Performance Support

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.

An Evolution in Learning: Welcome to the Age of Integration Part 1

Our story begins with a classroom and an overhead transparency projector.

In its nascent years, corporate training was filled with the promise of alignment and change as employees were removed from the shop floor, herded into the conference room, and encouraged to scribble notes while a subject matter expert delivered information that had been deemed strategically important. Learning was largely transactional — a one-way transfer of information with learners situated permanently on the receiving end. (As for PowerPoint gosh, don’t get me started. Let’s just say the technology has only ensured that the transactional model stayed in place long past its expiration date.)

Then came the age of the knowledge worker, and organizational learning took on a different flavor. Awakened from their classroom-induced hypnosis, practitioners recalled how they learned to ride their bikes at the age of 8 (no PowerPoints!) and wondered why the same idea couldn’t be brought to the front lines of work. Many firms (including your friends here at Blueline Simulations) were intrigued by the possibility of the “discovery rich learning environment.” Using learning technologies such as immersive simulation, learning visuals, Socratic dialogue, and narrative, learners drew from their own experience and knowledge to generate awareness, insight and behavior change. This rich age of constructivist learning persists today, and firms such as Blueline Simulations continue to explore whole-brained technologies (such as our popular Learning Blueprints) to create engagement, connection, and meaning. The constructivist age of corporate learning is still young, and we’ve just barely scratched the surface.

Then, with a mouse click heard round the world, web-enabled technologies emerged and learning changed yet again. Why are we spending all of this money to fly everyone here to HQ? Just look how much it is costing us to take our people off of the shop floor!

Sure, the early promise of e-learning was accompanied by a certain amount of disillusionment. (Click: Answer the question. Click: Advance to the next screen. Repeat.) But just as classroom designs evolved from transactional to constructivist, so did elearning.

And as the learning industry generated more and more great ideas for exercising the technology well, some new awarenesses began to spread within the organization: that perhaps it was time to end the artificial separation between doing the work and learning how to do the work; and that learning can and should be delivered at the exact moment of need.

The constructivist era has evolved into the age of integrated learning. This has spawned a broad range of performance support innovations.

In my next post I’ll look at some new ideas for delivering integrated learning — mission-critical training at the point of greatest learning impact: at the moment of need.

Managers Do Still Make a Difference

The point of all training provided by an organization is to improve people’s performance on the job. For this to happen, employees must use what they have learned when they are working. In their 1992 book, Transfer of Training, Mary Broad and John Newstrom evaluate the impact of three key resources on skills application – the facilitator/designer of the training, the trainee, and the trainee’s manager. Their analysis showed that the largest contributor to whether people actually use what they learn on the job is the manager. And the biggest factor was not what the manager did after the training (like coaching) but what the manager did before the training occurred.

Since Broad and Newstrom’s work was conducted nearly twenty years ago, and there have been a lot of innovations in how we deliver training, including eSimulations, virtual classroom, social learning, and mobile, I was curious to ponder whether  the role of the manager in learning transfer has changed?

Based on a three-year study of over 10,000 learners by KnowledgePool, not that much. Their research shows that “where learners receive line manager support, 94% go on to apply what they learned”.  Apparently, managers do still make a key difference

The question this raises for me is, as we move to more “bite-size” and ubiquitous training through social and mobile learning, how do we continue to ensure that we tap into this critical resource to ensure learning gets transferred? As stated above, Broad and Newstrom’s work indicated that what a manager does before the training session occurs is even more critical to learning transfer than what they do afterwards.

In 1991-92 its very likely that a manager would have had significant opportunity to interact with the trainee before a training session, if nothing more than to ensure there was coverage for their absence to attend a class. Even if the training was offered via elearning, it is likely the manager was aware of when the employee was going to take a particular course.

Now jump to today (and even more so into the near future). The trainee may be just as likely to complete a 5-10 minute mobile learning session while waiting in line at the cafeteria or bank drive-thru. Or perhaps, they’ve spent part of their lunch time browsing through recent postings in their favorite Community of Practice portal. Will the manager even know that they have engaged in learning? It may be that self initiated training like this will consistently have a high transfer of learning, but I think we are failing our clients if we don’t continue to find ways to engage managers and tap into the impact they have in ensuring that what is learned gets used on the job. Just as we are developing new and innovative ways to deliver training, we will need to find new and innovative ways for manager involvement.

The promise of Mobile Learning is real…but it may not be what you thought it was

Let’s start with two very different perspectives:

1) Mobile learning leverages today’s smart phone technologies to deliver a unique experience to the user.  GPS, for example, makes it possible to provide a one-of-a-kind experience for the user by tying content to the learner’s location.

2) Mobile learning gives us the opportunity to better serve each learner’s unique needs.  Given the option, many users with lots of downtime inherent in their jobs, will choose to access content remotely via a mobile device.

A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to explore Mobile Learning concepts and application with some of the definitive experts in the space, including researchers at ADL Co-Labs and practitioners from Bank of America/Merrill Lynch. Their lens’ couldn’t have been more different, but both offered tremendous insight into this emerging learning methodology.

Lessons learned at Merrill that are being adopted by new Parent Bank of America show success by focusing on “low hanging fruit” like compliance training first.  Rather than push innovation to its limits, they are focused on old school html, downloading in 128 kb increments without a need for a persistent connection.  Their solution connects to LMS through middleware and simply conveys initiation, completion and scoring.  And the solution was developed for both mobile and computer-based platforms.

The bank has benefitted by significantly reducing the time to completion and certification for about 20% of the 60,000 employees that it targeted.  Users who self select this mode love it…it shows high efficacy…much faster completion rates…and strong preference feedback.

Judy Brown from ADL Co-Labs suggested a very different insight: Mobile learning can be but is not necessarily elearning lite…she challenged us to think about the additional opportunities that a mobile device offers…e.g. the GPS example referenced above.

Consider wildly popular applications like the Obama ’08 tool for iPhone as a possible template for future on-boarding applications.

While Judy was quick to cite the growth of mobile access: In 3 years, ATT mobile traffic has increased nearly 5,000 percent.  She also acknowledged that the single biggest issue is trying to develop solutions that can be accessed from all types of devices since each (i.e. Blackberry and iPhone) has different programming requirements.

Still the temptation to chase this new holy grail for learning is great. Ray Kurzweil the much ballyhooed technology futurist is quoted as saying: “Mobile phones are misnamed. M-learning: Pervasive. Get learners to complete tasks while going about their day-to-day lives.”

There are other factors that will greatly influence the adoption of mobile learning.  Consider the following:

1)We have already developed proven technologies that allow development of very immersive yet very low bandwidth level 4 simulation designs.
2)2010 will usher in new technologies including a mobile version of flash called the Flash Lite Distributable Player.
3)3 and 4G networks are beginning to make persistent connections possible.

So where does this leave us?  In my view, solving business problems is still what’s most critical.  We have a new and evolving arrow in our quiver.  We need to consider the design that delivers the maximum benefit to the learner and the business.  Initially, mobile learning will find it niche in performance support applications — applications that deliver JIT/just-enough knowledge (and skill to a lesser extent) at point of need will offer the greatest return.  Or in large scale compliance heavy learner populations with downtime built into their jobs like the opportunity targeted at Bank of America.

Its a great time to be a business professional in the field of learning! Learn more about Mobile Learning Solutions from Blueline Simulations