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Onboarding Neuro-diverse Staff

February 16th, 2021 Blog

You want to hire neuro-diverse talent for your team, but you’re unsure about how to create an onboarding experience that’s useful for both you and your new employee. At Good Foot, we employ exclusively from the neuro-diverse community, and over the years, we’ve learned a thing or two about hiring and onboarding with this population.

When onboarding neuro-diverse talent, the most important things to consider are the same things as when onboarding someone who identifies as neuro-typical – effective screening, a welcoming environment, creating support, and setting them up for success by periodic reviews.

#1 – A Comprehensive Interview

You may not think of the interview as part of an employee’s onboarding, but this is where you start introducing yourself and your organization to potential employees as a welcoming and accommodating space where they’re safe to ask for help and seek clarity.

How we do it:

At Good Foot, our interview process has different stages that help us see a candidate’s potential beyond a traditional interview setting. We begin each interview with an informal skills assessment. Our interviewee then completes a mock delivery and is scored by the Training Facilitator on navigation skills, problem-solving, and communication skills.

Each candidate also attends a more formal interview immediately following the skills assessment, where they are asked questions relating to the work they will be doing. We ask different types of questions – ranging from specific questions about work experience to scenario type questions. There are a few essential adjustments we’ve made that make this process more welcoming to the neuro-diverse population:

  1. Ask one question at a time – neuro-diverse candidates can sometimes be overwhelmed by an overload of information. 
  2. Be open to rephrasing the question – some neuro-diverse individuals can get caught up in the wording that can disrupt their train of thought.
  3. Providing accommodations upfront – consider a quiet interview setting, make the candidate comfortable by adjusting the environment, provide fidgeting outlets such as a fidget spinner, and allow the candidate to stand or pace if it helps those interview nerves.

#2 – Be Welcoming

Make your new hire feel comfortable and welcomed within the organization by having their interviewer be their first contact on Day One. Start your orientation the typical way, with an office tour and introductions to their team and colleagues. Ensure there is adequate time to answer questions and find ways to include your new hire in social interactions.

How we do it:

Our orientation includes a workplace tour, meeting colleagues, and plenty of space for questions. We schedule regular check-ins with our support staff and encourage new hires to reach out with any questions they may have. We also strongly encourage our new team members to attend our social programs. Our Training Facilitators are trained to make the onboarding experience personable and take the time to interact with and get to know trainees’ personalities and interests.

#3 – Structure and Organization

Keep your onboarding process straightforward by using simple language, short sentences and checklists. Be thorough and cover everything. Many individuals with Autism prefer direct language, and research suggests using humour, metaphors and idioms in oral or written language can slow/dampen the learning curve.

How we do it:

From the interview to orientation day through training and beyond, we make sure our new staff members know what to expect and what is expected of them. Our expectations are thoroughly explained during the interview and expanded upon as the employee moves through their orientation and training. In orientation, we explore essential things a new employee needs to know, getting them familiar with the space they will be working in and the people they will be working with. We make sure that new hires are aware of the training process at Good Foot, and review this information in the interview, during orientation, and again at the beginning of training.

The training program at Good Foot is diverse and thorough. Alongside a peer Training Facilitator, each Trainee works through in-classroom training taught through modules that include booklets with written information and visual representations of the material. At the same time, new staff undergo in-field training where they are on the road doing deliveries with a peer Training Facilitator. There are three sections to the in-field training:

  1. Shadowing: Trainees accompany an experienced Courier and Training Facilitator on their deliveries. The Training Facilitator shows the Trainee how to do the job and thoroughly explains each step of their daily process. 
  2. Mock Deliveries: The Trainee does a series of deliveries between set locations with their Training Facilitator. These deliveries don’t involve actual packages or customers, but the Trainee can act out what is expected of them and receive guidance and feedback from their Training Facilitator.
  3. Real Deliveries: The Trainee takes the lead and completes deliveries according to everything they’ve learned thus far. A Training Facilitator joins them and provides feedback and suggestions along the way.

#4 – Set up for Success

Set easily-achievable goals for the new person’s first week to help set them up to earn a ‘quick win’. For example: in a customer-facing administrative role, you may set a goal for the new employee to learn the telephone script and take a call on their own by the end of the first week. Then scale up with increasingly complex tasks as they continue to integrate into the position. This will improve their confidence in their capability within the role and get them into the habit of setting achievable goals for themselves at work. It’s a win-win for everyone involved! 

How we do it:

Throughout our training process, new team members are encouraged to reach a series of goals with increasing complexity and difficulty. For example, a new Couriers is asked first to understand Good Foot as an organization. By the end of the training, they are asked to decide which order to complete first from a list of potential deliveries with complex factors to be considered. 

#5 – Tailor your Onboarding Process

Everyone works differently, and neuro-diverse staff are no different from their peers in this regard. Matching the onboarding experience to each individual’s unique needs doesn’t only benefit neuro-diverse applicants and employees; it benefits everyone. Being adaptable in your training will open doors for more people, more potential, and more possibilities. 

How we do it:

We ask our candidates what their preferred learning style is during their interview and revisit this question throughout their training. Our training and onboarding materials are written in clear, concise language that is to-the-point and easy to understand. If the candidate is referred to Good Foot through an employment agency, we’re also able to ask what the agency has observed with this individual and apply their suggestions when training our new hire. This is great as it can save weeks and help everyone get where they need to be faster! 

#6 – Include Built-In Support

Including support for your neuro-diverse staff during onboarding doesn’t have to be a big project – and it doesn’t have to be exclusive to staff members who identify as neuro-diverse either. Support at work has benefits for everyone and can be made relatively simple. Accommodations that are needed for someone to succeed at work are commonly perceived as a large obstacle, when, in most cases, solving the accommodation need is quite simple. In many cases, this change benefits everyone, not just the person who identifies the challenge.

How we do it:

We’ve incorporated support into onboarding at Good Foot by setting up weekly check-ins with a supervisor to go over the week’s good and bad experiences, plan next week’s priorities, and generally talk about how one is feeling about their work. Depending on need (again, everyone is different), some staff continue with weekly check-ins beyond their initial orientation period while others move check-in meetings to every other week or a monthly basis. The important piece is establishing a relationship between the employee and their manager, where information flow and constructive feedback are welcomed. 

#7 – Review and Revise

One of the easiest ways to accommodate neurodiversity in the workplace is through constant and thorough investigation and adjustment. No one will have it perfect the first go-around, and with every person’s needs presenting uniquely, each accommodation and each workplace may have slightly different requirements. 

To help new hires meet performance expectations, work with them to identify what is working well and what could be done differently to improve performance and workflow. Often, the staff know what will work for them and can provide actionable feedback to help them better succeed at specific tasks. 

How we do it:

Ask, ask, and ask again. At Good Foot, we’re always asking for feedback from our colleagues and working to make sure that everyone is set up to succeed. When something goes wrong, we stop to ask the following: “What happened?”, “Why did it happen?”, “How did we get here?”, “What is wrong about this scenario?”, and “What can we do next time to do better?”. Asking first and not placing blame or invoking punishment helps our staff feel comfortable to come forward and help us to help them by telling us what they need. 

We believe everyone can become a strong contributor to high performing teams with the right support and an innovative environment.

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