I’ve written about the on-boarding process a couple of times — notably this blog post — because I think it’s really interesting how little time / thinking / attention / context is typically paid to it, despite the fact that it represents an employee’s first official interactions with a company (interviews are not really “official” interactions, I wouldn’t say). Typically it goes something like this:

  • Brief meeting with boss / hiring manager, mostly small talk
  • Meeting with HR to run down rules / health insurance / other personnel matters
  • Tour of office
  • Lunch/meeting with boss / new co-workers
  • Getting acquainted with desk/area, maybe one more meeting and some work
  • Done and go home

Obviously this varies by organization and their commitment to the process, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find an org that’s still doing active “on-boarding” at even two-three weeks past the first day.

That’s kind of ridiculous for any number of reasons, among them these (I cobbled this together as I typed):

  • Everything listed above is transactional, so you’re initially putting the employee in a context of doing transactional, basic things; that doesn’t roll up with later notions of doing transformative, bigger things.
  • Most employees need 2-3 months to even master the most basic elements of their jobs — some would say that figure goes out to 6-10 months — and understand the politics and interactions of their team. Once those things begin to crystallize, shouldn’t we re-contextualize the on-boarding process again?
  • If the best employees are continuous learners, shouldn’t we encourage continuous learning with how we bring people into an organization?

When I worked at McKesson (summer 2013), I actually proposed an 18-month on-boarding process that involved “passport stamps;” the idea had some traction at first and then ultimately went nowhere. I’ve heard companies like 3M do similar things. Basically there are “goals” (passport stamps) you need to collect, like meeting with an SVP or completing a certain project or presenting to X-amount of people or leading a new employee happy hour. At the end of 18 months, your first 1.5 years is evaluated in the context of performance and what you did with the on-boarding process. I think it would encourage people to actively become a part of the org over the first two years, which should foster engagement — but I understand a good deal of HR is meant to be legal compliance, and this isn’t necessarily the best idea from a legal compliance standpoint (tie performance evals to hosting happy hours?!??!).

That’s all a long way of getting to this article on Harvard Business Review, which makes an interesting point about on-boarding:

While this one-way, didactic approach encourages newcomers to be productive and controls what they will do in the short term,  Francesca’s and her colleagues’ research shows that it does not produce the most productive, innovative work environment in the long run. A better approach starts by asking newcomers a simple question: “Who are you when you are at your very best?” Behind this question lies a different philosophy of employment, one based on a psychological insight: People have a built-in drive to do what they do best naturally and to be recognized for it. This type of self-expression makes us feel authentic and alive. It also leads us to be more engaged at work, more productive, and more committed to the organization.

In a project conducted at Wipro, the business-process-outsourcing firm, Francesca and her colleagues designed a change to the onboarding process based on this psychological insight. They asked some of the newly-hired service representatives to reflect on their strengths, their uniqueness, and how they could bring those out in their new jobs. Rather than feeling alienated and anxious in their new work environment, new employees who engaged in this process felt they could be themselves at work. This difference led not only to lower employee turnover but also to higher performance as measured by customer satisfaction.

The overall article is more about another important topic — that said, when you want to ultimately make a big change, you need to start with a small one. Think about this: it’s hard to say “I am going to lose 20 pounds.” But it’s (relatively) easy to not have a cookie after dinner tonight, or go to the gym tomorrow morning, or what have you. Small steps on a journey to a bigger goal, etc. I agree with all that.

How cool is this on-boarding stuff, though — if you change the linguistic nature of the on-boarding process, you can totally change the context and … you might even get yourself a better employee in the long-run.

Who are you when you are at your very best?

Simple enough, right?

Just ask that and you’re already on a better road than you would be normally.

By the way, Francesca Gino — who did the research pull-quoted above — has also done work around whether introverts can lead, which I’ve written about once too!

Also some interesting stuff about decisions and gratitude here via a U.S. News and World Report Google Hangout:

Point being: you change one line in your on-boarding, you can change everything. Big overall change desired, small step gets you there. Simple, right?

About Ted Bauer

Born and raised in New York, Ted has now lived in a variety of cities -- and currently calls Ft. Worth home. He's worked in numerous verticals, including education, sports, television, health care, and now the travel industry. His different experiences -- with cultures, and bosses both excellent and horrible -- shape a good deal of his writing, including at his personal Context of Things blog.

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