Orientation benefits employees and companies to gain knowledge and build teams. But it also provides an opportunity to introduce new recruits to the tools they'll be using in their daily work. Here's a real life example of a SharePoint solution created for exactly that purpose.

Out of all of the companies I have worked for, none offered the type of orientation that I experienced when I started at Rackspace Hosting. Within the month that Rackspace hires you, you attend a week-long orientation course, also known as Rookie-O. Friends and Family is the focus, and the goal is to get every new employee off to the right start.

In this session we learn about the history of Rackspace, the Vision for the future and become empowered to be the most fanatical Rackers we can be. During the course of the week, you form friendships with other Rackers that will likely last throughout your career at Rackspace.

Rookie-O is organized and headed up by SugarBear -- our own legend at Rackspace. Over the past year I've had the great opportunity to work alongside SugarBear to create a SharePoint solution that complements our existing orientation program, allowing for Rackers to have an interactive and collaborative experience along with the coursework throughout the Rookie-O week.

As with all solutions in SharePoint, the things described here can be tweaked and changed to fit your specific needs. That is part of the beauty of SharePoint, there are a million ways to do things, so you just have to pick the path that is the best for you and your organization’s needs.

Understanding Our Requirements

The first step in building any solution is to fully understand the requirements and the users of the system. As we got started in our efforts, we spent time discussing the outcomes we wanted from the solution and how we wanted users to interact with the solution during the orientation week and after. We then could match the technology to fulfill these requirements. We knew from our initial conversations that we needed to build a system that would accommodate three specific system users:

  • Rookie-O Administrators: These are the primary people who coordinate the schedule for the week and make all the details happen. They need the ability to push information out to all Rackers and then also coordinate schedules and such with the various presenters.
  • Presenters: These are the Rackers that will present content to the Rookies throughout the week. They rotate throughout the months, based on availability as well as needed content. Each presenter is constantly updating their presentation based on the current Rackspace culture and environment.
  • Students: These are the newest employees to join Rackspace. They attend the training as well as compete within a small team to show their Racker pride and enthusiasm for their work.

In addition to understanding the specific users, we wanted to be able to create a solution that lead to a specific outcome.  We decided the following elements were necessary for new Rookies using our solution:

  • All Rookies should leave the orientation session with a feeling that they were able to add value to the course.  This could be done via opportunities to present to the entire class during the week, but for those who do not want to speak in front of a large group, this solution should allow them to participate and add value through class discussions.
  • All Rookies should be able to access the content presented during Rookie-O throughout their first year at Rackspace. This will allow them to easily access presentations and files presented during their week at Rookie-O.

As we looked at the various audiences, we determined that the most efficient way to get the needed content for the site would be to build a system that allowed for each session of orientation to have a dedicated location that could be used to host discussions, provide the agenda and share the content presented during the week. In addition we would allow for each team of students to create a page that describes their team and highlights their view of the Rackspace values.

Building a Template

Like many solutions built in SharePoint, the solution was needed now and at a very low cost and overhead management. This meant finding a balance between what we could do out of the box, our requirements and the need to use custom code. In order to manage this we tried to build the best solution possible without using any custom code. If an approach we wanted to follow required custom code, then we reviewed our requirements and approach to find a modified solution that didn't require custom code. Since we didn't have any time to teach administrators or Rookies how to use the system, it needed to be intuitive and easy to use.

Our solution consisted of a landing page to manage all general things associated with Rookie-O orientation and then links to the various sites for the different Rookie-O sessions. Below is a screenshot of the initial landing page:

rookie-o.png

This page is available at all times and can give new hires information about what to expect during their orientation session and other important details about location and start time.  New Rackers are introduced to their class site and given brief instructions on how to work with it during the introduction session of orientation. Below is a screenshot of one of the class's landing pages:

lambda class.png

Within each course site we focus the attention on the various things that we want the students to do during the week. We want them to use the site to guide them to the important activities. The agenda provides an easy way to view all content from the week, including the various presentations and presenters from the session. The screenshots below highlight the overall agenda and then show the details for one of the sessions.

lambda class agenda.png

lambda class session.png

These pages provide a way for users to access the content presented throughout the week after their initial week of orientation. This allows them to consume the data over time, based on their needs. If they don’t remember the session that the content was presented in, they can always use the search features to quickly access the content. In addition to pushing content from each of the sessions, we needed a way for Rookies to quickly find each other. To accomplish this we created a simple page that lists out all of the students in the class along with all of the instructors.

Now that we have covered the information we want to push to the Rackers, we will focus on the information we want to pull from the Rackers. We wanted to provide ways for Rackers to interact with each other during the week as well as give them an opportunity to creatively describe their experience at Rookie-O.

This was implemented through the creation of a class discussion board and through the creation of pages for each of the groups within a class. Students were given full edit rights to these locations and coached on the opportunity to present their information on the site. Below are screenshots of those two pages.

lambda class teams.png

lambdal class community home.png

Start Small & Keep Growing: User Adoption & Additional Wins!

The approach we took to implementing this solution was to take small steps over time, adding functionality based on when we thought could be successfully implemented. As an example of our approach, for the first class, we only pushed content to Rackers and didn’t implement anything that would require Rackers to add content. This allowed us to work out any unknown access issues and allowed us to evaluate the success of the site. In future courses we added functionality one course at a time, ensuring that we rolled out new functionality with each session. Since each course was built using a template, we simply updated our template after each session and used that new template for the next course.

Overall, the solution has been a success and new Rackers have stated over and over that they appreciate having a single location to access their course content. In addition to this feedback, many Rackers have gotten exposure to SharePoint as a business tool and have taken their experience and applied it to additional tools and solutions. These wins are allowing us to engage early with our users and instruct them on how to be the most successful with the tools we use internally. 

Editor's Note: Read more of Jennifer's SharePoint advice in Driving User Behavior within Your SharePoint Solutions