When does onboarding become too much of a good thing?

Ah, c’est l’amour.

For several years, countless tourists in love made a pilgrimage to the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris to pledge their undying devotion by attaching a padlock, a “love lock,” to the metal grating on the bridge.

So. Many. Locks. 

The love lock tradition has spread to a number of other cities around the world. Like the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City:
I saw the Brooklyn Bridge locks last summer when I was in New York with the family. Even enterprising street vendors were trying to capitalize on bridge-crossers in loooove by selling padlocks along the bridge. It’s definitely a thing.

The idea of love locks has brought mixed reactions among Parisian tourists and locals. Some saw it as a romantic gesture, an homage to everlasting love….others, including preservationists and city officials, saw it as a cluttered mess, ruining an otherwise historic landmark. Last year, an estimated one million locks were cut from the Pont des Arts bridge, thus ending the Love Locks tradition.

What started out as good intentions – a sweet gesture – quickly spun out of control.

If we’re not careful, the same thing can happen with our onboarding programs. We invest time, energy and resources into creating a memorable experience for our newly-hired employees – but without proper management, even a great “idea” can go awry.

Be aware of these red flags…does your onboarding program:

  • Focus on training, rather than on performance?  Spending too much time “teaching to the test,” or mastering hypothetical, simulated content, instead of preparation for real-world experience can be risky. Ensure that your content is aligned to the true working environment, and that there are ample opportunities for application and assessment.
  • Have too much show, but not enough substance?  We want our Orientation and onboarding experiences to be pleasant. We want our new employees to enjoy themselves and have them walk away feeling they made the right decision in joining our organizations. Free lunch! Scavenger hunt! More swag! All good things. Just ensure that the fun elements have purpose. 
  • Set unrealistic expectations of how amazing your organization is? Onboarding is a process that bridges the gap between the sometimes-idyllic first impressions set during the recruitment and pre-boarding process and the reality of everyday life in the company. If your new employees are pinching themselves because things are just too perfect, beware. Showcase your organization’s strengths, but keep it realistic.
  • Encourage long-term reliance on a training facilitator, rather than a supervisor, peers and resources?  In cases where “new employee training” lasts several days or even weeks, training participants often look up to their primary training instructor and view him/her as an expert. While that may be true, it is important for the primary focus to shift away from the training environment and move toward the job environment. Make an effort to enable new employees to utilize self-directed learning resources, leverage peer coaching, participate in on-the-job training and (most importantly) build a solid relationship with his/her direct supervisor.

Having a hand in the new employee experience is a privilege. Creating an experience that balances learning, engagement, immersion, relationship building and yes, fun, requires thoughtful planning and ongoing attention. Just like the locks prevented visitors from experiencing the beauty of the bridge, don’t let your organization’s heavy “locks” outweigh the value your program adds.

Your turn: What are you doing to make that experience a memorable one in your organization? Share your tips in the comments below!

3 thoughts on “When does onboarding become too much of a good thing?

  1. Brenda Futrill says:

    Hi Michelle – This is great advice, thanks for sharing! I especially wanted to comment on new associates knowing who to go to and feeling comfortable going to the right person when they run into any problems or questions. The organization that I work for is spread throughout the state of Georgia, and this presents a challenge with the development of a relationship with subject matter experts within the organization that are obviously not able to attend each orientation. To aid in this relationship-building so that the associate will have a comfort level with contacting SMEs we have been presenting key associates with a “welcome” from each specialist group indicating what their role is and how and when to contact them. We also are doing an additional group training with these key associates where each SME presents on their topic (briefly). This training gives the new associates the opportunity to meet each SME and other new associates within the organization. I wonder if you have any additional advise for this issue?

  2. Michelle says:

    Hi Brenda – thanks for your comment; my apologies for the delayed response! Having a distributed workforce certainly poses challenges when onboarding new employees – but the good news is, it’s not an impossible feat! It sounds like your organization has given some thought to this, which is awesome! I love that the key contacts from different areas are involved and provide a welcome and some initial training to new employees – it’s helpful to establish a connection and provide some fundamental info about their roles, contact info, etc. In addition to what you’re doing, I might recommend two things:

    1) Since new employees are given A LOT of content, it’s not realistic to expect that they’ll remember it all. So having an online resource that employees can access “in the moment” and see names, roles and photos may help them know where to go when they have a question.

    2) With employees spread across the state, a key component of many onboarding programs is to connect a new employee with a “buddy” at his/her location to informally assist. This person could serve as a go-to resource when the new employee has questions, needs to know who to contact about something, or just needs advice on how to fit into the office culture.

    Hope this helps!

    Enjoy your day,

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