Ever forget that “onboarding” is a metaphor? Yeah, us too.
So let’s examine that metaphor for a moment. The term “onboarding” likely derives the process of boarding a ship. It’s a process that lasts a minute or less (maybe a few minutes if you’re using a wheelchair or hauling a lot of luggage); and once you’re on board, you’re on board—there’s no getting off until you’ve reached your destination.
Employee onboarding, meanwhile, is something else entirely. It takes more than a simple “you’re hired!” to feel productive, comfortable, and secure in an unfamiliar workplace. New hires need training, motivation, and support before they can fully contribute to an organization. We’re not talking about a minute or two, but days, weeks, months—perhaps even longer.
In fact, as reported recently in the Harvard Business Review (emphasis added), “new research shows that spending as much as a year helping new employees get up to speed in the workplace is necessary to capitalize on the skills, knowledge, and excitement they bring to the organization.”
The HBR article, written by a group of human resources, business, and psychology professors, refutes assumptions about how to bring new people into an organization, emphasizing the ways in which onboarding is a bidirectional process:
“Effective onboarding programs have the dual purpose of supporting both new employees and hiring managers through socialization and professional support. For example, Google now uses an electronic checklist to remind managers to discuss roles and responsibilities with new hires, set up check-in meetings for the first six months, and match new hires with a peer buddy. Zappos offers new hires a five-week course that teaches them about the culture and values of Zappos. At Twitter, managers start thinking about onboarding well before a new hire’s first day by streamlining the many steps and interactions that must occur to make a new hire’s first days at the company welcoming and successful.
A new employee’s manager is one of the most important people in the onboarding experience, and gaining this person’s support may directly improve or undermine a new hire’s chances of succeeding. In a study that followed 409 college graduates through their first two years on the job, the degree of supervisor support that new employees felt during that time period had implications for role clarity, job satisfaction, and even their salary over time. In another study we found that supervisors can promote or inhibit newcomer adjustment through their supportive or obstructive behaviors. This is critically important because it means that effective onboarding programs must take into account not just the experience of the newcomer but also that of hiring managers.”
In other words, managers make all the difference for new hires: they can help newcomers feel at home, or scare them away from the job before it really begins. Imagine if the captain of a ship told you, “I don’t think you’re going to fit in with the culture of this boat,” or neglected to mention that you’ll be cleaning the portholes every morning.
Frankly, organizational onboarding is nothing like “getting on board” at all. Maybe it’s time to adopt a new term—one that captures the investment and personalized attention new hires need to succeed. Teamjoining?
Click here to read the HBR article, “Your New Hires Won’t Succeed Unless You Onboard Them Properly.”
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