How to use podcasting for onboarding


Podcast audio quality and putting content first

The people I talk to have mixed feelings about the phrase “onboarding”.

Some suggest it’s cold, dispassionate and corporate, while others are happy it has replaced tired phrases such as “orientation”. Perhaps the overused word “podcasting” also divides opinion, but for the purposes of this article, I’ll use both: podcasting for onboarding.

Onboarding is the process of welcoming new recruits to your business (or chess club, or whatever). It has taken on the baggage of simply acclimatising to a new environment, to having so much knowledge of the company from day one that you’re up and running at speed. What used to be the sole domain of the HR professional and line managers is now everyone’s responsibility, with people from other departments frequently involved. There is a process, a schedule, a range of materials to digest and cultural signposts to navigate. If you are the new recruit, you are often expected to be in charge of the onboarding process too, being responsible for managing your time and making sure you don’t miss a beat.

It’s a good process. When it’s done right, onboarding is the series of actions that help the new recruit get to grips with the direction of the business and the people who make it happen. It’s also how others get to know them and what they will bring to the business. Without a good onboarding process, everyone’s flying blind and keeping their fingers crossed. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a small operation or a huge beast of a company, onboarding is a process that can help to alleviate anxiety, disconnection and stress. It goes above and beyond first-week orientation and well into the months ahead. The positive effects linger, such as the first impression you provide in being a modern-thinking organisation. Not only do you welcome new employees with a goodie bag, you demonstrate how well you’re organised by inviting them to log in to your onboarding podcast. These things matter. According to new research by Glassdoor

“Organisations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%.”

I recommend you read Jen Dewar’s excellent summary of onboarding research to see the numbers. Yet, while there are different methods of onboarding, there are steps that remain consistent across most of them, such as preparation, introductions and training. It is my belief that podcasting can assist across all of these steps.

The benefits of audio

There are certain areas where audio isn’t going to be of much assistance, such as filling in forms. However, two other onboarding pain points can be improved by introducing a podcast to the mix. Let’s take information overload as an example. The sheer amount of information a new recruit is asked to read and digest can be overwhelming, particularly if the information is poorly compiled, out of date or irrelevant to the new hire’s role. Imagine a different scenario whereby a series of audio clips provide navigation through the initial steps of joining your company. The first steps don’t contain anything that couldn’t be shared outside of the company, such as introducing people to the company culture before they even arrive. It’s a chance to provide an audio “showreel” that provides a helicopter view of what it’s like to work for you, and the direction the company is going. It might contain information about what to expect next and what steps to take to prepare for their first day.

Further “episodes” drill down into helping the new recruit with what’s going to happen next, such as ‘Day Two: Meet the CEO’, or ‘Day Three: Breakfast with Rachel from Marketing’. These episodes don’t need to be linear nor generic – they can be go-to audio clips that cover different ground for different people joining different departments. Imagine a series of onboarding episodes for the IT department, for instance, and another series for Sales.

Podcasting for training

When it comes to training, the podcast comes into its own. This is where you have a repository of audio clips that cover various forms of training according to what the new recruit needs. It can introduce various aspects of how the company works and what its goals are, and flesh out the steps required to get there. Imagine a marketing podcast that introduces how to use the social media dashboard, or a communications podcast that describes how to use Slack while the new recruit is sat there in front of it.

While the new person may be experienced, they don’t know the idiosyncrasies of how you work, but they can get a head-start through the podcast series. This helps to avoid the pitfalls many new recruits experience when they join a new company, and promotes a feeling of connection to their fresh environment (whether they’re in an office or working remotely). And training achieved in incremental steps is better than having it all lumped on your shoulders from day one. A podcast series is something that can be listened to wherever they may be – at home, on a bus, in the gym – and can be referred back to whenever they like because it’s always available. There’s no reason to put people in front of a TV in a conference room anymore.

Let the people speak

Training is an intrinsic part of a successful onboarding process, yet people are at the core of the successful initiation of any new recruit. I remember many occasions where I was given a tour of an office and was introduced to people in different departments; hands were shaken, names were forgotten. It’s etiquette that’s nice but often uncomfortable for all parties, particularly if you’re shy or introverted. Imagine a scenario where the new recruit is introduced to many of their new colleagues across departments (and even countries!) via your private company podcast. An example might be a brief chat you recorded with Amanda from IT who talks about what she does day to day, a project she recently completed, and what she’ll be having for lunch. Imagine you’re the new recruit and you just listened to this snippet. They were introduced to someone they may never work directly with, but they got a sense of what they do and what they work on, and what it meant for the company, and what it means to Amanda. They also discovered where they can get food locally and what Amanda likes to eat, and whether the canteen food is any good! They may meet Amanda one day and talk about having heard the podcast. This is how you foster connections between people, and can make the difference between feeling like you joined a cold, dispassionate company or one that focuses on its people and its personalities.

The podcast also offers a chance to break down hierarchy and promote a sense of transparency and approachability. Your CEO might record a series of their own, where they share information about the company, recent news, and so on. And instead of a talking head approach, the format could be a series of interviews with the CEO, which can often come across better than being “spoken at”. It’s an opportunity to be human, to laugh, to engage, and to enhance your leadership credentials.

The great thing about audio is that it’s relatively easy to update, unlike a video. I’ve heard many anecdotes about having to update videos and asking senior leaders to find the same tie they wore when the video was first recorded. Updating video is hard, time-consuming and labour-intensive. Audio isn’t. It’s also a more approachable medium for those who don’t like to be in front of a camera. Sure, some people don’t like the sound of their own voice either, but you’ll be surprised by how many more volunteers you attract to being on the podcast.

Keeping things private and secure

One of the most common objections I hear about creating an internal company podcast is that “it’s open to security issues”. And of course, it is. And so is the Word document you email, and the downloadable PDFs you house on your intranet, and the paper trail you leave un-shredded out on the street in a bin bag. Business security is something we all have to be mindful of, but in believing audio is less secure than anything else you share with your employees is unfounded.

There are many podcast hosting services that offer private, secure authentication steps for your employees to access the content. This is like your company intranet in that there’s a specific way to get into the podcast app and you control the privileges for each and every person. You can even host audio clips without the need for a hosting company, such as in your cloud storage, or via Slack. I would always recommend a good hosting company for a better user experience, though.

Best practice roundup

So while the new recruit to your company begins their journey into becoming a productive member of your business, fills in the forms and finds their feet, you can rest assured that your series of private podcast episodes is helping them to navigate the intricacies of their new job. They began early because you sent audio material out before they started, and provided links to valuable episodes on day one that would help them self-manage the learning curve. They heard testimonials and case studies from colleagues they have yet to meet and clients they have yet to engage with, and the feedback they give you about the podcast will help you hone the onboarding process even more.

Podcasting for onboarding is one of the most important changes to business transformation I’ve seen over the last couple of years. And it’s gaining traction in so many ways, not least the value of engaging with new generations of digital-first employees. By using audio to augment the steps you take to help new employees, you’re adding a rich experience to your toolset while helping your current employees experience change for good.