ShipHawk new hires April Petrey
Training & Learning

Independence and Confidence: How ShipHawk’s 'Flight School' Helps New Hires Upskill from Within

As every L&D leader knows, it’s critical to instill independence and confidence in new hires during the onboarding process. So, how can you design an onboarding program that enables new hires to be active from day one?

This is a big challenge–and I was excited to tackle it in my interview with April Petrey, Director of L&D at ShipHawk. April spoke to me about her onboarding program that makes new hires feel independent and confident, and how she collaborates with subject-matter experts to co-design content that upskills new hires from within.

Read on to hear why building a foundation of company, industry, and product knowledge for new hires is crucial for an eCommerce shipping solution company like ShipHawk.

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The challenge of starting up L&D in a new organization

When April started at ShipHawk, she was really interested and excited because she was switching from the automotive industry to the pick, pack, and ship industry. 

“So, if you think about all those lovely packages that show up at your door when you order from your favorite stores, that's where ShipHawk comes in.”

ShipHawk is currently focused on helping retail companies manage their shipping costs by making sure that they're picking warehouses efficiently, using the smallest most efficient packages possible, and also choosing the most cost-effective and customer-serving delivery method available.

“And now we've recently acquired a warehouse management system, which will go beyond picking, packing, and shipping to managing how these businesses manage their warehouses and again to drive efficiency.”

Since starting at ShipHawk this year, April and her team have kicked off some great new onboarding initiatives. “We chose a learning management platform. We also dedicated a lot of time to building the industry, company, and product knowledge for onboarding new hires, which is a big focus for us as the company is growing quickly.”

So, how do April and the team build the knowledge for new hires? Read on to hear about ShipHawk’s flight school for new hires.

Looking for better ways to collaborate with your subject-matter experts? Check out our five top tips!

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How ShipHawk’s ‘flight school’ helps new hires upskill from within

When April started, the very first thing the team did was to begin gathering their subject-matter experts, or SMEs, throughout the company to build the right focus on industry knowledge.

“What is the industry about? Who are the players? So, we're teaching new hires how the shipping, picking, and packing warehouse industry is structured. We're also working hard on terminology, because there are a lot of acronyms and slang in this industry.”

Next, they also focused on ShipHawk and the exciting history of how the company developed, and finally, they introduced their product overviews.

“So, it's been an enjoyable experience, and some great stuff came out of it because I was immediately engaged with our subject-matter experts across the company. And I came in with three main thoughts.”

April was able to put the flight school into action immediately with the following three thoughts: 

  1. Collaboration. 
  2. Bottom-up learning. 
  3. Interaction versus ‘just watching’ learning. 

“When you put in the activities, the reviews, and the videos, we created about eight and a half hours of onboarding content that they have two weeks to go through. The feedback has been really fantastic, and I think a lot of that has to do with the learning platform.”

Once a new hire finishes flight school, April explains, they get a flight pin. “We like to make a big deal out of it because knowing the industry, the company, and the product are the foundations for introducing everyone to how we want to do business.”

“We also enjoyed making it a certification so they can post it on their LinkedIn profiles. We're printing a lovely one and sending it to them as well for remote employees. It is very much a centralizing, grounding experience to kick off their careers.”

April’s flight school journey of design would not have been possible without collaboration with the company’s SMEs–nor as fun!

It's been an enjoyable experience, and some great stuff came out of it because I was immediately engaged with our subject-matter experts across the company.

Making SME collaboration as fun as possible

As April explains, her favorite experience was collaborating with the company’s SMEs to create onboarding content specific to their industry.

“My number one thing when I was looking for a position was to work in a company with a high collaborative value. I believe that in learning and development, especially in startup learning and development, I'm more of a consultant than the owner of all knowledge.”

ShipHawk new hires April Petrey

When collaborating with SMEs, April focused on leveraging her learning and development skills, writing objectives, chunking information, weeding out elements that take people down rabbit holes, and being precise. 

“Whereas when you have a subject-matter expert, they want to tell you everything about their subject. They were so open and flexible, and once they understood the basics of learning, they cut their content down, saying, ‘Well, it doesn't serve the objective, so we'll save this for another time’.”

ShipHawk’s flight school highlights the benefits of collaborative learning. By collaborating with SMEs to co-design their onboarding program, April and her team built content that upskilled new hires from within by introducing them to the industry, the company, and the product. They are now onboarding people faster and faster. 

So, that’s April’s flight school for onboarding new hires, but how does she know they are benefitting from all this great company, industry, and product knowledge and expertise?

Measuring impact: how are new hires using SME knowledge?

As April explains, measuring the impact of the flight school program has been interesting as previously, they didn’t have a learning management platform. 

“So, there was no way to measure learning from an analytics perspective outside a quarterly employee survey. Our CEO’s goal is to always have 80% participation across the company, or the results aren't that effective, and we've always hit that or higher. And so that was the only measurement we had at the time.”

During the two-week session of the flight school, April and her team carry out two surveys. The data tells that the engagement is high because the session times are consistent with new hires. 

“We were careful to keep every video interaction under three minutes, and we’d have something to engage the learner like a summary, a little download page, or a question. So that tends to take longer, but you also can't just hit play and let it run for 45 minutes.”

As April explains, the KPIs are still anecdotal, but the management team also gives her feedback weekly when they bring people on board. They tell her that new hires understand the terminology and that folks are ramping up faster. 

“It breaks my little analytical heart that I can't say how much faster because we didn't know before. So, I'm really looking forward to this quarter, maybe even the first month versus the sixth month, to see what those are going to look like.”

Because ShipHawk isn’t hiring 10 to 20 people at a time, April says that if you don’t have a cohort to depend on, it is crucial to have a clear path that an individual can use to mark their journey.

“So, in the flight school, I really wanted to focus and show them where to go to get their resources, putting an activity in to find this page, bookmark this, name it this, so you know where to find it. All to give that individual the freedom to learn and feel independent, calm, competent, and confident.”

We were careful to keep every video interaction under three minutes.

Expert tip for first L&D hires: always collaborate and prioritize

When you start at a company as the first L&D professional, April’s advice is to collaborate and prioritize.

1. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate

First, you should be looking to engage with SMEs within the company.

“It will be impossible to be the source of all knowledge, and when we engage with the subject-matter experts, it gives them confidence. It also gives credibility to the learning as it rolls out across the company.”

2. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize

Second, you should prioritize the company's objectives for key results. 

“That was really hard for me in my first L&D role because I knew so clearly that everybody needs to know ‘these things,’ but that was selfish from an L&D perspective because those were things that I thought they needed, but when I met and worked with the leadership team, they actually needed a different set of knowledge first.”

And so, as April explains, when going into ShipHawk, she could identify the company’s objectives for the quarter and the next and then plan how she could support each team. 

“So, when you're coming in as the first L&D person, collaborate and prioritize according to the company’s goals. You will get buy-in, budget, and support much faster than trying to chart your own course, even if you do know what they need.”

When you're coming in as the first L&D person, collaborate and prioritize according to the company’s goals. You will get buy-in, budget, and support much faster than trying to chart your own course, even if you do know what they need.

Thanks to April for sharing her experience and flight school onboarding program with us!

Looking for more insights on onboarding programs that ramp up and upskill new hires from within? Check out how Halimah Jones at Slack is building new hire communities through remote onboarding and Hillary Miller’s four-step strategy for building experienced-based learning programs to onboard new hires into a growing system of healthcare organizations at Penn State Health.

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