Onboarding Millennials: From Instructive to Supportive Employee Training

By Oded Ilan | 19 January 2016

Quietly and almost unnoticeably, employee training practices which had been in use for decades have become obsolete. While existing practices may still be relevant to some employees, for a growing percentage of our workforce: the millennials, these have become less relevant and even a hindrance. By 2014, 36% of the workforce was comprised of millennials. This means that over a third of your workforce grew up in a world where instant communication and accessible, affordable technology were a given, a thing to be taken for granted.

When it comes to work-culture – millennials are different. Being constantly connected and used to immediate feedback, they bring a quick and vibrant rhythm to professional environments. They are digitally native, often preferring to communicate via Hangouts, chats and instant messaging over emails or phones. Chats are actually a good example of the Millennial pace: short, laconic, and efficient – i.e., bite-sized.

In addition, their world is very ADD – just like their use of instant messaging solutions which allow them to chat with several people at the same time, to accomplish more, despite being unable to fully dedicate their full attention to one single task. In 2011, the CDC diagnosed 11% of children between the ages of 7 – 14 with ADHD. In 2016, this number will have increased and now includes a substantial part of our work force. 

These graphs show Iridize training guides used with Salesforce over a period of 6 months, including the initial training part and the ongoing use of guides by employees.

figure 1


These graphs show Iridize training guides used with Salesforce over a period of 6 months, including the initial training part and the ongoing use of guides by employees. 

Navigating the Digital Terrain

How do these demographic and technological changes affect employee training practices? To fully understand the implications, we must analyse the digital habits of our target audience:

  1. Information Overload – millennials are used to consuming massive amounts of data on an hourly basis. Whether it is from multiple social channels, app notifications, content sources or the data that drives their business decisions.  
  2. UI Standardisation – user interfaces for websites, web applications and apps have been adapted to fit an easy, intuitive norm, to the point of standardising icon format and product features. In an increasingly competitive digital market, the only way to ensure user quick adoption, is to provide them with a product which doesn’t make them think.  Millennials, probably more than other generations, have been conditioned to certain UI trends that are friendly, intuitively familiar and easy to navigate.
  3. Immediate response – in this hyper-informative environment, medium-term memory is a luxury millennials simply can’t afford. They develop micro-methods, work with productivity apps and checklists and generally outsource their medium-term memory to apps like Trello. This means accessing information only when you need it and ignoring it when you don’t.

What does this imply about employee training methods in 2016 and onward?

Catering to the training needs of millennial employees requires a paradigm shift. For starters, we need to understand and respond to these needs more attentively. In today’s employment ecosystem, when employee churn rate in the US is pushing 15%, employers are working full force to engage employees during the onboarding stage. Training is a significant aspect of that.

In a world where one doesn’t actually need to learn how to use new software, because it is designed to appeal to your intuition and familiarly recognised patterns, we cannot afford to waste resources on complex, in-depth instructive courses. PDF documentation and knowledge bases begin gathering dust while quicker, more agile solutions are gaining momentum. Our new training and learning methods have to be quick, up to date, flexible and above all – they have to provide exactly what the users need, when they need it, even before they are aware that they need it.   

Why You Should Invest in Your Millennial Employees

Apart from being your major work force, millennials, it must be noted, are very stable employees. Despite living a very ADD lives they are very much “here to stay” once they join your workforce. If you remove the hurdles to their entry and ongoing activity at work, you will find them among the most dedicated employees who wish to better their environment and to move the business forward. Millennials are a generation that thinks quickly, responds quickly, is productivity driven and its members seek to grow with you.

What more, in an “employee market”, where quality employees are hunted by recruiters, millennials are usually your best evangelists (as there are very few boundaries between their “work” and their “life”). They will drive your business forward and drag anyone who refuses to come with them, kicking and screaming, into the digitalised future. These are the people you want at the helm, so invest in them, and start with investing in their training.

