Personal connection key for ACC-RI onboarding

By Liz GlennMay 16, 2023

Personal connection key for ACC-RI onboarding
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Mark Mower, ACC-RI civilian deputy, welcomes Home Base #13 fellows during a center overview, Jan. 30, 2023. (Photo Credit: Liz Glenn) VIEW ORIGINAL
Personal connection key for ACC-RI onboarding
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Mark Mower, ACC-RI civilian deputy, leads Home Base #13 fellows in reciting the Civilian Army Corps Creed, Jan. 30, 2023. (Photo Credit: Liz Glenn) VIEW ORIGINAL
Personal connection key for ACC-RI onboarding
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Fellows from ACC-RI's Home Base #12 tour the historic Quarters One Building on the Rock Island Arsenal, in October 2022. (Photo Credit: Jill Sommer) VIEW ORIGINAL

ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Illinois (16 May, 2023) - For more than three years now, the Army Contracting Command-Rock Island workforce has been in a mainly telework-based posture, beginning with the onset of the COVID pandemic. This year, the center moved into a maximum telework posture in which most employees can work at home all the time, unless mission dictates they need to be present at the center. While there are many benefits to telework, beginning a government career virtually can be daunting.

Since the center moved to a largely telework status in March 2020, approximately 192 fellows – formerly known as interns – have onboarded at ACC-RI. Of those, most experienced their onboarding process via MS Teams, while some had a two-day onsite onboarding. Many of these employees never got the chance to meet their teammates or direct supervisors in-person.

Jill Sommer, a Home Base (formerly known as Intern Homeroom) branch chief and Onboarding Integrated Process Team lead, said Home Base #7 fellows, who onboarded June 2021, had the experience of onboarding in person for the first two days. Beginning with Home Base #11 fellows, who onboarded in June 2022, the center has enhanced the first two days of onboarding to create a stronger culture.

“To set the tone on day one, we conducted the swearing-in ceremony in-person led by a senior member of ACC-RI rather than over the phone with the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center,” said Sommer. “This initial engagement gave them pride as they officially entered their federal career.”

Conducting on boarding onsite for the first two days gave the fellows a small window of opportunity to meet a senior leader, the Contracting Development Program supervisors, the trainers, and their incoming peers.

“The first two days were conducted on-site, followed by a strategically structured administrative leave schedule until each fellow received their government issued equipment. During this timeframe, there was some downtime varied by each fellow,” said Sommer.

In October 2022, the overall center underwent a return-to-work transition, in which most of the workforce was required to work on-site at least one day per pay period. Based upon this shift, the Onboarding IPT, in coordination with Contracting Development Program supervisors, decided to expand the on-site onboarding experience from two days to two weeks. The thought was to create a valuable experience in parallel with building initial relationships, which encompassed the implementation of an immersive two-week schedule.

Beginning with the Home Base #12 fellows, who onboarded in October 2022, the first two weeks of employment were spent on-site. Just like Home Base #11, the swearing-in ceremony led by a member of senior leadership was conducted on day one. Further engagements included meet-and-greet with trainers, Acquisition Quality and Training division chief, welcoming committee members, and SHARP victim advocates.

Sommer said additional on-site meetings in those first two weeks provide an overview of mandatory forms such as telework and flexitour; an introduction to the center’s SharePoint site and contracting systems PADDS and PD2; and two leadership prep sessions to discuss senior leadership bios and etiquette. The two-week period ends with a pulse check noting any discrepancies in the in-processing guide.

Because the fellows are on-site without their government-issued equipment for at least the first few days, Sommer encourages them to bring their personal laptop.

“They congregate in the Acquisition Quality and Training conference room and using mobile hotspots, they have the ability to use their personal laptops to review the in-processing guide, HR benefits PowerPoint, Contracting Development Program PowerPoint, new employee-related websites, as well as leader bios.”

Sommer said the fellows also have the opportunity to meet face-to-face with members of the welcoming committee, which is comprised of fellows currently in the Contracting Development Program and is structured on a volunteer basis. Committee members are strategically matched to fellows who will be joining their team.

This process begins with a welcoming phone call prior to their first day as a federal employee, followed by a well-orchestrated meet & greet on their second day of employment. This provides an opportunity for the fellows to meet their peers in an informal setting, which also provides a venue to ask questions about peer experiences and ultimately leads to trust in the initial relationship building phase and the program.

Before the start of each new fellow class, a welcoming committee kick-off meeting is held with the Onboarding IPT and fellows who are interested in becoming a member. The IPT members provide guidelines and best practices, and verbalize it is the Home Base fellows’ responsibility and platform to form a schedule of events they consider most beneficial for the new fellow’s knowledge. With committee collaboration, the structured battle rhythm of events included overview sessions on OneNote usage, Paperless Contract File (PCF), and MS Teams navigation.

“The committee members also conduct open forum sessions, which is considered a platform to ask questions among their peer group,” said Sommer.

In the first week of onboarding, they attend three Island tours to include the Rock Island Arsenal Museum archives, Quarters One, and the Corps of Engineers Clock Tower. At least one CDP branch chief attends the tours alongside the fellows which further aides in initial relationship building. Trainers also have the opportunity to join these tours for the same purpose.

“The significance of the tours not only aides in peer-to-peer camaraderie, but provides a historical sightline of ACC-RI which gives them purpose with their new DoD role.” said Sommer.

Heightened engagement

Beginning with meeting a senior leader on the first day, the two-week onboarding experience gives a much better opportunity for fellows to make personal connections. While Sommer is on-site for the full two weeks to answer questions and concerns, new fellows also have the opportunity to meet their Home Base trainers and branch chiefs, something which wasn’t always a given.

Sommer developed a schedule for the trainers, which maps each fellow to their respective branch/ team, shows Common Access Card appointment dates, government equipment pick-up dates, and identifies suggested discussion items. From this spreadsheet, the trainers coordinate among themselves who will be onsite to engage face to face with the fellows. The trainers are a pivotal element in the two-week immersion and have done an exemplary job in creating their unique battle rhythm with their newest team members.

“If trainer “A” is on-site on Thursday, the trainer will engage with their new fellows to not only get to know them better, but to discuss various entry level topics such as who and what their team supports, as well as what that workload looks like across their team structure,” said Sommer.

Having the personal connection makes a big difference in setting the tone for the center’s newest employees and their government career.

“It has been so successful for the group that onboarded in October,” said Sommer. “Building the initial connection among themselves, the trainers, the branch chiefs, and some leadership inserts a feeling of belonging and pride. “Conducting onboarding in this manner for their first two weeks really catapults the Army Ethos, not only in our program but across the center.”

Sommer said that with the success of Home Base #12, the IPT was proactive in coordinating additional onsite events for Home Base #13. This included the ACC-RI Overview and recital of the Civilian Army Corps Creed, Leadership Meet and Greet with the front office, and buying directorate overviews led by the respective directors and division chiefs. For future classes, the center will continue to coordinate and schedule in the same manner knowing the positive impact it has on the newest workforce members.

“I would be remiss if I did not give a shout out to all the employees who holistically support this effort, which begins even before the fellows enter through the gate,” said Sommer. “The IPT members could not do what they do without the incredible support of so many members of the Business Operations Division; the Home Base trainers and branch chiefs; the buying directorates; and our senior leadership. The coordination is intense and the IPT does a wonderful job in leading that charge. This is truly a group effort among all parties and we are thankful for the flexibility and collaboration as one unit.”