A guest post by Gillian Withell, Talent and Development Officer, Medair

Most organizations know that inductions help new recruits settle in and give them the information and support they need to perform their role. But how long is your induction program, what does it cover and could it be improved? When the HR team at Medair asked these questions, they learned more than they expected. 

Medair is a humanitarian organization, inspired by Christian faith, to relieve human suffering in some of the world’s most remote and devastated places. We provide a range of emergency relief and recovery services: health care and nutrition; safe water, sanitation, and hygiene; shelter and infrastructure. We work in 11 countries and our headquarters are in Switzerland, where we also provide our organizational inductions. These inductions, known as ‘HQ Briefings,’ began as three-day programs but increased over the years to become two weeks long, depending on the field staff’s role. The lengthy inductions meant field programs were waiting longer for staff to arrive and we were investing huge financial and time resources into the effort.

It was after feedback from new staff and managers that we felt the need to review our induction program.

Our HR team went about this by interviewing staff and speaking to other humanitarian organizations for benchmarking purposes. The feedback we received was used to facilitate a two-day workshop on induction involving staff from all levels of the organization. Field staff helped keep the discussions relevant and practical rather than HQ-driven, and the CEO’s involvement gave weight to the importance of the subject. The workshop aimed to arrive at a common understanding of the terms ‘information sharing’ versus ‘induction’ versus ‘training,’ as it became clear that staff viewed these differently. Concerns were also raised about the amount of information given on processes during inductions, the quality of the sessions, and the delivery method – especially the over-reliance on PowerPoint!

Following the workshop a core project team was set up with an ‘induction champion’ from each department or sector which helped ensure collaboration and organization-wide ownership.

At every stage, we were keen to ensure the induction review was not something driven by HR and by working together, the team let their creative juices flow, meeting in small groups and individually with induction champions to evaluate specific content. We then drew up a template skills matrix to help collate the information centrally, avoid the risk of content overlap between departments, and to assess how much individuals were being expected to learn. The matrix included the training subject area, the audience, the owner and importantly, the timing – specifically looking at whether training needed to be provided before arriving in the field or at a later late.

Everything was up for discussion, including whether field staff even needed to come into HQ before going to the field and if so, what the added value of that was.

Following our extensive review, we decided to keep delivering inductions at HQ but reduced their length by half, to around 4.5 days. This is usually divided up into half a day on organizational induction, two days on the ‘Medair Toolkit’, and two role-specific training days. New HQ-based staff also join the organizational induction sessions to gain a broad understanding of what the organization is about, which is especially valuable for those who will not travel in their role as it gives them an opportunity to connect with field staff.

To help facilitate the success of the new induction, we organized two train-the-trainer courses and we piloted and evaluated some of the new sessions before launching them in January 2017.

We then carried out a detailed review and incorporated feedback from new staff and from trainers before the second full induction was held in February. While it is early days to measure the impact of the new induction program, initial feedback indicates that sessions are more interactive and departments are thinking more carefully about how much information new staff can understand and retain prior to arriving in the field. A second follow-up evaluation will be held in a few months so we can gather more feedback and insight after staff have been in their new roles for a while.

Meanwhile for Medair, some of the successes of reviewing our induction program have already been very rewarding. We can get staff off to the field sooner, we have in-house trainers who can train others, there is a standard organizational session that provides all staff globally with a consistent orientation, and induction is now high on the agenda of senior leadership.

Looking ahead, with new staff spending less time in HQ induction sessions, we will focus on improving field-level induction processes and on-the-job training.

We will provide standard templates, such as an induction checklist, that can be adapted for local contexts. We will also promote and track the use of other resources more effectively, such as online modules available through LINGOs, making some of the courses mandatory. The skills training matrix is still a work in progress, but it is a live organizational document that will evolve over time as departments review and update their material. We’re looking forward to seeing how all our induction and training evolves as we keep measuring its impact but we know they’ll always be an area for continuous improvement for Medair!


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