When On-Boarding Goes Digital

The new-hire orientation session is essential for any effective on-boarding program. New employees do, after all, need to get up to speed on anything and everything there is to know about their employer and the responsibilities of the role they will be taking on.

What if I told you a more effective and collaborative new-hire orientation program could be developed in an entirely digital infrastructure?

I recently had the chance to interview Dan Pontefract, the head of learning and collaboration at Canadian telecommunications firm Telus Communications Inc., for a profile that will run this summer in Talent Management’s sister publication, Chief Learning Officer.

Pontefract — for those who aren’t aware of his work — is a very outgoing and excitable character. He loves learning. He loves technology. He loves collaboration, just like a lot of folks in the talent management and HR space do. So it’s no surprise that much of what we talked about for my profile dealt with how he has infused learning and technology at Telus.

One interesting initiative he shared with me that didn’t make the cut for the profile dealt with how Telus on-boards its new employees — or team members, as they’re called within the company.

Nearly everything that Telus does to on-board new team members happens through its digital infrastructure. This includes things like the company’s own Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, each rebranded to represent the company’s own version of the popular social media channels.

The on-boarding program is called “Welcome to Telus,” Pontefract told me. It used to be a two-day, face-to-face classroom orientation but has since been transformed into a 90-day “extravaganza.”

Every new team member is given what’s called the “Telus Passport,” an online badging system that takes the new hire through his or her first 30, 60 and 90 days with the company.

This badging system, Pontefract told me, is designed to essentially act as team members’ complete orientation program. It helps them learn the information they need to know, sign up for whatever programs they need to sign up for, etc.

“Every time they do something,” Pontefract said, “they get a badge.”

To earn badges, new Telus team members have to do things like sign up for the company’s internal Twitter, “Buzz,” or its version fo YouTube, “Habitat Video.” They also have to create a profile on something called “Habitat MySite,” which is Telus’ version of Facebook.

The idea, Pontefract told me, isn’t just to get new team members up to speed with the usual information, but to get them intermingling with the company’s digital learning infrastructure, which is the central meeting place where most employee collaboration and communication occurs.

“We get them inside of this virtual environment to mingle with people in a very informal, ad hoc way,” Pontefract said. “They just get to know people across the country or countries in this virtual environment as one of the things they have to do” when they first join the company.

“So, opposed to thinking this through as, well, orientation is your two-day class,” he added, “we’ve turned it on its head and said, ‘No, when you’re getting inducted into an organization, when you’re orienting into an organization, it’s not a two-day event. It’s actually really important to embrace the first 90 days and that you’re doing all kinds of things over time to reinforce, to introduce and perhaps to reintroduce what it means to be a Telus team member.'”

Whether you’re a fan of new-hire orientation programs or not, you can’t help but be impressed with how Telus has it set up. Being able to channel every step of the new-hire process in a digital environment seems, at least to me, to be more intimate and comforting to the employee.

It would also appear that by shifting the load to a digital environment, a heavy burden is taken off the shoulders of the talent managers — those who are typically tasked with carrying out such comprehensive orientation offerings.