Why “Lean In” Made Me Step Back for a Moment

Over the past few years, the Lean In movement has become a highly influential, inspirational voice for professional women around the world. As a professional female, I appreciate the message and encouragement. As the mother of a teenage son (today, at the time of this writing, is actually his 15th birthday!) and a college-aged daughter, I appreciate that these conversations are happening, to hopefully provide an equal, empowering career experience for her, and that my son has an educated perspective as well. I’ve read the book and follow posts on social media. I would say that I’ve been in agreement with most of the points I’ve seen.

Until last week.

If you know me, you know that I am hardly a confrontational person. This blog, while sometimes a source of tough love for hiring managers and those who are responsible for creating learning experiences, is not typically a platform that seeks out debate because, quite frankly, it’s exhausting, it rarely yields change, and it’s just not my style. However, in defense of my passionate stance for the new employee experience, I was unsettled by a post and New York Times article I read the other day on the Lean In Facebook page:

lean-in-facebook-post

Specifically, this line from the post:

Office Housework.PNG

Please hear me: I am not disagreeing with the overall premise of this article. I fully believe that women often do more “office housework” than their male counterparts. I have seen (and experienced) it time and time again during my 20+ years in the workforce.

My issue, and what struck such a nerve with me, is that this post described “training new hires” as OFFICE HOUSEWORK, suggesting that it is an inconvenience. A mindless task. A chore.

Then I thought, “Okay, Michelle. Before getting all worked up over a Facebook post, maybe you should read the article and then form an opinion?” So I did.

And in the first paragraph, I read this:

lean_in_article

 

Right there, among suggestively trivial items like helping improve a presentation and planning a holiday party, I saw it: “trained several new hires…”

Now, I can accept that fact that whoever wrote the Facebook post, and the authors of this article probably did not intend to minimize the importance of onboarding. Of the thousands of people who read the post/article, I am probably the only one who is reacting so passionately to something that wasn’t even the main point (I could argue how sad that is, but I’ll let it slide). But since the Lean In organization has such influence over so many professionals in countless organizations and industries (and kudos to them for it), I am distressed over the notion that such cavalier word choices may cause readers to dismiss an organization’s need for intentional, results-driven onboarding.

If you treat onboarding like an inconvenience or a low-priority task, then don’t be surprised if your new employees aren’t feeling connected to your organization.

A study by Aberdeen has shown that as many as 87% of new employees aren’t fully committed to a new job for the first six months. Eighty-seven percent. Let’s put it this way: out of 100 newly-hired employees, 87 of them are still subscribed to emails from Indeed and Glassdoor and may still be following up about other submitted job applications or calls from assertive recruiters. Those talented employees that you have invested time and money to hire and train are not entirely sure that they want to stick around for the long haul. If your partners in the onboarding process don’t realize how important their job is, then it is your job to communicate it.

Who are your partners?

Regardless of who “owns” the onboarding experience for your organization, there are a number of key stakeholders who should be involved in the new employee experience. Just a few include:

  • HR/Talent Acquisition
  • L&D/Training/Talent Development
  • Hiring Managers
  • Peers and teammates
  • Support staff (IT, administrative roles, etc)
  • Executives and senior leaders
  • Clients and vendors

Everyone involved touches a new employee’s experience in some way. If they treat this responsibility like an inconvenience, an afterthought or a “nice-to-have” during a busy time, then your new employees feel it. It potentially stunts their development, performance, engagement, and connectedness. You must educate your organization on how onboarding impacts the bottom line of your business.

Wait, what? You don’t know how onboarding impacts your business?

Find out.

What story is your company’s data telling about your new employees’ performance, retention and engagement? 

Depending on your organization’s goals and priorities, some essential metrics could include:

  • Sales within the first 30-60-90 days of employment
  • Number of errors or accidents on the job
  • Reasons employees leave within the first year (exit interview data is a gold mine for this!)
  • Number of internal promotions within the first year
  • Productivity – particularly for those in a very metric-driven role (think call center data, customer service, assembly line, etc)

 

Onboarding and new employee training can make a significant impact on business results – during Orientation, in a training environment and through on-the-job experience. People, male or female, who are involved should know how THEY are contributing to the bottom line. Give them a chance to take ownership of their role and recognize onboarding as a need-to-have. To lean in to the privilege of serving and contributing to a new employee’s success (see what I did there?).

Am I going to stop following Lean In because of this? No, of course not. The mission and work of this organization is important; it invites productive conversation and adds immense value to our professional society. In fact, had it not been for confidence gained through the stories of passionate female leaders and influencers, maybe I would not feel comfortable sharing my opinion through this platform? Who knows…

As a champion of learning in the workplace, I firmly believe that we need to pay attention to the direct and indirect messages we are sending, and use our influence to shape learning experiences for employees in the organizations we support. This article was a powerful reminder.


 

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Don’t miss a thing! For tips, ideas and yes….an occasional rant, simply complete the form below. Be sure to connect on Twitter too – @MichelleLBaker. You’ll be glad you did!

 

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