Power to the people

How Capital Power helped new hires hit the ground running with onboarding program
By Bill Mitchell
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/27/2012

Before the recession, Capital Power was fighting an uphill battle to find the right talent in Alberta.

During the economic downturn, talent brownouts continued in certain roles, which posed a tough challenge for an organization operating across North America. Capital Power had to ensure its success in bringing in new talent wasn’t marginalized by long ramp-up times to full productivity or, even worse, lost to turnover.

A newly independent power producer, Capital Power has 950 employees, operations spread across the continent and a growth strategy with a base case to triple in generating size by 2020.

In order to meet this target, Capital Power needs all the talent it can get and it plans to engage and keep that talent with a program designed to onboard valued new employees while also promoting the organization’s still-solidifying culture.

Breaking away from the old paradigm

“An employee’s first day on the job sets the tone for their introduction to the company. We did not want an employee’s first exposure to the company to be the proverbial policy manual — we wanted them to be engaged and excited to be with Capital Power,” says Peter Arnold, senior vice-president of human resources, environment and health and safety.

HR was tasked to design and implement an onboarding program, called Strong Start, as an alternative to traditional orientation programs. The old model relied heavily on telling and showing and was offered only to new employees in the Edmonton area.

The core of Strong Start is a web-based program that encourages and empowers new hires from anywhere in North America to explore and interact with the information presented to them on Capital Power’s business.

Working with Development Dimensions International (DDI), it features a blended learning approach that combines highly interactive elearning and classroom components. It supports multiple business outcomes identified as objectives for the Strong Start program, including reducing turnover in the first year of employment, improving speed to productivity and increasing engagement.

A key attribute the company wanted to establish was the sense that, although it was new and geographically spread out, Capital Power was one company, not multiple business units. It was also adamant about solidifying what it meant to be a Capital Power employee.

The Strong Start program isn’t a complete orientation that imparts all of the critical information a new hire needs to know. Someone hired to work at a plant, for example, would go through safety orientation and site-specific orientation, while those in engineering, operations, leadership and professional roles have other orientations to complete. But Strong Start is a common link. HR designed it to be a deliberate and dedicated focus on corporate topics that bind employees together to build commonality.

An individual begins the Strong Start process by accessing a new hire portal — a link-based intranet page that redirects the new employee to appropriate content. From this portal, two elearning modules are accessible. The first, called Capital Power 101: The Basics, presents information about the organization’s design, vision, values, leadership team, major policies and how the company makes money. Also covered in this module, which takes about 90 minutes to complete, is business-relevant information, such as the growth strategy aimed at developing or acquiring up to $1 billion per year in power generation, how power generation is fueled and the importance of safety and operational facts.

The second elearning module, Capital Power 102: Powering Up & Plugging In, introduces a 100-day initial development plan each new hire must create with her manager. The 45-minute module also gives an overview of the networking plan each new hire must create. It encourages new hires to reach out to colleagues across the organization and build a network of people who can provide information, assistance and guidance to help avoid beginners’ mistakes and successfully complete tasks more quickly.

The modules are interactive, bringing together elements such as video clips, online coaching, an intranet scavenger hunt and knowledge checks. After completing the two online modules, the new hires then participate in a day-and-a-half classroom session with other new hires.

The classroom portion includes a personality inventory that promotes self-insight and awareness, a talk from the CEO or another senior executive to breathe life into the vision, mission and values, and a plant tour. The classroom piece is designed for employees to come in and show they know their stuff. Capital Power has moved away from a “sage on the stage” approach, where information only flows one way, to a learning environment where there are equal contributions from all participants.

Good information, perfect timing

Sian Barraclough, senior manager of market assessment and forecasting, had been with the organization for a few years when she participated in an elearning pilot session of the Strong Start program.

“(Previously) it was difficult when I came in to get a big picture view of the organization. You were very reliant on whatever context you got from the people around you. Today, you can step in and get that big picture and find out ‘Here’s who we are, here’s how we operate’ and start with that foundation.”

Many of the people in the pilot were existing employees. Typically, companies assume employees know the basics. Yet, Capital Power saw a 22 per cent improvement in basic company knowledge.

Further research from post-pilot surveys shows participants feel Strong Start is just what Capital Power needs for more effective onboarding:

• 96 per cent agree or strongly agree the program assists in engaging new employees

• 96 per cent agree or strongly agree Strong Start aligns new employees to the Capital Power culture

• 92 per cent agree or strongly agree it enables new employees to be successful.

A strong majority of the pilot participants also agree or strongly agree the program will assist in reducing turnover among new employees and decrease time to productivity.

Since officially launching the Strong Start program, Capital Power has seen a 30 per cent increase in organizational knowledge among participants. Furthermore, senior leaders in the organization are taking notice.

“We see Strong Start as key to our future success,” says Allan Danroth, vice-president of planning, business transformation and information systems. “The program allows our new employees to quickly assimilate into the organization’s culture and embrace our values. We believe having these employees as ‘early adopters’ with standardized, in-depth knowledge of our policies and protocols gives us a competitive edge.”

In November 2011, Capital Power officially acquired three power plants in the New England area. As part of their company integration, the classroom orientation portion was slightly tweaked and delivered at those plants, with great success.

“(The Strong Start program) was insightful, penetrating and fun,” says plant manager Scott Fortuna. “I haven’t experienced anything like that in my career. The day went by very fast, which was a signal to me that we were all very much engaged. We’ll be thinking and talking about it for a long time.”

Bill Mitchell is senior account executive for Western Canada at Development Dimensions International (DDI) in Vancouver. He can be reached at (604) 298-4455 or Bill.Mitchell@ddiworld.com.

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