Updated: Jul 8
Grab a piece of paper and a pen or open up a note on your phone as you read this. Keep score as we move through this topic together. Ready? Let’s dive in.
Write down the names of the companies you’ve worked for in your career. It might be a short list or a long list. There’s no right or wrong answer here. Just make the list.
Next, think about what it was like being brand new at each of those jobs. In particular, think about these five items:
The overall onboarding process
The quality of the training content provided to you
The quality of the delivery mechanism (facilitator led or online) of the training
The level of personalization in the training
How prepared you felt after completing the training
For each company on your list, rate your experience across the five items above using a 1-10 scale. Let’s make 1 represent thoughts like “It was awful,” “Not at all,” or “non-existent.” On the other hand, a 10 might represent thoughts like, “A+ amazing” or “100%.”
I’ll give you a moment…
Now, add the scores of the five items together to get one big number for each company on your list. This represents your overall perceived onboarding experience with those companies.
I personally hope there’s at least one company on your list that has a score of 45 or more, but sadly, my guess is that most will fall into the 30 and below range.
Next, let’s evaluate your lowest scoring experience. If the lowest cumulative score on your list is 25 or below, go to the next section. If your lowest cumulative score is above 25, scroll a little further until you see "I scored 25 or above."
"I scored 25 or below"
Unfortunately, your lackluster onboarding experience isn’t an anomaly. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM):
30% of organizations engage in what’s called “Passive Onboarding,” which is the lowest level of onboarding that covers compliance-related topics and not much else.
Another 50% utilize a practice called “High Potential Onboarding,” which covers both compliance role clarification, but fails to go into great depth about organizational culture and developing significant connections with others.
Upwards of 80% of organizations don’t provide complete and well-thought-out onboarding for their new hires. It’s not a surprise, then, that about 50% of new hires leave organizations within the first 18 months.
There are many reasons why companies have poor onboarding practices. We won’t dive into all of them here, but we will focus on one major hurdle that trips up a lot of HR or L&D leaders.
That hurdle is something we call an integrated and gamified experience.
Many onboarding programs (if you can even call them that) are cobbled together like a kid’s kindergarten craft project. Random pieces and parts of mandatory paperwork, canned compliance training, arbitrary videos, and heaps of self-study documents are shoved together because someone said they have to be covered for all new hires.
If you’ve experienced these symptoms, you’ve likely been a victim of an onboarding experience that lacked both integration and gamification:
There’s no cohesiveness of content.
There does not appear to be any regard for the learner’s experience or motivation.
The onboarding process itself feels haphazard as if there’s no path to follow.
The quality of the training content is lacking and there’s no opportunity for meaningful collaboration.
Nothing feels polished and the visual design is just sad.
You don’t feel prepared to do your job when you’ve completed onboarding.
Nothing about the experience felt motivating or regarding.
Do any of these sound familiar? If so, it explains why your lowest rated onboarding experience scored below 25 points.
An integrated training experience isn’t just about providing cohesion to onboarding. It’s actually a prerequisite for applying meaningful gamification that adds significant value in the mind of the learner. If your onboarding content isn’t integrated and cohesive, no amount of points, badges, or leaderboards will suddenly make your new hires jump for joy.
Gamification is inextricably linked to an integrated experience. Given that, how can you transform onboarding that looks and feels like a kindergarten craft project into a top-notch program?
Fixing this problem actually starts with identifying the needs and wants of the learner. Building a psychological profile of your learning audience and determining the behaviors you want from them is a critical and often overlooked first step. Many L&D professionals make the mistake of starting with the content piece, but good integrated and gamified experiences start with the minds of the learners.
Once you map out the learning audiences’ thoughts, feelings, needs, wants, motivations, and the behaviors you want from them, you can start evaluating your content. It is critical to take every bite-sized piece of content you present and ask how it aligns with the profile you built of your learning audience. Evaluate the following:
Does the content speak to the needs of the audience?
Is the messaging appropriate for where participants are in their learning journey?
How does one piece of content motivate learners to seek out the next piece?
What ties one topic to another?
This is the point where narrative becomes critical. Too often, onboarding experiences feel compartmentalized and clunky because there’s no narrative driving and connecting the process. Learners feel like they’re adrift at sea, simply allowing the tides to push and pull them wherever they need to go. Narratives invite the learner to become part of the journey, and when they’re done well the learner actually feels like they have some control over where the narrative leads. This is a critical piece of both integration and gamification. Narratives can provide a huge lift in perceived value of the training from the learner’s perspective.
Building a narrative means finding a creative hook. This is best accomplished through a blend of creative messaging and design. Think back to the narrative of classic video games like Super Mario Bros.
