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Employee Onboarding Tips from a Scottish Castle

When you think of a medieval Scottish castle, what do you picture? You’re probably thinking of a grand, yet moody and dark grey stone structure—right? And while you’d be right most of the time with that imagery, there are exceptions. For instance, in the southern Scottish town of Stirling, a large castle stands high on the hillside, flaunting very bright and very yellow walls. The walls got their color from a limewash the original builders in the 13th century applied—both to protect the masonry and to make a statement that the building was fit for a king. While restoring the castle in the early 2000s, the decision was made to return its traditional grey stone exterior to its former yellow glory. And although the locals were notified and educated about the plan, many were shocked and dismayed once the scaffolding was removed. It was just too yellow. It took even more outreach and education to support locals in their understanding of the history of the castle, and why it was more authentic than the expected traditional grey. Yet to this day, many locals still don’t like it. 

What does this restoration project and its anxious ending tell us about employee onboarding? It reminds us that change management principles are key to any training curriculum, and always result in a better employee experience. The restoration committee in Stirling, Scotland admits they could have tried harder to guide residents—the 3-4 weekends they setup booths to introduce the restoration plans probably weren’t enough. Instead, they wish they had done a bigger marketing campaign with more supporting media and resources. They should have told residents what they were changing, why, and how it would be done.

Stirling Castle in Scotland UK

Onboarding Training: Best Practices

I would argue an employee onboarding program should be the same: employees deserve to know exactly where they are going, what they will do, who’s going with them, and how they will know when they’ve arrived. To meet these objectively, any onboarding program should feature, at a minimum, the following:

  • A clear onboarding roadmap
  • A mix of individual, peer-to-peer, and on-the-job learning
  • A clear support structure that integrates managers and/or coaches along the way
  • A way to personalize the above according to the employee’s previous experiences

In addition, at AllenComm we ensure these principles also follow a specific instructional framework to effortlessly guide employees from day one to week one, and then on to year one (or across whatever timeline is needed). We recommend a framework and mix of instructional strategies, such as the following:

  1. Establish a Connection
    • Ensure employees catch the vision and connect them with their journey. Encourage a growth mindset and be sure to review your company’s mission and values. Also, encourage the employee to set personal goals for growth and development across their onboarding. 
    • Learning Strategies: Make use of an interactive curriculum map showing each step of the onboarding, motion graphics, video, pre-assessments, diagnostics, and action/development planners.
  2. Build Confidence: 
    • Begin modeling best practices and build know-how through foundational formal learning (either online or in-the-classroom) and then provide the right structure and sequence for employees to begin applying knowledge on the-the-job.
    • Learning Strategies: You can choose to use video/audio demonstrations, infographics, OTJ shadowing and observations, knowledge checks, coaching, manager check-ins, etc. 
  3. Support Contribution
    • Incorporate autonomy and encourage employees to own their learning. Supply them with the right tools and support by providing frequent coaching. 
    • Learning strategies: Add learning labs, on-the-job challenges, peer reviews, and performance support resources.
  4. Sharpen Performance:
    • Continue learning with microbursts and refreshers. Consider adding capstone projects so employees can demonstrate mastery of fundamental skills and begin tackling stretch assignments.
    • Learning strategies: Use refresher eLearning, capstone projects, and upskilling challenges.

In summary, you can prevent your employees from feeling blindsided after joining your company. You don’t want them feeling surprised or annoyed once the scaffolding is taken down like the people of Scotland. Prepare a well-designed onboarding program that gives employees a clear roadmap on what, why, and how they will successfully contribute to your company. It’s the best way to improve employee motivation, buy-in, confidence and loyalty – all while improving their skills and performance.

About the Author: Juel Tailor

Juel Tailor is a passionate L&D and technology consultant with by day, and a mountain seeking cycling enthusiast by night. She brings to AllenComm multidisciplinary experience in leadership, sales, customer experience, and change management best practices. She believes that curiosity, creativity, and flexibility are the key ingredients to the success of any project.