Onboarding. It’s Like Raising a Baby.

May 7, 2012

Leadership Insights

“Diaper backward spells repaid. Think about it.”
~ Marshall McLuhan

You might have heard the popular sentiment among child-rearing experts that “the years before five last the rest of their lives.” The theory is that a baby’s earliest experiences of their upbringing and environment is a major determinant of how actualized, happy, and effective she ultimately becomes.

The first weeks and months for a hire in a new job are similarly formative. Those of us who’ve worked at a company for a while forget how disorienting and even challenging a new job can be. Who’s in charge of timesheets? How do I set up email? When does the ruthless keeper of the office fridge dispatch orphaned Tupperware to the trash? There’s a lot to learn – and that’s just the superficial stuff.

Onboarding is an afterthought at many companies – if it’s a thought at all – and it’s usually applied in a scattershot way. More often than not, new hires arrive to a hastily assembled stack of handouts, a mess of disorganized digital files, and the expectation that whatever else they need to get up to speed they’ll “pick up” along the way. It’s an approach that squanders a major opportunity to engage, energize, and empower the very people whose contributions are essential to the success or failure of your projects.

When thoughtful onboarding processes are employed, everybody wins. Startup tools and guidance make new employees feel valued and motivated, and allows them to achieve success faster, which in turn provides greater value and success for your company. Applying even one or two of the following onboarding techniques with your new hires will deliver tangible rewards:

  1. Employ a “buddy system” where new employees are paired with an experienced staff member who can orient them to company culture and processes. Identify people at the company with the best mix of knowledge and personality to take on these mentoring roles.
  2. Work with your employee to inventory strengths, challenges and interests. Find out what is driving him and what he wants to accomplish. This can lead to powerful synergies between what he’s passionate about and what the company needs.
  3. Outline clear, quantifiable objectives. Where possible, identify individual steps toward achieving them.
  4. Schedule regular meetings to monitor her progress and provide actionable feedback.
  5. Devise a system for relaying institutional knowledge and best practices throughout the office, so that everyone – including new hires – benefits from the best templates, methods and ideas.

If you apply the principle of nurturing a child to the way you receive and develop employees, you’ll be astonished – just like new parents are – at how much they learn, grow, and contribute.

– Chris Williamson, EDGE 3 Contributor