Too Busy for Onboarding?


Startups are interesting little things, aren’t they? Growing a product and company, often from nothing more than a whim:

“Wouldn’t it be cool if we……….” (and a startup is born.)

Before my current day job, I worked for a tech startup. The company was about 8 years old when I joined, so they weren’t exactly brand new, but still young, still entrepreneurial, still growing at an alarming rate. During my 3.5 years with that company, I learned a lot. I was surrounded by extremely smart, innovative people, and led training for some really exciting brands – Microsoft, Home Depot, Coca-Cola, L’Oreal, Spanx – just to name a few.

I also received quite an education on how many different types of organizations, including startups, view workplace learning. It’s often an afterthought (sigh). Somewhere between the “Wouldn’t it be cool if we……” stage and the “oh my gosh, we have 150 employees – now what??” stage is the “Maybe we should be training these people?” stage. As an advocate for workplace learning, it really kind of stinks, but it’s reality (queue the sad trombone).

Earlier today, I had a great conversation with a fellow learning professional who has been implementing an onboarding program at her company, another startup. Besides getting acquainted with someone I can only describe as an onboarding kindred spirit, I was reminded of my days at that former job. They have developed a terrific onboarding process. A process that involves hiring managers. A process that is championed by the CEO. A process that welcomes new employees to the company, team and role.

And it’s a process that many of their hiring managers claim to be “too busy” to follow.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that…

Managers, everyone is busy.

Trust me, I get it. I’m a manager too. I know how many directions we’re pulled. So, please know that I’m saying this with nothing but respect: Please stop using the “I’m too busy” excuse. The truth is, you are too busy NOT to provide a sufficient onboarding experience for your new employees.

I’ve directed several posts toward hiring managers – like this one, this one and this one. I know I can be a little tough, but only because coaching new (and seasoned) employees is part of your job. It’s the price of admission for a manager. Even if there isn’t a specific nugget on your job description that tells you to do it. This is a key distinction between an individual contributor and a manager…it’s not all about you anymore. You have people to look out for; people who are looking to you for guidance.

So, back to being busy. Like I said, I understand. I really do. Here are 3 simple ways to incorporate onboarding into your daily routine, when a new employee joins your team:

1. Make him your shadow.

If you already have meetings to attend, bring your new employee along to observe (when it makes sense). At the start of the meeting, introduce your new team member and briefly explain how he will benefit from observing the meeting. Don’t expect him to participate (unless he has something to add); it’s okay if he just listens and takes notes. He is learning about the topic of the meeting, sure…but also about how meetings work in the organization, how teams and roles interact and other culture lessons.

2. Leverage lunch.

Chances are, you eat lunch most of the time. Whether it involves leaving the building or brown-bagging it, make an effort to eat with your new employee once in awhile. Invite others along. By doing this, you are building camaraderie and integrating your new employee to the team. During these informal moments, so many topics are discussed. It’s a great way to encourage dialog and open communication.

3. Always answer “why”.

Whenever you meet with your new employee, explain something, answer questions or provide information, make sure you explain WHY things are the way they are. It takes time for a new employee to gain context, and they don’t always know what or how to ask. We don’t know what we don’t know.  Pretend the new employee is asking “Why?” like a curious preschooler, and tell them.

There you have it – by doing these three things, you are immersing your new employee into your culture. You’re proactively communicating. You’re providing context. Three things that are absolutely critical in a new employee’s first weeks on the job.

And you don’t have to add a single item to your lengthy to-do list. Even better!

Like it? Share it!

Need to engage your hiring managers in the onboarding process? The “5 Onboarding Rules for Hiring Managers” interactive workshop is now available! Download the brochure, then send a note to learn more about bringing phase(two)learning to your organization in 2014!


7 thoughts on “Too Busy for Onboarding?

  1. Mark A says:

    Thank you, this is simple advice but people need to keep hearing it! I especially like giving you new people a ‘why’ for your actions- it helps them process the information more organically.

    • Michelle says:

      Hi Mark! You’re right, it is simple advice. Sometimes it just doesn’t need to be so complicated…if we can get managers into a habit of incorporating these simple little nuggets into their busy routines, it only helps the new employee experience…and ultimately, their own, eh? Thanks for your comment…enjoy your day!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.