From pilot to organization-wide implementation: How the Ministry of Defence uses the preboarding app to increase retention
At a large organization such as the Dutch Ministry of Defence, the process of onboarding new employees can be quite complex. One of the organization's main concerns is the percentage of military personnel who drop out shortly before their deployment or who drop out early in their training. Therefore, Defence introduced the Appical platform as a pilot project within the Royal Air Force. The success of this project led to its expansion throughout the entire organization. In this case study, you will learn about the implementation of the app, the challenges faced, and the results achieved.
Ease the wait
The Ministry of Defence is responsible for protecting its own territory and that of its allies, promoting (international) law and order and stability, supporting civilian authorities, and providing assistance in disasters and crises. The organization employs over 68,000 military personnel, civilians, and reservists. The organization consists of 7 components, including 4 armed forces components (the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, the Royal Army, and the Royal Marechaussee ), as well as 3 supporting Defence components.
One of the primary objectives of implementing the Appical preboarding app is to reduce the dropout rate of military personnel before and at the start of their training. By providing new employees with engaging content and essential information, the organization aims to better prepare new soldiers for their training, maintain their enthusiasm, and retain more individuals.
"We want to reduce dropout rates caused by things that could have been prevented through information provision," said Lotte Kok, project leader of the preboarding app. "For example, trainees are often surprised by the limited use of their mobile phones, having to share a room with multiple people, or the teaching methods. Even after an extensive recruitment and selection process, people are still taken aback. The Appical app can help prevent these kinds of culture shocks."
Furthermore, the app is intended to maintain a connection during the period between the examinations and the start of training. "The waiting time can vary from 2 months to a year. I truly believe that enthusiasm decreases over time. I hope that the app contributes to maintaining high levels of enthusiasm among trainees, so they remain motivated to work here."
Implementation of the preboarding platform: How did Defence approach this?
From pilot to organization-wide implementation
The initiative for the Appical preboarding app started as a pilot project within the Royal Air Force. "We were so excited about it that at one point we said: We want this for the entire organization," says Lotte Kok, project leader of the preboarding app.
With time, the Royal Army became the primary driving force behind the implementation of the app across the entire Defence organization. As the project leader of the preboarding app, Lotte is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the platform specifically for the Royal Army while ensuring compliance with the guidelines. Meanwhile, other organizational units are simultaneously rolling out the app as well.
The ultimate goal: to make the Appical preboarding app the standard preboarding tool for the entire Defence organization. "Now, not just one department is involved with the app, but many departments throughout Defence. And there are already a few other parts of Defence eagerly waiting to start."
The challenges of an organization-wide rollout
While enthusiasm is high, rolling out a preboarding app in a large organization like Defence comes with its own set of challenges. "When you mention the word 'app' within an organization like Defence, people quickly become excited. However, sometimes there can be misconceptions about what the app can do, such as expecting it to facilitate social interactions or carpooling. This is why managing expectations is crucial."
"In the end, it's about involving other Defence units in the choices we made in setting up the app. Often, they simply want to experience the app firsthand. While a test account can provide a glimpse, it is most effective to visit them and navigate through the app together."
In addition, maintaining alignment among all stakeholders can be a challenge. "Colleagues immediately recognize the potential of Appical. While we are currently using it as a preboarding app, we are also considering how we can provide onboarding, crossboarding, and offboarding to our new hires." It is important for us to remain focused on the same goal and continuously meet our organization's security requirements."
Customized environments, shared content
Lotte is constantly working with other stakeholders to determine the organization's intentions and permissions regarding Appical. "Each unit within Defence has its own app project leader, and I hold monthly discussions with them to establish the parameters. During my visits to different units, divisions, and schools, I gather valuable insights that help expand and refine the app's features.”
"Although each Defence unit has its own separate environment, we can view each other's content using viewer accounts. If something interesting is discovered in another unit, it can be easily copied to our own environment with the assistance of Appical." The monthly meetings provide an opportunity for various departments to share experiences and best practices, including frequently asked questions and terminology lists.
"This led to the creation of a new section called 'personal questions' after a colleague spoke with a recruiter who mentioned that new recruits often have not only questions about training but also practical inquiries such as 'What if you have your period during a field exercise?' or 'Are you allowed to wear jewelry?'"
"This is an important advantage of a preboarding app: it creates a safe environment where individuals can have their questions answered, which they may be hesitant to ask military personnel directly. It allows them to explore the military world from the comfort and security of their own homes."
What information does the preboarding app contain?
Relevant content for new students and colleagues
The app has been designed to strike the right balance between general information and personalized relevance. The majority of the chapters are accessible to everyone and cover topics such as frequently asked questions, traditions, ranks and positions, recommended social media accounts to follow, and fundamental military information.
