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Reality TV Show for New Hires at Neustar

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Wed Feb 11 2015

Reality TV Show for New Hires at Neustar
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**Gail Griswold

Manager, Learning and Development

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Neustar**

The challenge Neustar faced was how to create an onboarding experience for new hires. The company needed a solution that was more than an onboarding “orientation.”  Instead, it required an onboarding “experience” that better conveyed the essence of Neustar to new employees in a fun, accessible, and innovative way.

In February 2013, Neustar’s Reality TV Training Program was born as a blended learning approach. The show followed the journey of five new hires and their experience of working at Neustar. Gail Griswold, manager of learning and development, and her team, created the training program. 

Q:  Why did you feel that Neustar needed a new onboarding experience?  What did you find lacking in the existing one? 

A:  Like most companies, Neustar had a typical onboarding process. Employees sat in a room and watched a four-hour Power Point presentation with an HR business partner or someone from talent management. While it served the purpose of communicating key information, it didn’t convey who Neustar is. We are a company that supports innovation and forward-thinking. We are passionate and love what we do. A program where you sit and watch a PowerPoint presentation didn’t really convey that.  

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In the new onboarding program, new hires would experience what it is like working at Neustar, by watching current employees in their day-to-day roles. More important, we were able to create a program that would be scalable. Regardless of where someone sat in the organization (their function or location), everybody had the same experience and could relate to what others were going through by watching the reality TV program.  

Q:  Can you explain how you and your team came up with the idea of a reality TV series and describe the program. 

A: The concept allows new hires to experience what it’s like to work at Neustar by watching video vignettes of five new hires. It’s a scripted reality show with each character representing a different persona in a different location. One is an engineer with several years of experience; one is just out of college; another is a manager; and another is someone transitioning into a new career at Neustar. The personas were created so that new hires could relate to one or more of the main characters. 

We follow each workers journey as they learn what they need to know to start their careers with Neustar.  The episodes contain a blend of video vignettes and e-learning components. Employees are able to learn at their own pace and have the opportunity to practice what they learn, as well as print key take-aways for reference as they become more familiar with the organization. 

The episodes also include commercials that feature different departments within Neustar. These commercials spotlight departments, allowing new hires to learn about a department in a two-minute commercial. 

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The program consists of 12 episodes: nine are required and three are on-demand.  We ask that the new hires complete the episodes at their own pace during their first five weeks on the job. They can log in to our learning management system, click on an episode, and watch it. At the end of every episode we provide optional tasks and assignments. 

Q:  How did you come up with the idea of a reality TV training program? What was the impetus for that vision? 

A:   We definitely wanted to incorporate video into our project. In an age of YouTube, we believe that people are highly engaged by video done correctly. With reality TV, everyone can relate to something. Whether it’s a cooking show, a competition like Survivor, or even a drama, everyone tunes in for one reason or another. 

Whether our new hires are relating to a character in our program or to the experience, we felt our employees would be better able to learn on their own journey.  We did some research and we didn’t come across a similar program from another company. 

Q: What were the most important elements you wanted to include in the reality TV programs?  

A:  We asked ourselves, what do new hires need to know to be successful during their first month on the job? We wanted to focus on the vision, culture, and mission of Neustar. We wanted to share everything they would need to start a successful career—from career growth, to goal setting, to performance management, to individual development plans. We also focused on sharing some key information about Neustar’s services, in an easily digestible way. 

For instance, one thing we shared with new hires was the goal-setting process. We walked them through the process of what it means to set goals at Neustar so they knew how to measure their success. We showed what it’s like for a new employee to go through this process. We showed one of our actors partnering with someone in the company, to demonstrate how we are one team with one mission. This episode also contained an e-learning component that walked through the goal-setting process.     

Q:  What were some of the challenges you faced?

A:  Everything was done in-house. Of course, we had to get buy-in, so before we moved forward with the project, we identified the main stakeholders, such as our business partners within HR. Those are the people who understood what Neustar employees needed, what they were asking for, and what questions come up on regular basis. Our vice president of HR was a key stakeholder, as well as the senior leadership team. We pitched this proposal to the top level at one of our senior leadership team meetings, so from top down we had the support we needed.  

The buy-in required us to show what we were talking about, so we created a pilot episode to show the possibilities. We delivered episode one to the key stakeholders. Additionally, we shared the pilot episode during a lunch hour with anyone who was interested in learning more about the program. We received some very valuable and insightful feedback from this session. 

One of the challenges of developing 12 episodes was dealing with a lot of content. We needed to figure out how to divide the content; how to write the scripts; how to decide what would be included in the videos versus the e-learning or commercials. We engaged our corporate communications team, as well as some of the HR business partners to be part of the script-writing process. The challenges we encountered during filming mainly centered on getting the five main characters together at the same time. They still had jobs to attend to, so we had lunchtime and early morning meetings.  

Next, we dealt with the editing process. There were lots of components and different people developed certain aspects of the program. Sam Weber, who brought five years of video editing to the project, was our main video editor. We had another person, Nikki Gunter, dedicated to e-learning, and Craig Lutz and Stephanie Tong dedicated to the commercials. We also needed a guide/mentor to walk the new hires through this experience. Kim Austin was our resident guide/mentor; she not only introduced all of the episodes and checked in with the cast, but also was part of the script-writing team. In addition, David Carson, from our corporate communications team, was integral to the script-writing process. 

Another challenge we encountered was staying on track; making sure things were reviewed and approved. We built a tracking system using Microsoft Sharepoint, where we could manage how many hours each section took; who was responsible; and what percentage a particular person completed. Every week this tracker showed our overall progress. 

Q:  Six months post-launch, the team implemented a 90-day, new hire survey to learn more about employees’ first three months on the job. Neustar wanted to gain insight into the feedback about the program. Can you tell share any insights? 

A:  The survey has been extremely helpful. The 90-day survey allowed us to look back at the new hire experience and gauge whether we were delivering what they needed and in a format that worked. In addition to the onboarding program, we asked them other questions about their first 90 days. 

We were able to gauge whether the reality TV training program was effective. We asked our new hires whether we presented them with the right topics. We also asked them about what else they wanted to know, and whether we missed the mark on anything. In addition to the survey, each employee could also give immediate feedback at the end of each episode. We held focus groups for anyone who wanted to talk with us in more detail about their experience. 

We give new hires five weeks to complete the program, but most new hires completed all of the episodes in their first week. That was a huge learning moment for us, because we felt we were providing episodes and information when people needed it. We’re always trying to tweak and update the program, and having such great feedback helps. We’ve continued to update the program as information changes, and we’ve looked to streamline some of the 30-minute episodes to make them more concise. 

It was exciting to do this program. We were able to create a completely different and unique approach to learning, and we had the internal resources, participation, and support to make it happen. Neustar’s support of the program from the beginning gave us the creative license to build a learning approach that is fun and engaging.

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