Scaling an onboarding process is one of the hardest things to get right in L&D. When your company is growing at pace, you need to make sure your onboarding offers every new starter the tools and training they need to ramp up quickly.
Sometimes, this means building and scaling content all at once. It also means adjusting your learning approaches to make room for all the new teams you’ll need as you go from starting line to scale-up. This is a real challenge, and it’s why it’s so critical to listen to the experts.
Recently, I sat down with Emma Schain, Learning & Development Lead at Better.com, to hear about her top three lessons for scaling company onboarding. As a leading online mortgage lender, Better.com has experienced massive growth in recent years, and Emma has set an onboarding strategy to support and nurture this expansion.
We started off by talking about how Emma has switched from in-person to remote onboarding.
As Emma explains, Better.com’s onboarding is focused on giving people a thorough introduction to the company and the wider industry. Even after switching to remote onboarding, this is still their main priority.
“Before we moved into a 100% remote context in response to COVID, our onboarding was completely in-person,” says Emma. “Depending on the role, we’d have anywhere from a two to four-day onboarding program focused on three key things: introducing people to our mission, welcoming them to our culture, and providing a strong understanding of the industry.”
“We have a number of people coming from within the mortgage industry, but others coming from outside. We need to make sure we give everyone a solid understanding of the industry so we can set them up for success.”
When you’re scaling your company’s onboarding process, it’s crucial to bear in mind that not everyone is bringing the same experience with them.
Better.com’s mix of new hires doesn’t just require a different level of industry detail - it requires completely different learning approaches.
“Our mortgage underwriters already know the functionalities of their roles,” says Emma. “They go through a short direct facilitation training, because most of their learning happens on the job with a lot of support systems. For our other roles, the onboarding process is longer and involves greater oversight.”
“For example, for our processing roles, our new hires will spend about two weeks learning in-depth facilitation, and will then switch to learning on the job after that. They’ll actually experience their workflows, and they’ll start to understand their priorities and the knowledge they need to be successful.”
As Emma points out, this is a way to get people asking the right questions.
“We want them to think critically, ask questions, and get real-time answers,” she says. “These new hires will be in that supportive structure for about two months before they transition over to their managers and be fully autonomous.”
So, how does Emma know when new hires are ready to ramp-up? It’s all a question of metrics.
One of the toughest parts of onboarding is knowing exactly when new hires are ready to step into their roles. According to Emma, the key is to look hard at the right numbers.
“As we’re ramping up our new hires, we’re also tracking their productivity really closely,” says Emma. “These are the same metrics we use for people who are fully ramped. We keep a close eye on the cohorts and determine whether they’re meeting the kind of ‘health score’ we’d expect at different stages. We do this for the first two months.”
But tracking productivity doesn’t end there. “Even when an onboarding cohort has been on the floor for three, four, or five months, we’re still looking at their health scores to make sure they meet expectations for the role.”
So, that’s an overview of Better.com’s approach to onboarding. But how has this changed as the company has scaled?
Since Emma joined Better.com two years ago, the company has grown at an incredible rate. As she explains, her goal was to support this growth with efficient and tailored onboarding.
“When I started at Better two years ago, we were about 350 people,” says Emma. “Now, we’re 3,000 globally. A lot of this hypergrowth has been in the last six to twelve months, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. It’s taught me a lot.”
“Within that time frame, we’ve built an onboarding program, stood it up, and moved to remote because of COVID. For me, this has meant evolving my sense of what successful onboarding looks like, because our context has changed.”
For Emma, this process has taught her three key lessons.
“When I started at Better two years ago, we were about 350 people. Now, we’re 3,000 globally. A lot of this hypergrowth has been in the last six to twelve months, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. It’s taught me a lot.”
As Emma explains, scaling Better.com’s onboarding wouldn’t have been possible without such a dedicated and talented team.
“Our facilitators are the ones who have made the process so successful,” says Emma. “They’re out there in front of our new hires supporting them day in and day out. In our onboarding assessments, our new hires are consistently shouting out their facilitators for the great work they do.”
“That’s a really strong proof point that the people in front of the new hires are actually the most critical element. They set them up for success, and they make the experience truly memorable.”
“You need to prepare your team for everything,” says Emma. “Back in February, we were just starting to think through what the coronavirus could mean for us. I asked my team what it would look like to switch from in-person to fully remote. It was an intimidating question, but we talked it through and came up with a great plan.”
“This way, when we moved to a 100% remote context, we were fully prepared, and we were able to adjust our content to suit a virtual learning environment. That was a really exciting moment, and a good reminder of what it takes to respond to changing circumstances.”
“We had a couple of programs where we relied heavily on the training content, but we realized people were hungry to get into the actual work,” says Emma. “That’s when we started to put people on a modified pipeline with wraparound support from trainers and team leaders.”
“People were much more effective at getting up to speed when they were actually in the workflow. We know that 70% of learning happens when people are actually doing the work.”
For Emma and the Better.com team, these three lessons have helped them to build and scale a great onboarding process. But the work isn’t over yet.
"We know that 70% of learning happens when people are actually doing the work."
As Emma says, it isn’t enough to just have a great onboarding process - you have to keep an eye on learner progress all the time.
“We make sure we have really close tabs on our new hires from the get-go,” she says. “We’re always gathering data through assessments to make sure our trainers are really in-tune with the learning experience, and that they’re offering the resources our people need to grow.”
For companies experiencing rapid growth, this process of continuous improvement ensures your onboarding process is always keeping up with changing circumstances.
Big thanks to Emma for taking the time to share her experience and insights!
While you’re here, check out my expert interviews with Paul Cabrera of WhatsApp about onboarding new hires from a distance, and with Tuba Kazmi of Coca-Cola İçecek about how she celebrates and nurtures her diverse workforce with great L&D.
Want more peer insights on transforming workplace learning? Check out #CLOConnect, our interview series with top L&D leaders on driving growth and scaling culture through Collaborative Learning. Or you can subscribe (below 👇) to our weekly newsletter to receive our latest posts directly in your inbox.