The princess has been kidnapped and is being held in Bowser’s castle. Your mission is to rescue her, and to do it you have to successfully traverse 8 different worlds.
By establishing this basic narrative, you can creatively explore how and what the hero (Mario) will experience as he navigates through each of the worlds.
Believe it or not, you can do something similar with onboarding. Assuming that the learner is the hero in your gamified onboarding experience, why can’t you position their learning as a quest? Perhaps they have to find and collect five different artifacts, each of which unlocks access to a new “world” once collected. Maybe they have the opportunity to make choices along the way, creating branching learning paths and allowing the learner to have some say over the order in which they learn about their new position.
An experience like this is dramatically different than reading endless PDFs, clicking through boring slide shows, or watching hour-long recorded webcasts.
Building a psychological profile of your learning audience and developing a creative narrative are just two steps on the journey to creating an integrated and gamified onboarding experience. Architecting the game mechanics and economy are also critical pieces of the puzzle, but the role that visual design and instructional design play in the process cannot be understated.
Truly integrated and gamified experiences require a very high level of visual design thinking as well as an understanding of how learning content is best stitched together within the creative narrative. Though these disciplines are separate, it’s not easy to find individuals who are highly skilled in each area and also have a shared mind in how gamification works in the learning space. That’s exactly why companies like Mindspace exist.
If you’re wondering if it’s worth going through this effort to develop integrated and gamified onboarding experiences, I remind you to look at that sub-25 score you wrote down for your lowest-rated onboarding experience.
I think you’ll agree, especially when you reflect on the quality of that experience, that there’s a lot of room for improvement. Integrating and gamifying poor onboarding experiences can help improve retention, employee satisfaction, and turn new hires into raving fans of your brand. And if you follow the logic, you know that this will ultimately impact the bottom line...in a good way.
Now that we’ve discussed how a poor onboarding experience can benefit from integration and gamification, please skip down to the SUMMARY.
"I scored 25 or above"
You’re quite fortunate to have experienced a decent onboarding process. You’re also in the minority.
A TrainingIndustry.com article cited that fewer than 40% of organizations have an onboarding programs that extend beyond a month.
Now, I’m making an assumption here that your positive experience was also a rather lengthy one. I think that’s a safe bet, though, because onboarding is not the same as orientation.
In theory, you could probably complete orientation itself within a couple days of joining a new company. Learning the ins and out of your actual job, understanding the culture, and connecting with the different support networks that will help you grow takes much more time. If you’ve had a largely positive onboarding experience before, I’m guessing all of these parts were touched on in some way.
I’m also going to guess that even if your positive onboarding experience wasn’t exactly “gamified” it probably included elements of gamification that may have slipped past you. For example:
Did you participate in any sort of structured knowledge check at different points along the way?
Was there positive praise or rewards you gained for completing any lessons or attending certain workshops?
Was there a roadmap of sorts or a progress bar that helped you visualize where you were in the onboarding process?
Did you participate in any scavenger hunts?
Did you do anything that involved working as a team to achieve a goal?
I could go on and on with examples here, but everything I listed above has some foundation in gamification or game theory.
You don’t always recognize it when you’re participating in a gamified experience, especially because people typically associate gamification with console or mobile device-based games that are built for entertainment. Baking gamification into a learning or onboarding experience can be done in a way that motivates and rewards the learner without feeling too “gamey.”
The key is to create an integrated gamified experience. Essentially, this means making the content, UI, and UX work together in a way that creates cohesion around the entire learning experience. Cohesion and value exchange are at the heart of good gamification. If the experience feels cohesive and provides more value than what it costs the learner in time and attention, you’ll win.
And my guess is that your high-scoring onboarding experience did just that. Even if it wasn’t gamified with a slick creative hook and amazing design elements, it probably didn’t feel cobbled together or clunky, and it likely provided a high level of value from your perspective.
Imagine, though, if that same onboarding experience got a full overhaul by a bunch of people who understood game mechanics and premium visual design. How much better could it be?
That’s where companies like Mindspace come in. Companies that build digital training and also have the expertise in gamification can help you move a good onboarding experience to a great one.
The payoff? Higher employee satisfaction, improved retention, and internal-facing new hires that love your brand as much as your customers do.
Regardless of whether your lowest-rated onboarding experience was awful or worthy of an A+, hopefully we’ve given you some things to consider when it comes to how integration and gamification can make it better.
Corporate training and onboarding doesn’t have to be a snooze-fest. Though these experiences often involve a lot of different departments, topics, and content, you don’t have to settle for a Frankenstein-like product that feels clunky and disorganized. Sure, you’ll need a little help along the way—but that’s what we’re here for.
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