L and D plus Spendesk Onboarding
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How Spendesk Overhauled Their Onboarding by Turning Subject-Matter Experts Into Content Creators

For leading spend management platform Spendesk, onboarding had become unruly.

The COVID-19 pandemic had shifted all programs online, and the company was scaling fast. And while rapid expansion is great for business, it makes coordination across time zones and teams more complex. On top of it all, ‘workshop creep’ had started to set in—in other words, the onboarding process looked more like an endless string of back-to-back meetings than a coherent, flexible program.

Lucy (People Business Partner in Spendesk's People Team) and Tom (Knowledge Manager in Spendesk's Operations Team) knew that it was time for a change. They wanted a complete overhaul, and to propose a system that was agile, remote-friendly, and that equally prioritized sharing information and fostering emotional connection.

That change came in the form of the Spendesk Academy, built using the 360Learning platform and a Collaborative Learning methodology. We got a full breakdown of just how they did it in our latest L&D Plus episode.

If you’re saving the podcast for later, we’ve distilled the main takeaways below:

Don’t fear a blank slate

"Okay, we have workshops, and workshops, and workshops. Onboarding means workshops. There was both this format problem of having just workshops, and the fact that we just added other workshops without thinking about the coherence of the whole experience."

This is how Tom summed up the ‘workshop creep’ that had taken over the onboarding process prior to the launch of Spendesk Academy. The problem with this approach is that it’s too complicated, time-consuming, and repetitive to scale alongside the company’s fast growth. Instead of helping get new hires up to speed quickly, it just gummed up schedules.

At this point, it was tempting for Lucy and Tom to merely tweak an existing framework: remove a workshop here, change around the number of participants there. But the duo knew better. As Tom explained, “It's important to go back to the drawing board and start from a fresh page, because otherwise, the risk is to be drawn to what already existed, and not to be able to move to a new setting.”

Making sure to get C-suite approval, they opted instead for a complete overhaul of the entire approach to onboarding. This clean slate allowed them to start the Spendesk Academy from scratch using the 360Learning platform as its core.

It's important to go back to the drawing board and start from a fresh page, because otherwise, the risk is to be drawn to what already existed, and not to be able to move to a new setting.

Make peer feedback foundational

Peer feedback is a cornerstone of the Collaborative Learning methodology, and Lucy and Tom embraced it wholeheartedly to fill in their fresh slate.

Right from the start, they organized a representative brainstorming session to get an idea of what Spendeskers wanted to see from their onboarding. (At Spendesk, ‘onboarding’ includes three main phases: new hire onboarding, role-specific training, and role transfer training). Being sure to include employees from all offices, countries, and teams, Lucy and Tom asked their group two main questions:

  • In terms of the company mission, product, markets, positioning, organization, and tools, what do we want newcomers to take away from their first month at Spendesk? 
  • What other essential elements have been overlooked?

This input helped the duo lay the foundation for the Spendesk Academy and make sure the entire company was aligned. But that wasn’t the only time they solicited colleagues for feedback. As Lucy explained, “We realized with Tom that at the beginning, it's really important to have feedback from the new Spendeskers straight away. Pretty much as soon as they finish their onboarding.” 

So from start to finish, Spendesk Academy was based on a bottom-up and peer-to-peer approach to learning. As we’ll see, even when it comes to the actual onboarding content itself, Spendeskers were at the heart of the process.

It's really important to have feedback from the new Spendeskers straight away. Pretty much as soon as they finish their onboarding.

Turn subject-matter experts into (onboarding) content creators

Collaborative Learning is all about harnessing and sharing institutional knowledge among colleagues. 

Each of us has specific, contextual (and invaluable) knowledge about how we get our jobs done—and this is a big part of what new hires need to absorb as they start their new role. Collaborative Learning maintains that the best people to share that kind of institutional knowledge aren’t external experts, top management, or even the L&D team—but the subject-matter experts themselves.

Tom and Lucy embraced this Collaborative Learning approach for Spendesk Academy, meaning that recruiting Spendeskers to create onboarding course content became central to the project. However, in addition to their peers creating courses with the 360Learning platform, Lucy and Tom still had a critical role to play.

The duo first needed to set guidelines and expectations for course quality. For instance, tempting though it may be for some, simply recording a Zoom meeting and uploading the file onto Spendesk Academy definitely wasn’t considered ‘creating a course.’  Lucy and Tom agreed: better to prioritize course quality over quantity.

Tom also made sure that Spendeskers felt supported as onboarding content creators, ensuring for instance they were comfortable using the 360Learning authoring tool. He shared tips for new content creators:

  1. During regular synchronous meetings
  2. In their knowledge base Notion (especially best practices)
  3. In a dedicated group and course on 360Learning

For this system to work, Lucy and Tom were sure to clarify their respective roles and ‘who did what’ between the two of them. They also set clear distinctions between 360Learning (their learning platform used to house Spendesk Academy), and Notion, their internal knowledge base. In her own words, Lucy wondered, “What do we keep on Notion and what do we put on Spendesk Academy? And how do we make them work together?”

In the end, the team decided to use a classroom analogy: Notion is like the textbook (where resources are logged and documented), and Spendesk Academy was like the classroom—much more interactive.

It’s exactly that interactivity that leads us to our final takeaway of the interview: that onboarding is just as much about building connections as imparting information. 

Onboarding isn’t just informational: it’s also emotional

“The most interesting piece of feedback I received was when a newcomer told me that he felt like he already knew me.” 

This was an important moment in our interview with Tom and Lucy; the realization that it’s crucial, not only to share the right type of information with the right people, but also to forge interpersonal connections—especially when working remotely. 

As they built out Spendesk Academy, Lucy and Tom kept in mind that onboarding is meant to be a point of connection for new joiners. Interactive media like videos can help create this kind of connection, as can sharing comments in a discussion forum or pinging new joiners to let them know how welcome they are.

Spendesk Academy was created with that perspective in mind: by using a bottom-up, decentralized, and collaborative approach to learning, new hires can both get up to speed quickly and create those first collegial interactions that are so important during the onboarding process.

For more inspiring and actionable L&D stories like this one, be sure to check out our other episodes of L&D Plus.

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