From Instructive Training to Supportive Training

How can we manage this profound change in training methods? We need to understand that millennial users are “conditioned” to approach new software interfaces in a natural way, rather than having to learn its use. They don’t feel a need to be trained in using software, and we waste valuable time (theirs and their colleagues’) by making them study it. What we need to provide them with is an agile, transparent experience for mastering new software, without actually teaching them how to use it. Rather than explaining how to use a new product, we should provide them with a platform that helps them to navigate such a product and pick it up as they go along, as part of their work schedule, when they actually need to use each feature.

Our guidelines for this change of approach should be:

• Quick

• Flexible

• Relevant  

With that in mind, employers should commission a dynamic, visually communicative and easy to handle training plan focusing on the following elements:

Interactive – Users in 2016 expect software to talk back to them, at least enough to understand their specific needs and preferences. Interactivity is a critical element in keeping users engaged and allowing them to learn at their own pace
Contextual – Context in training is important, not only in terms of the software, but with regard to the user. More and more software is built on algorithms that learn user behavior and actions in order to customize the experience accordingly. Training programs can’t be any different. Context is also important for helping users manage their training navigation, by telling them where they are in the process and assisting with time management and productivity.

Proactive – The shift from passive training to proactive training is also a product of technological advancement. Many software implementations are less successful than they could be, because users don’t always activate the support mechanism. A proactive approach that identifies weak spots and offers assistance bypasses this challenge. 

Measurable – Data-driven, analytics, B.I. These are the elements that are at the core of every business that survived the 2008 financial crisis. The data from training – how successful an implementation is, how much resources are being invested, etc. – is immensely valuable to the big picture, and should be aggregated wisely and segmented even more wisely.

Bite-sized – Returning to the work culture and attention span of our target employees, the millennials – training should be regarded like chat conversations: concise, efficient, and accurate. Supportive training content can contain only “so much information”. There is no use in overwhelming users with stuff they won’t use instantaneously.

Invest In the Right Software

Remember when we made the leap from the Stone Age corporate methods to a digital world (we no longer use a rolodex to manage contacts, you’ve replaced your filing system with a CRM, and email has replaced the sticky notes on your desk), for your millennial employees you need to make a new leap. Applying new technology - just as in the previous leap - is not a “nice to have” but rather a necessity.

Organisations need to change their training methodology to include new interactive training solutions with rich content; don’t expect your employee to remember their initial training (when they joined the firm) or to seek guidance in a PDF manual. Rather give them “how-to” movies which can be accessed when needed. Organisations need to make sure content is relevant and always available to their workforce; don’t expect an employee to dig through training material that includes content that is irrelevant to them or to their concurrent needs, rather provide them with support that is user specific and relevant to their “here and now.”

Using products such as Iridize to provide your employees with short, to the point, relevant and interactive training, will not only substantially reduce time spent on training and allow you real, factual feedback and measurement of the training worth, but will actually keep your employees happy and sure of their position by providing an assistive work environment that answers to their need, when they need it, with answers that are relevant to them and their roles.  

Looking to the Future

In an interview for CLO Magazine, Kelly Palmer, CLO of LinkedIn stated that “learners today are overwhelmed by content. Learning technology should reduce their stress by curating, personalising features to get them what they need exactly when they need it.” Kelly also stated that while LMS platforms can manage training, they are no longer sufficient as the platform which delivers the content itself. The market is responding in queue by delivering more and more adequate solutions. We see a rapid growth in training technologies which offer richer content, product specific guidance, and personalised training material.

Organisations, to remain competitive, to reduce the time and cost spent on onboarding their workforce, have started to implement these new solutions. Not only to increase profit, but also in order to be considered attractive employers and to ensure employees don’t get frustrated, and remain happy in their day-to-day interaction with the multitude of tasks they need to complete.

By Oded Ilan, Chief Marketing Officer, Iridize.

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