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Onboarding New Employees: A Story About Batteries and Falling Off Bicycles

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Mon Jan 05 2015

Onboarding New Employees: A Story About Batteries and Falling Off Bicycles
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Loathe as I am to admit it publicly, when I get a new contraption, I have a hard time containing my impulsive enthusiasm to use it immediately. This hasn't changed since I was eight. Indeed, I can recall a not-fully-fleshed decision to try out my new bicycle before my dad had safely tightened the handlebars. This would not have been a problem if I had not ultimately discovered the need to, well, steer.

Brand-spanking new devices are tempting to use immediately, but that isn’t always your best decision. For example, some often come with a gentle warning that their internal batteries must be fully charged for 24 hours before using the apparatus for the first tune. Unless this ritual is respectfully obeyed, the batteries from that day forward will never function at peak performance.

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To someone like me, taunted by the new gadget tethered to an electrical outlet, I am tempted to "round down" from the requisite 24 hour charging to maybe two hours—until a small scar on my chin acquired on my eighth birthday quietly reminds me how caving to impulse can have long term consequences that far outweigh any short-term benefits.

Too many organizations act like eight-year olds. They hire a new employee, and because the work is piling up and managers are pressuring for chairs to be filled yesterday, they put an employee on the job without much more than pointing them down the correct hallway. A proper orientation is too often short-changed, or in so many cases, non-existent.

Not much better are the half-hearted hooplas scheduled for the first Monday. You know what I am talking about…those events that stuff into an hour or so all the policies that are stuffable, introduce a few senior people that new employees will never, ever see again, get additional HR paperwork filled out, and often as a highpoint, show a video about the company produced in 1996. The only thing that differentiates a non-existent orientation from a highly ineffective one is that the latter takes a little longer and sometimes includes a breakfast pastry.

Though there is much evidence to the contrary, some organizations still see onboarding as an unnecessary and expensive waste of time. Work needs to be done, and the sooner someone can start the better. Employees will learn what to do while they are doing it. They will pick up on the culture by being in it. That's the way we've always done it, and there is no reason to do it any differently.

Yet many of the organizations that believe this do not track turnover, calculate the cost of replacing an employee, or understand that a good onboarding process can effectively cut both dramatically. 

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Even more organizations understand the value, but believe that it is too costly or time-consuming to craft and deliver a good program. They are unaware that the process of development is not as difficult, time-wrenching, or expensive as they think, and returns will unquestionably exceed the investment.

Fortunately, savvy organizations are recognizing the critical importance of a good onboarding process as a strategic and bottom-line initiative. They have seen through their own experience that new hire communications is arguably the most important and influential message an employee might ever receive. These organizations make use of that tiny window when an employee is most malleable and receptive, when enthusiasm and excitement is at their peak, and before the often-vocal naysayers have a chance to poison new colleagues with their own less-than-positive orientation.

A skillful welcome will create the lens through which employees will see the company and their place in it. It will help new hires align their personal goals with the mission and values of this new and initially unfamiliar cosmos. It will teach them how to make the right decisions and how their decisions will be viewed and respected. It will affirm that coming aboard is not a one-day gala, but a process of growth and continual development. Most important, it will demonstrate that the organization and new employee are now partners in each other's success.

There is a lot to be enjoyed through a good orientation process—one that may even take an employee out of the daily workflow for a few hours now and then. All the work will still get done. Trust me. But you can be sure the work will be done better, done more productively and more enthusiastically. Long term, no matter the budget, onboarding will ultimately not cost an organization a penny, but in fact, will probably save a trove of dollars every years thereafter.

The most prudent decision is to take the time to charge the batteries and tighten the handlebars. If you don't believe me, checkout the batteries of some object you have in a drawer—or glance down at that little tiny scar on my chin.

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