In the Army, approximately 20% of the content has been tailored to specific units, training programs, or the chosen weapon or service branch, by utilizing tags. This allows Defence to provide targeted information that is directly relevant to the upcoming journey of each student. For instance, this could include details on where to report on their first day, what to expect during their training, and the traditions associated with their assigned unit.
"Providing relevant content for newcomers is very important. We want them to receive only the information they need at that moment. With the abundance of information on Defensie.nl and werkenbijdefensie.nl, it's easy to get lost in the details."
"Appical is like a map through the forest. And not just any map, but one that is truly relevant to you. We don't teach you about the entire forest, we will show you the exact path to take to reach the specific part of the forest where you need to be in a few months. You may not see the entirety of the forest, but that level of detail isn't necessary at this stage."
Onboarding can be enjoyable too
"While there are many formalities at Defence, it doesn't mean we can't have fun when you join our team. The preboarding platform allows us to take a more informal approach. The app serves as a communication tool that resonates with our target audience. It's important to me that we incorporate humor into the app."
"What's great is that the app not only provides a solid introduction but also fosters cultural understanding and manages expectations. And that's what I find most enjoyable: there's ample opportunity to explain all those things in a lighthearted manner that piques someone's curiosity."
"To gather the necessary content, I visit various units and receive information from my contacts. While the information is usually accurate in terms of content, it is rarely provided in an interactive format, such as a fun quiz or with a lot of visuals. It's a challenge to convert all the text we have at Defence into interactive content."
"I strive to include as many interactive templates in the app as possible to engage new students. My mantra is 'Minimize text, maximize interactivity.'
The results in the app are positive. "On the question 'Did the app assist you in your preparation?', we consistently receive ratings of 4-5 stars. The Royal Army and the Royal Marechaussee evaluate the app early on to ensure it meets the expectations of new employees. We ask the students what they hope to find out in the app. Often, this information is already included in the app."
"To compare results, we're currently planning to create a standardized set of questions that we'll ask all Defence units. Questions may include 'How well did the app prepare you for induction?' or 'Did you enter your training program with sufficient self-confidence?'."
A future-proof app
As the app continues to spread throughout the organization, sustaining its maintenance has become a top priority. “We are actively considering the creation of an organizational structure that would ensure the app's long-term viability and prevent any potential issues resulting from neglect. "To make the app future-proof, it's essential to designate specific departments to maintain it."
"Initially, the highest priority was given to new military personnel, but soon reservists will also be included as a new target group. Although civilian colleagues had a lower priority (as they have fewer dropouts before joining Defensie), I also believe it is essential to provide them with a seamless cultural transition, as they will be working in an exceptional organization. Some Defence components have already led the way, and we can learn from them. Now, it is simply time for us to act and make it a reality."
Tips for other companies
1. Consider the indirect users of the app
"In our case, these are the instructors. They interact with groups of students who are either much better prepared than before or have questions about the app. It is crucial for a smooth onboarding process that the instructor does not say, 'Which app? I'm not familiar with it.'"
2. Ensure sustainable content
"By sustainable, I mean content that not only lasts a long time but is also labor-intensive to maintain. For example, we have a new highest-ranking military officer, the Commander of the Armed Forces, every three years. Instead of specifically mentioning the name, we refer to 'the CAS' and their Facebook account, as this account is continually passed on."
3. Verify the accuracy of information
"When writing anything, it is important to ensure its ongoing accuracy. For instance, I typically write 'Welcome to the School for Petty Officers in Ermelo,' but recently, I discovered that petty officers are also trained in Oirschot and Assen. To avoid errors, we always mention that the paper notification instruction is the definitive source for times and locations."
4 Just start somewhere
"While it's important to think about what you want to achieve with the app and the organizational structure that supports it (such as different courses or using tags), try not to get stuck in the planning phase. For example, we started with one school and one brigade. From there, it becomes easier to add new schools and strengthen your formats by incorporating feedback features in the app. Just go out, try things, and experiment."
What employees say about Appical
"The biggest difference I notice now is that the students are already involved with the organization before they put on the green uniform. This also means they have less of a culture shock when they arrive here. They already know where they will eat, sleep, and report. And when they have all that information in advance, it can prevent them from quickly giving up and ensure that they opt for the Ministry of Defence."
"I received the app two months before my enlistment. I went through everything, especially information about where I would be stationed and what the training would entail. I also found the quiz section very interesting. The fellow students who used the app were better informed and prepared for the training. You could also tell from the knowledge they had."