Turnover can be a huge problem for startups. One study found that the average tenure of an employee at a startup is just 10.8 months. Such short tenures put small startups with just a handful of employees at a particularly vulnerable position. Training employees cost money and losing employees just months after you have trained them can be particularly devastating.
One way to overcome this problem is by pampering your employees. Besides offering vested stock options to employees who stick with your organisation for years, places like Singapore also offer many other lucrative benefits to startup workers like a thriving ecosystem, great salaries, quality of life, cost of living, and social security.
While these benefits provide a solid reason for employees to stick around, they do not necessarily insure the startup against turnover. The long-term strategy for any startup should thus be as much on training and nurturing new employees in order to bring them up to speed, as it is on retaining them with perks and benefits.
There are two key objectives here. Firstly, startups need to define a framework that can help them seamlessly onboard and train any number of new employees. This is particularly important for sales-focused startups. Such organisations see a direct correlation between the size of their sales force and revenues. Hiring dozens of new sales members is not uncommon even among small startups.
The second objective is to have a short turnaround for employee training. There is no point spending a full quarter training your employee if they were to quit just a few months later. Short turnaround ensures that an organization can recover its training costs sooner.
1. Designing a framework
The reason an onboarding framework makes so much sense for a startup is because it avoids the need to expend resources every time you onboard new employees. For example, if a co-founder is the best technologist or salesperson in your organisation, it makes sense for them to handle the induction and training of new tech or sales people in the team.
This is however not an optimal use of their time or skills. A framework-based approach would focus on producing training videos and course content that can be reused. This way, you may be able to impart training with your best resources on a continuous basis.
Course frameworks are usually based on training objectives. These are often classified into two sections – Enabling Learning Objectives (ELO) and Terminal Learning Objectives (TLO). ELOs are essentially the specific lessons that a learner is supposed to master in order to achieve the core objective of training, the TLO. It is a good idea to identify the right TLO and work your way backwards into defining the ELOs and various modules that your training program should come equipped with.
2. Training methods that work for startups
One of the biggest onboarding challenges that startups face is with the methods deployed. Most startups do not have well-defined training methods. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, many startups do not have a full time trainer to ideate on the training process. Also, many early stage startups have a pertinent paucity of resources. This forces them to get fresh recruits working even before they are completely trained.
These factors are a reason why traditional classroom-based onboarding techniques do not work for startups. Also, if your startup is located in a city like Singapore, chances are high that your consumer-facing team is located elsewhere in Europe or the Americas. Training your remote employee could be another challenge with respect to the deployed methodology.
A culmination of these challenges has been the reason why most startups train their employees through a mix of microlearning and shadowing. Microlearning is the use of modules that are 3-10 minutes long that focuses on any one specific concept or skill (as opposed to traditional learning where lessons are exhaustive). In addition to improving retention (by over 20%) and reducing production cost (by over 50%), microlearning is also easier to produce for a resource-starved startup. Also, microlearning makes it possible for the employees to train and work at the same time.
Job shadowing is an informal, yet highly effective form of training that many startups have used. The advantage here is that the employee learns on the job and does not require formal training. However, there are a couple of challenges here — in a resource starved startup, it sometimes becomes difficult for a senior employee to work and impart lessons to a new recruit at the same time. Also, this technique is not feasible for a remote workforce that is distributed across different geographies.
3. Measuring onboarding effect on attrition
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons why an employee may want to quit a startup. For one, the startup work culture is not really for everyone. It is not unreasonable for a worker to expect a more stable role and responsibility. Job security may be another factor too that contributes to turnover. But as a number of studies have shown, workers tend to quit when the organisation does not provide them with a solid onboarding program or did not have a strong learning culture.
Startups cannot afford to lose employees. It is thus important to work on establishing a learning framework that not only makes your employees productive at work, but also serves to retain them for a longer term.
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