Modern Training

Make Onboarding an Incredibly Human Experience

Posted on: August 25, 2017Updated on: June 29, 2022By: Axonify Team

In our latest webinar, JD Dillon, Axonify’s Chief Learning Architect shared how participants could increase the speed to capability and confidence of new employees by reimagining onboarding strategies.

Accomplishing this requires a complete mindset shift. We need to accept that onboarding never stops. It is simply the beginning of a continuous learning experience.


Onboarding is critical. But if you still need to convince (or be convinced) consider that 86 % of employees decide to stay or leave within the first 6 months. A positive onboarding experience, however, will convince 69% of new employees to stay 3 or more years. But it is also costly. Estimates suggest that it costs 16-50% of an employee’s annual income to get them operational.

And that is really what onboarding is all about. It’s the process of getting a new employee operational in their role. And what we all want, whether we’re hiring a marketing manager or one of the 700,000 employees hired into retail roles every holiday season, is return on that onboarding investment. We want them doing their jobs and doing their jobs well as soon as possible. No one wants this more than our employees themselves.

Don’t stay stuck in the past

If onboarding is so important, JD asked, why do we continue to shove our people into backrooms for hours and days on end of “mind numbing eLearning” or into classrooms for weeks on end? Why do some companies insist on continuing the follow the leader approach? You know, the “just follow him around and he’ll show you what to do” solution to onboarding. With these tactics, we force new people to consume, digest and try to retain a firehose worth of information and then we send them off. Knowledge tends to peak at the end of onboarding and then drops off the capability cliff as the forgetting curve kicks in and new employees begin to lose confidence in their ability to do the job, due to lack of knowledge. This is a large part of the reason why 22% of turnover occurs in the first 45 days on the job.

If they do survive, there is often a slight restoration of knowledge levels as new employees begin to learn by observing their peers. But this too is often rife with inconsistencies or safety issues, as the people they are learning from aren’t necessarily doing it right. JD pointed out several additional problems with traditional onboarding, including: excess information, set start and end dates, inconsistent support, misplaced accountability and a poor human experience.

Onboarding is an incredibly human experience. Our new people are often scared, eager, excited and motivated. We need to start focusing on the human first and the employee second. We also need to look at onboarding as just the beginning of a continuous learning process and not as a standalone one-off program.

Modern framework for learning

JD identified two concepts that are critical to this process. The first is creating a modern framework for learning that leverages numerous sources (or layers) of learning. These can include shared knowledge, performance support, continued reinforcement of the need to know rather than the nice to know, management support, on-demand training and of course, formal training.

Continuous learning

As L&D leaders, JD suggests, we need to let go of the concept that we must cram in all of the knowledge we can in the front-end because we may never get them back again. Instead, he suggests we leverage messaging, experience, online content and events for a structured experience. This structured experience should be augmented by reinforcement, measuring behaviors and leveraging motivation such as gamification and the right kind of feedback. Finally, it must include a community of knowledge that provides access to business results, knowledge growth and shared experience that our new and old people can access when they need it.

Framing our onboarding around these two concepts will enable you to address three critical onboarding principles: prioritize, adapt and stretch.


We have to let go of the fire hose approach and focus on the critical concepts only. Provide access to shared knowledge on the first day. Make sure your new people know where to ask questions and how to find the information they need. Leverage microlearning to fit training into the workflow and break down content into targeted, useful information that will help them do their jobs.


Whether this is their first job or their fifth, allow people to work at their own pace. Leverage adaptive learning to target experience and allow employees to accelerate their own learning. Provide frontline managers with the kind of useful coaching data they need. The kind that allows managers to know both what and who to keep their eye on.


Establish the feel of continuous learning from day 1 and reinforce knowledge over time. Consider introducing behavior observation to ensure knowledge is being both transferred and utilized.

Onboarding is often a process that involves many departments and many different people so we don’t always enjoy total control. JD suggests keeping a few things in mind when reimagining your onboarding. First, have a clear concept of how logistics will be handled, the necessary paperwork and other information they may need access to. Second, he says, nothing stops the onboarding process from being enjoyable more than not having everything they need. Ensure uniforms, IT, human resources are all ready to go. This does more than ensure a smooth process; it will also make your people feel respected. They’ll know you cared enough to ensure they had everything they needed to do the job.

One thing to avoid, the culture slides and the accompanying test. You know, the ones that give the company history and tell rather than show people what your company is all about. This information does not have to be frontloaded. It is something far better learned over time and experienced.

Where to begin

What should you do to transition your onboarding program to the beginning of a continual learning process? Start by exploring continuous learning principles. Provide access to shared knowledge and define basic capabilities or what your new people absolutely have to know. Focus on the human side and build support structures for the individual. Leverage gamification and other motivations alongside right fit technology.

Keep in mind that people don’t go to work to learn, they go to work to do a job. Establishing a continual learning environment from that first onboarding experience will put your people to work more quickly and give them what they need to continue to do their job, and do it well.

Want more onboarding resources? Visit our resource hub.

Axonify Team

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