Areas of Expertise

Blueline Applies its “Secret Sauce” to Booz Allen Hamilton’s Award Winning Onboarding Program

If you recall in a previous post we shared the “secret sauce” that distinguishes the onboarding experiences Blueline creates for its clients.  Now let’s look at how the four elements we identified amount to a “quadfecta” and form an award-winning onboarding program for Booz Allen Hamilton.

1. ContextBlueline created two immersive classroom-based experiences for Booz Allen new hires. First, a Blueline Blueprint learning visual engages new hires in a visual and interactive tour of Booz Allen’s history and culture. Learners work in teams to answer questions, move along a visual timeline of events, and interact with illustrated data.  They see the “big picture” and gain insight into the core values, seminal events and cultural underpinnings of this distinguished organization.

Next, a simulation situates participants in the role of a consulting project team at Booz Allen. Through competition, experiential learning and teamwork, they make decisions and experience consequences that fast-forward them through the learning curve of “what is it like to work here?”

2. Impression – We never get tired of hearing participants in the onboarding programs we create use words and phrases like: “Wow” or “I’ve worked at a lot of companies and have never experienced something like this…” or “This really demonstrates a commitment to employees that I’m excited about.” Blueline and Booz Allen have had the pleasure of being awash in these comments every time this program is run.

3. Engagement and fun – Koosh balls and Lincoln Logs may equal fun in some training experiences, but to what end? Booz Allen new hires represent some of the most experienced and intelligent former military, corporate and government talent in the world. Blueline’s definition of fun in this, and frankly, all of our efforts, is much more sophisticated. In Booz Allen’s onboarding program participants debate ideas (that’s fun for geniuses), compete (of course), and explore information (root cause analysis anyone?) in ways that keep them wanting more.

Teams move along a “game of life”-type visual; making decisions based on knowledge they acquire in experiential activities. Decisions affect consequences that earn or lose “chips.” These chips amount to points accumulated against three key dimensions that represent real-world success at Booz Allen. Events intervene, setbacks occur and promotions and accolades accumulate. We have to practically force them to take breaks!

4. A Culture Focus – There are few corporate cultures we have encountered as diverse and inclusive as Booz Allen Hamilton’s. An administrative new hire from Mumbai may be seated in the onboarding classroom next to a former full-bird Colonel. Blueline and Booz Allen collaborated intently to be sure this experience represents and includes the myriad of roles and textures that make up the Booz Allen organization. The Blueline Blueprint learning visual grounds each new-hire in the cultural foundation of the organization, then allows every participant to find him or herself in a character or a role represented in the simulation.

Stay tuned for the “rest of the story.” In our next blog we’ll share what has happened at Booz Allen since our intervention and where Blueline is going next in this dynamic onboarding space.

We Helped Booz Allen Hamilton Create one of the Best Onboarding Experiences in the Country. Here’s How.

Booz Allen Hamilton is one of the world’s most legendary consulting firms. More than a century old, the Virginia-based firm is credited with inventing the field of management consulting.

The firm engaged Blueline Simulations to help redesign its onboarding program, and to implement the four program elements I described in my blog a few weeks ago.

Their program is a branded, phased, 12-month series of events designed to help new hires quickly engage with the organization, feel comfortable joining their respective teams, and develop a strong level of knowledge regarding the firm’s culture and core values. The program is broken into three phases throughout the first year. These phases are: Engage, Equip, and Excel. Each phase has its own milestones and objectives to ensure a consistent new hire experience. The design provides a recognizable framework that is applicable to all new hires across the firm, while allowing regional offices to tailor some local content for enhanced value. Orientation attendance is mandatory across the firm in order to drive a consistent new hire onboarding experience for all employees.

New Hire Onboarding Journey Map

Phase I, ENGAGE, is designed to excite and prepare new hires for their first year. This phase typically spans two to three weeks (from acceptance through a new hire’s first week on the job). Two key program elements within this phase are the New Hire Portal and Firmwide Orientation.

Firmwide Orientation has been transformed from a two-and-one-half-day program that occurred around week four, to a four-day program that occurs during a new hire’s first week. The new Firmwide Orientation provides an engaging and interactive learning experience that teaches new employees about the organization, and provides them with opportunities to start building a professional network within the firm.

Built on simulation-based learning activities focused on networking, skill development, and early career planning, the first day of Firmwide Orientation centers on a large, engaging, information-rich Blueline Learning Visual. Through this visual landscape, participants work in teams to explore the firm’s history, its people and culture, institutional structure, client service, and core values and mission. New hires collaborate in cross-functional table teams made up of six members each, spanning different work teams, regional offices, and levels. Working in these teams jump-starts the development of working relationships and networks, which are critical components of success at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Next, a two-day client engagement simulation immerses new hires in a realistic job preview and prepares them to engage fully with the organization and the firm’s clients. The teams encounter opportunities and challenges that test their decision-making and require them to adapt to realistic and changing situations. Exposure to foundational planning and analysis skills and tools helps prepare new hires for performance on the job. An adjunct instructor, a seasoned employee with experience on multiple firm engagements, provides “real world” insights and examples from his or her career at the firm.

