What George Costanza Teaches Us About Onboarding


My all-time favorite television show is Seinfeld. I own the DVD collection and have probably seen every episode at least a dozen times, but that doesn’t stop me from stopping on it in a channel-surfing face-off. In fact, the name of this blog is, in part, a subtle homage to the show. With April 29th being Jerry Seinfeld’s 60th birthday, I thought today was a fitting day to post a Seinfeld-related piece, but I wouldn’t call this “a post about nothing”…I do have a point.

The other night, I was watching an episode and found myself cracking up at one of the storylines where George Costanza was interviewing for a new job. When he left the interview, it wasn’t clear whether or not he actually got the job. So, in true George Costanza fashion, he just decided to show up and act like he had the job.

When George showed up on his presumed “first day”, it was clear no one was prepared for his arrival. He was handed a client file (for you Seinfeld fans, of course I’m referring to the Penske File!) to begin working on. With no context around the account or company, nor any motivation to actually learn, he obviously didn’t get much accomplished.

What does this teach us about onboarding? A few things, actually:

1. Clarity matters. Obviously, as in most sitcoms, the confusion is exaggerated. Chances are, the Seinfeld writers weren’t trying to create an “what NOT to do when onboarding a new employee” example in this episode; but in this case, the simple undertone is my takeaway: New employees need you to be clear. Ensure that your expectations and instructions are easy to understand. Even a seasoned expert is still “new” on the first day. Your products, processes, policies, procedures, people – and all the other Ps you can think of – are foreign to a new employee. Always remember that, and be mindful with your communication.

2. Provide a warm welcome. No one was prepared for George’s arrival; I wish I could say this never happens in real life, but sadly, it does. Prepare your team for the new employee’s first day. Prepare an office or workstation and ensure that supplies and equipment are ready. Introduce your new employee to others. Coordinate a group lunch or other event to help the new employee get acquainted with the team. The more you do to welcome and nurture your new employee, the faster s/he will feel connected.

3. Set your new employee up for success. Within moments of his arrival, someone handed George the Penske File to work on. George had no idea what to do, so he just went to his office, closed the door, and sat. His big success of the week was migrating the Penske File from a manilla folder to an expandable accordion-style folder. Provide your new employees with manageable, relevant tasks that will provide a quick win, a learning opportunity or a chance to showcase the new employee’s existing experience as s/he begins the new position.

To sum it up, if you are a hiring manager bringing a new team member on board, be clear. Don’t just hand your new employee the Penske File and disappear. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Be the manager you’d want to work for.

Just for fun: Want to watch the episode in its entirety? Check it out here. It’s a good one! (Hint: George’s interview is at the beginning, but jump to where he starts the job around the 5:10 mark)

Your turn: How do you prepare for and welcome a new employee? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Bring phase(two)learning to your organization!

Now scheduling dates for the 5 Onboarding Rules for Hiring Managers workshop during Winter 2014-15! This partial- or full-day workshop engages new or seasoned supervisors and enables them to take an active role in the onboarding process. Participants walk away with an awareness of the unique needs their newest employees have and challenges them to create an atmosphere that sets the new employees up for success.  

3 thoughts on “What George Costanza Teaches Us About Onboarding

  1. mattissimo says:

    Great post! As a huge Seinfeld fan myself, I also find myself DVRing random episodes, even though I have them on DVD! This IS a great lesson on what to do (and not to do) when onboarding a new employee. To add on to this (and keep it Seinfeld related), one of my favorite quotes comes from Newman, “when you control the mail, you control information”. Leaders have the information, employees want it. I encourage leaders to share as much information as possible with employees not only so they can do their jobs, but also to feel a part of the company they are working for.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Michelle says:

      Hey Matt! What a great quote from Newman (hello…Newman) – and that is absolutely true for both onboarding and leading teams/organizations in general. Transparency and knowledge sharing is so important to provide not only the content that is necessary to do one’s job, but also the context to understand the WHY! Good stuff – thanks for sharing! :)

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