Whether you’re creating onboarding for employees or volunteers, you need to avoid these common mistakes.

Organizations of all sizes and missions have a frequent challenge to face when bringing on new recruits. While they frequently bring on new team members for a specific need, it takes time for those people to become accustomed to the job at hand. This can cause friction for the organization, and stress for the new hire or volunteer as they struggle to meet the demands of the work in an efficient manner.

Recognizing this challenge, many organizations invest in onboarding programs to help their new recruits learn the dob and adjust to the new position. These training programs can be as short as a few minutes (for volunteers at a day event) or as long as several months (for team members filling a more permanent position).

The problem is that, even with these programs in place, many fail to accomplish their job. The result is that volunteers feel disheartened by the work they’re doing, employees burn out, and the organizations are left with the same challenge as before: needs that must be met, and no one to meet them.

The good news is that training programs can be adjusted and improved. If your program isn’t achieving the results you want, it’s time to look at the data, find where it’s coming up short, and make it better. Here are six common problems training programs have, and how you can address them.

1. It doesn’t set expectations.

Ever show up at an event to help and find yourself standing around wondering what to do? Ever spend hours on a project and wonder if it’s what you’re supposed to be working on? Ever wonder whether you’re doing a good job, or how your work is being assessed?

One major source of stress for new hires is not knowing what they should be doing or whether the work they are doing is being done well. Your training program should be clear with new trainees about what is expected of them, and what they should expect from you.

2. It’s missing key details.

Where should a new team member go for more information? Who do they ask for help? What do they do if they run into a problem?

It can be hard for new team members to ask for help, especially if they’re worried it will reflect poorly on their performance, or if they’re worried their being a burden. Your training program should make clear who their main points of contact are, and where to look for key information.

Note: This is true of all online courses. Every learner needs to know where to go to ask for help, and where to look for relevant course materials.

3. It’s not checking trainee comprehension.

People aren’t computers. As much as we might be accustomed to talking about “downloading” information metaphorically, actually making sense of it takes more time. Consuming information, processing it, and successfully recalling it area all separate tasks, meaning that it’s not enough for your training program to tell an employee something once and expect them to remember it forever.

Instead, you should take time to routinely check that your new team member understands the training material. For a new employee, you might ask them to sign in to the program first thing each morning and take a 5–10 minute quiz that checks their knowledge of office protocols.

4. It’s crammed into one monster session.

Speaking of comprehension, far too many onboarding programs are packed into one huge session with no follow up. It’s not uncommon for an organization’s onboarding to be a single day—or even a whole week—of orientation, after which training is considered “complete” and the employee successfully onboarded.

In fact, the learning curve on a new job is much longer than that, and this steep introduction is likely to leave a new employee feeling overwhelmed with too much information all at once, and no time to process it. Instead, set expectations with your new hire that show you expect their training to take several months, prioritize the information they need to know immediately for the first few days, and ramp up the learning curve more steadily over a longer period of time.

5. It doesn’t build the culture.

While you’re at it, take time to help the new hire accustom themselves to your company culture. Are you a company where learning and curiosity are prized, where failure is a step toward growth, and where even the CEO can be approached for a quick word at any time of day? Or are you a company where conscientiousness and attention to detail are mission critical, where failure to meet quality or regulatory standards can have serious consequences, and where transparency is necessary for building a secure environment?

These are core values that are key for your new trainee to understand, so that they can integrate well with your team. If culture isn’t part of your training program, you could have trainees feeling baffled as to how they’re supposed to behave.

6. It doesn’t provide a path for further engagement.

Finally, while we talk a lot about the value of engagement in online education, it’s just as important in an organization. Employees need to feel there’s a path toward advancement, and volunteers need to feel like their time was well-spent.

Show your team members what the path toward future involvement looks like, and they’ll have a better idea what direction to go.

Onboarding is an important part of building satisfaction and long-term retention.

Many organizations have muddled along for long enough that they’ve become accustomed to an unsatisfactory onboarding program. However, onboarding is worth the investment. The payoffs of a good onboarding program can carry forward for years, as well-training employees adjust to their new jobs faster, have greater satisfaction, and stay with a company for longer.

If your program isn’t meeting your goals, don’t toss it out. Make it better.

Laura Lynch photo

About Laura Lynch

Laura is a marketing specialist with experience presenting at WordPress events in Ann Arbor and Vienna. She speaks Russian and German and holds a double MA (Hons) in History and Russian Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

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