The fourth day, a highly interactive and hands-on workshop, is based on a firm-specific “formula for success” which is introduced on the first day.  New hires use laptops provided in the classroom to explore career development at the firm and internal resources designed to assist them in their career growth.

Senior leaders play a key role in the program by delivering welcome messages and leading personal discussions on how to succeed at the firm. Meanwhile, new hires learn the “secrets to success” and receive tips on how to navigate the company’s culture through structured networking events, which occur both in-person and online via the firm’s social media and knowledge management tool.

Phase II, EQUIP, spans a period encompassing the new hire’s second week through their first six months, and provides employees with the tools, skills, and behaviors necessary for success at the firm. Key program elements within this phase include Local Orientation, 30-, 60-, and 90-Day Check Ins with the manager, toolkits, a Six-Month Pulse Check, and a series of eNewsletters. All of these are designed to reinforce and build on the information, knowledge, and relationships developed in Phase I by providing application within the person’s actual job context.

Phase III, EXCEL, is focused on continued professional development, affiliation building, and embodiment of firm values. This phase spans month seven until the end of year one, and its key milestone is the new hire’s first annual assessment.

To complement the year-long program, the onboarding team has also leveraged the firm’s social media and knowledge management tool to provide a social space designed to connect new hires, and those who support them, throughout their first year at the firm. As a member of the “Onboarding Community,” anyone at the firm can discover and contribute information, activities, and resources, which support and enhance the first year experience, and can communicate via blogs and forum discussions.

Today, the program that we built with Booz Allen Hamilton is recognized as a “best in class” solution. The work has been recognized with a Bersin Learning Leaders’ Award for Learning and Talent Initiative Excellence; and also an ASTD Excellence in Practice Citation.

Even more importantly, the onboarding program has been successful in increasing affiliation, reducing attrition, and equipping new hires for success at Booz Allen Hamilton. And that, more than any other acknowledgement, gives us a tremendous sense of pride.

Next, up we’ll look at a very different type of onboarding experience being used by one of the nation’s largest wireless carriers.

Learning to Coach: New Technologies and New Opportunities

What’s a leader to do? Today, with their broad spans of control, leaders are frustrated that they can’t spend enough time with each of their employees. And yet, today’s economic environment demands that managers maximize employee productivity.

Leaders are challenged to build skills and provide counsel, while also motivating and inspiring employees to take action.

What Got us Here Won’t Get us There
Historically, role plays have been the holy grail for developing these skills. But role plays demand time away from the job, and the quality of the practice and feedback is widely variable.

The industry had high hopes for solving this challenge with innovative, new simulation technologies. Early generations of branching simulations offered flexibility and delivered consistent quality.

Think about the endless directions a coaching conversation can take. Unfortunately, the limited outcomes of those early simulations didn’t cut it. Interactions in these simulations presented few choices (nodes) and because they were preprogrammed, were highly predicable.

For a while, it appeared that “Level 4” simulations, which use game engines with rules and probabilities, would come to the rescue. They have similar benefits to that of a live role play, but can be done remotely online at a time convenient to the learner, while still delivering a consistent experience and feedback.

Alas, none of these technologies could provide the chief advantage of an in-person role play: realism. The role player could respond in the conversation ad hoc, as they saw fit. We can’t do that with a computer.

Or can we?

Introducing a New Age in Coaching Skills Training

Imagine a coaching skills practice session so real that you will forget that you are interacting with the computer. Hundreds of nodes and voice recognition deliver the most immersive simulation you have ever experienced. Couple that with coaching best practices defined by one of the world’s best-known authorities and a simulation designed by one of the premier designers in the space. Taken together, it represents a breakthrough in Coaching and Leadership Development the likes of which we haven’t seen in a decade.

We’ve got it here at Blueline Simulations. And you have to see it to believe it. My own experience has made me a believer. I want you to experience it for yourself. Give me a call today, and I’ll give you an exclusive peek at the next level of coaching skills training.

Want ROI? Provide Effective Coaching!

During a recent client engagement I was reminded once again of how critical effective coaching is to success in the workplace. While conducting a gap analysis to identify failure points in a new sales process, one refrain was stated loudly and consistently: “our coaching on the new process is inconsistent, at best.” Unfortunately, this is a theme I’ve heard all too often in my career.

