding substantial new requirements that would stretch their already limited capacity. In fact, the right strategy can help managers become more effective in their existing role while improving the overall continuous learning experience for new employees.

Here are just a few ways managers should be involved in a modern onboarding experience.

Upfront Expectations

A manager should touch base with a new employee IMMEDIATELY when they join the organization. This allows for upfront expectation setting. It also provides the employee with the opportunity to ask outstanding logistical questions that may otherwise become distractions during the development process.

Continuous Updates

A manager should never have to wait until the end of a formal training process to find out how their new team member is performing. Rather, the manager should receive continuous updates that will allow them to take proactive steps to support the employee’s development. Data gathered from continuous learning activities, such as reinforcement and iterative assessment, can show objective progress against set expectations. Learning and development (L&D) should also provide anecdotal reports to fill in the blanks and set context for any provided measurement data.

Capability Assessment

The initial, formal onboarding experience should establish a capability baseline before an employee is permitted to enter the operation on their own. A manager should participate in the assessment used to determine the employee’s readiness. This should set the tone for the ongoing coaching the employee will receive on the job. It will also eliminate surprise capability gaps and ensure the employee is ready to meet the manager’s operational expectations.

Behavior Observation

Managers are already expected to observe employee behavior and provide feedback. Data from this experience is almost never captured and therefore cannot benefit the employee or organization long-term. L&D can improve this outcome by introducing a structured observation process. Managers would still be expected to observe and coach as normal. However, the data from these “moments of truth” can be easily recorded and aggregated to help L&D identify potential gaps across the company. By using adaptive learning technology, the data can also be used to better personalize the employee’s continuous learning experience based on real-world behavior.

Data Driven Coaching

Who invented the 30/60/90 day check-in process, and why did they pick those timeframes? Regardless, a calendar is not an effective means of measuring performance improvement. Managers can leverage the data available within a continuous learning framework, including shifts in knowledge and behavior, to better target their coaching activities. Rather than meet with everyone on the same schedule, managers should focus their time on employees who have immediate gaps in critical performance topics. By no means should managers ignore employees who are meeting or exceeding all expectations. However, it is less likely that these employees will require as much structured engagement as those who clearly need extra help.

The foundational principle of a reimagined onboarding is that it never stops. Rather, it sets the stage for a modern continuous learning experience. As the most important player in this continuous experience, the manager must be expected to engage early and often with a new employee. No, L&D cannot dictate how managers spend their time. But L&D can provide the structure and tools necessary to seamlessly blend this accelerated engagement into the manager’s current role. In addition, rather than position onboarding as a “learning thing,” L&D must communicate the operational value of this reimagined experience using language and measurements that align with existing manager accountabilities.

Have you found impactful ways to involve frontline managers in your onboarding process? Have you seen meaningful results from standard practices, such as 30/60/90 day check-ins, or do you agree that a new approach is required to meet the needs of the modern employee?

Be sure to check out the entire #OnboardingSoS blog series and come back next month for Part 6: Selling a New Vision for Onboarding.

JD Dillon

Author: JD Dillon

JD Dillon, the principal learning strategist at Axonify, has spent 15 years designing and implementing learning and performance strategies for respected global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company, Kaplan, Brambles, and AMC Theatres. With his practical approach and ability to integrate science, technology, storytelling, and pure common sense, JD delivers modern solutions that enable employees, improve organizational performance, and drive business results. In his current role with Axonify, JD works with an award-winning team to boost employee knowledge and performance for leading organizations through the application of modern learning practices and cutting-edge technology.

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