Informal learning works for new hires

Todd Hudson discusses how the New Seasons Market chain uses a very informal approach not just for senior employees (where it seems to be a more natural fit) but for new hires as well. Criticism is often leveled against informal learning methods in that they don’t work for basic skills training. The New Seasons Market, with nine outlets, shows otherwise:

At New Seasons, you won’t see new hires crammed into three days of New Employee Training that’s so common today. After their Day One Orientation, New Seasons newbies are pretty much set free in their departments. “New Seasons’ training is like a Waldorf School experience. There’s no codified way for people to learn most jobs. People are told to look around, figure it out and ask for help when they need it,” said Charla [HR Director].

The company starts its hiring based on attitude, “We look for candidates more interested in genuine human interactions than in an ‘items per hour’ ratio”. I recommended in soft skills are foundational competencies that hiring for attitude makes more sense because you can always train for skills later.

This is a succinct real-world case for informal learning (book) in the workplace, what Todd Hudson calls Lean Knowledge Transfer (PDF), and reminds me of Guy Wallace’s more comprehensive Lean ISD (book) [also available as a free 404-page PDF at ].

10 Responses to “Informal learning works for new hires”

  1. Guy W. Wallace

    Thanks for the comment and mention of lean-ISD and the link to the Kindle version – but please note that the book is also available as a free 404-page PDF at – along with 3 other books. And thanks for sharing in general!


  2. Harold Jarche

    Along with my business partners at ITA, I have been an advocate of informal learning because I feel too many resources are put into formal training which is the most costly and not always effective model. When I discuss this informal learning with people in the field, many feel that it could work for experienced and skilled staff but not for new hires. They believe that formal training, quite often as a group in a classroom, is the only option. The New Season’s case study is an excellent example to the contrary.

  3. Todd Hudson


    Thanks for the blog post. New Seasons’ story has generated a lot of positive response, which I believe reflects people’s desire for a work environment that supports learning and not just crams information down their throats.

    I didn’t tell the whole New Seasons’ story, of course. Space. Time. And we didn’t discuss their hiring in any detail, which clearly is part of their ‘secret sauce.’ Staffing, actually ‘overstaffing’, practices are a key to their informal learning model. New employees don’t need to perform right away; there are more experienced employees at the ready to do the work and model how things are done correctly.

    What are the arguments against informal learning for new hires that you hear?

  4. Stephen O'Brien

    As part of our new hire process we recently stopped asking dept. heads to come to training calls and present slides on their dept’s. R&R.

    Instead we explained to new hires that “your success depends on understanding how the business works. You have 2 days to find and interview a manager from each of the key boundary partners (we list)”. The new hires are given 5 interview questions and tasked with locating the managers, arranging a meeting (this encourages finding out about internal applications such as iCal, etc). Once they find the managers they ask the following questions:
    -What does your dept do
    -What are our key objectives
    -What are your problems
    -How can my dept help your dept
    -What advise do you have for me as a new person to the organisation

    This activity has become one of the most enjoyable learnings activities during new hire (as noted by new hires…the managers prefer it to presenting also) and has encouraged us to look for more ways to move new hire training out of the classroom.

    • Harold Jarche

      Excellent example, Stephen. One thing that I might suggest would be to add a sixth question, created by each new employee. Aggregate these questions over time and look for trends or patterns to inform the organization about the needs of new hires.

  5. Sreya

    Hi Harold,

    This is an excellent post and those words are something I always believed. Thanks for highlighting it. Stephen’s process is such a brilliant idea. I can imagine how enjoyable and helpful such an activity can be.

    Thanks for sharing,


  6. Holly MacDonald

    Harold – totally agree with you on this.

    I think the whole scavenger hunt approach is much more manageable as well for organizations that don’t hire en masse.

    I wrote a brief article that outlines some ways of using web 2.0 tech in orientation programs that lean more to the informal (although the emphasis was on using technology). Perhaps it will spark ideas for some of your readers:



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