Numerous studies have shown the significant impact that effective coaching can have on performance. One frequently cited study by Olivero and Bane, showed that, “After training alone, the average increase in productivity was 22.4 percent. When training was reinforced with coaching, the average increase in productivity was 88 percent.” And a 2001 case study by MetrixGlobal found that “coaching produced a 529% return on investment and significant intangible benefits to the business.” And if the financial benefits from employee retention were included it boosted the overall ROI to 788%.

Given that coaching delivers such dramatic impact, why is it so underutilized in so many organizations? There are a number of answers to that question, including: increasing spans of control limit coaching opportunities, competing priorities, and simply a lack of focus on employee development within the culture. The one that I want to address here is a lack of comfort with the skills required to coach effectively. While many managers are comfortable with setting goals, allocating resources and developing or evaluating reports, they are often hesitant to engage in a performance coaching dialogue.

While traditional classes devoted to coaching provide the context and process for coaching effectively, they fail to develop mastery. Most training sessions can offer only two or three opportunities to role-play a coaching conversation. While this may be sufficient to reinforce the key concepts, it falls far short of developing unconscious competence. Role-playing rarely provides the variety of emotional responses one is likely to encounter during actual coaching conversations, either. And unless there is an immediate opportunity or need to engage in coaching after the training, the limited proficiency that is developed will have faded before the leader can apply the skills in a critical coaching situation.

Fortunately, the latest in Level 4 coaching simulations addresses all these shortcomings. This new rules-based simulation utilizes voice recognition and hundreds of “nodes” to deliver the most immersive experience ever developed.  Learners encounter a wide range of “personalities” and emotional responses during the practice sessions. This allows sufficient practice to develop unconscious competence while never delivering the same experience twice. And it has the added benefit that leader’s can use the sim for a just-in-time refresher prior to a developmental coaching session.

Blueline will be launching this new off-the-shelf simulation in the next few weeks. Considering the significant return on investment, shouldn’t you be exploring this very cost-effective means of boosting organizational performance?

Chances are, you or your competitors are hiring again. Maybe now is a good time to talk about Strategic Onboarding.

Having weathered the deepest recession of our generation, many organizations are beginning to report that they are hiring new employees. Others seem to be waiting as long as possible before bringing new people on board.

Those who do delay adding new employees will have a heightened need to get new people up to speed and productive as quickly as possible to provide relief for overstretched resources.

I’d like to tell you about three very influential organizations we’re working with who have implemented world class new hire training,  all of whom we expect will be given accolades for their inspired designs: consulting legend Booz Allen Hamilton; a Fortune 10 financial institution; and America’s largest wireless carrier. Today they’re seeking to bring new people up to speed, as quickly and productively as possible.

Why make such a fuss about Onboarding?

There are lots of reasons our clients invest in the design and development of a superior onboarding program. While job readiness and time to productivity top the list, employee affiliation, reduced attrition, risk avoidance and compliance follow close behind. You don’t have to work too hard to make the case for ROI.

Blueline Simulations has received the training industry’s highest accolades for our onboarding work, and I don’t mind sharing our secret sauce. In all of our designs (and I’ll give you a closer look at several of them in the next few blog posts), we differentiate by emphasizing four elements.

  1. Context
    The use of immersive simulation, whether classroom or online, puts the training in context. This dramatically shortens time to productivity and diminishes risk. Too many onboarding curriculums fail to create a “safe environment” for the learners to practice, and as Elliot Masie likes to say “provide them with the opportunity to fail forward.”
  2. Impression
    A well-designed onboarding curriculum makes a strong first impression. And as the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a strong first impression. Our clients strive to create a memorable experience that elicits pride and reinforces the person’s decision to come on board. This has an immediate and measurable impact on affiliation and attrition.
  3. Engagement and fun
    Sure, fun is part of making a positive impression. But “fun”is a strategic design consideration that has been shown to significantly increase learning and knowledge retention. Plus, top quality new hires have high expectations when they join an organization. If their first experiences don’t engage and excite them, then a significant opportunity to engender commitment and passion for the company is wasted.
  4. A culture focus
    In many of our designs for these influential companies, we provide an engaging “tour” of the company, including its history and important cultural elements. Even beyond this exercise in organizational storytelling, every experience needs to reflect and convey the culture. We pay attention to how employee diversity is portrayed in the graphical elements, and even focus on how the formal and informal language is used. That’s because we are determined that all aspects of the onboarding experience must reinforce the culture and values of the organization.

Regardless of the particular medium or approach taken for your onboarding program, you would do well to review how well it provides context, creates a strong positive impression, developments engagement and communicates and conveys culture.

Next week, we’ll look at how Booz Allen Hamilton built from these four foundations.