Induction: Ditch the PowerPoint!

Think about the best and worst induction training you’ve attended. What stuck with you? Do you remember it as a brilliant experience, or as one long PowerPoint presentation?

Nobody sets out to design a dreadful induction course; but perhaps the truth is that often nobody sets out to design it at all. It just flops its way into existence.

Here are eight principles for designing a truly memorable induction for your new joiners. It follows on from The Back to School Guide for Grown Ups, an item about helping your new joiners settle in. Got something you’d add to the list? Do let me know.

  • 1. Give them an overview of the whole organisation.

    Some people need to see how they fit into the bigger picture in order to understand their own, more localised role. You could show them an organisational chart (yawn!) or you could engage them in an exercise where they build their own.

    Example: A company I worked with provided outsourced phone services for a range of clients. They couldn’t understand why so many staff believed they worked directly for the company whose calls they were handling. On asking around it turns out that from induction onwards, these people had only received training relating to their own job. The rest of the company was a complete mystery.

    So, we introduced a short induction module that built up a picture of the company using card shapes. We talked step by step through the different areas, adding in the various departments, account teams and key players. That very quickly cleared up the confusion. It also helped everyone appreciate how the different teams relied on each other to get the job done well. You can make the cards (or blocks, Post Its or other props) as visual as you like – or get them to draw up their own. Theme the activity to your environment, and have fun with it.

  • 2. Get them doing, not just listening.

    Some information has to be given to people straight; if there’s only one correct way to carry out a task then it must be demonstrated or explained clearly. But information only makes real sense to most of us when we apply it in a practical way.

    Example: When training new starters on how to use the phone system, don’t just tell them how to put someone on hold or transfer them. Commandeer a live line and get the learners practicing with a training buddy or fellow learner. Not only will they get familiar with pushing the right buttons, they’ll get used to hearing the correct words and tone of voice coming out of their mouths ahead of doing it for real.

  • 3. Don’t do Role Play. Use Scenarios.

    Sometimes someone will sidle up to me at the start of a training day and say “we won’t have to do role play, will we?” Some people love it, for others the prospect will hang over their whole day like a black cloud. So, as an alternative to role play, do ‘Scenarios’.

    Example: A health provider asked me to work with their telephone team on how to deal with difficult calls. Having collected together a set of real-life scenarios from the team members on a preparatory visit, I gave them these on cards during the afternoon and asked them how to apply what we’d covered in the morning. Having discussed their strategy, first in pairs then as a whole group, they felt sufficiently comfortable to practice the techniques with each other in pairs. This approach causes less embarrassment, and tends to be more effective. Debrief at the end to really share the learning around.

  • 4. Get them doing their own research.

    Wherever possible make opportunities for learners to do their own research, perhaps prompted by a series of questions. It’s a great way for them to explore the company’s own website, products and services, or glean general information about their sector.

    Example: With a financial services client I task pairs or small groups of learners with a different research project around the company and its sector. Furnished with a set of prompt questions, they find out about the regulator, the way the markets work and the company’s own range of investments. The groups are asked to prepare a poster, booklet or mock TV interview in order to present back what they’ve learned. Careful debriefing by the trainer ensures the topic is fully and correctly covered, but the groups have a lively, self-managed session instead of a long, long drone.

  • 5. Put them in their customers’ shoes.

    This is particularly helpful when training people for a customer service role (and we’re all in customer service by the way, whatever our job title!). So much can be learned by experiencing what the customer experiences.

    Example: Build in time for the learners to ‘mystery shop’ a competitor, or sometimes their own organisation. I give them a general enquiry to make, and ask them to notice what was said to them, how it was said, and how the call handler or shop owner made them feel. There is rich learning to be had from this exercise, and a powerful message about how they, in their own role, will be able to positively influence their customer conversations.

  • 6. Build in time for reflection

    In complex organisations the induction course can last for weeks. Even if yours is just one or two days, you’re asking your new starters to take on a lot of information very quickly. Our brains need a change of pace and some down time, if we’re going to process and retain what we’ve learned.

    Example: At regular intervals throughout the day, allocate quiet time for learners to review their notes and write down any clarifications or thoughts. You can provide a notebook or dedicated pages in their induction manual for this. Prompt questions can be helpful. Round these quiet moments up with a check-in and give ample opportunity for questions.

  • 7. Be creative.

    The best re-cap and revision exercises are creative. Here are some of my favourites for pairs and small groups – they inject some welcome energy at the end of a busy morning or a long day.

    Examples: Design a manual, poster or booklet that covers key learning points. Present the key learning points in the style of a current TV programme, radio programme or personality. Write a song, poem or rap that explains a concept. Design a theme park, holiday resort or recipe that highlights today’s learning…. Keep it surprising! The more creative you ask your learners to be, the more fun they’ll have and the harder they’ll work to shoehorn everything in to their presentation. As ever, debrief skilfully, ensuring complete and accurate understanding of all the points they needed to cover.

  • 8. Play games and do quizzes. Get competitive!

    Every time your learners cover a new subject, good practice says you should check their understanding and help lock in their learning. This is where you can have a lot of fun.

    Examples: Quizzes are a brilliant way to recap and you can base yours on all sorts of TV panel games and board games. In the past I’ve run Induction Bingo, Blockbusters, University Challenge, Beetle Drives… you name it, there’s a game (and a fun prop) for that. If you don’t have time to write loads of questions, get them to write their own for the other team.
    If your induction course lasts more than a couple of days, think about having an ongoing tournament! You can build this around Jenga, Bingo, Rapidough, Top Trumps … anything where you can have a quick ‘round’ when the energy levels are slumping. A little healthy competition works wonders, especially if there’s a shareable team prize at the end.

    This is just a few of the creative and alternative ideas you can bring into your training room. What else would you add? I’d love to know your thoughts!

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