No one gives a shit about onboarding

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I’m 39 years old now. (Wow.) When I was starting fourth grade, I was 9. I turned 10 that November. So, this is about 30 years ago at this point. I was switching schools and my mom, who was only maybe a year or two post-rehab and doing her best in the grand scheme of stuff, dropped me off at the door of the school with this kid Chris Beha, who I believe is now a lawyer in NYC. Beha doesn’t know what the fuck is going on, so he takes me to the classroom. Meanwhile, my entire class — including the other new kids — is meeting in the cafeteria. I end up sitting in my classroom for 25 minutes, 15 alone (I was 9, remember that) and 10 with my teacher. Then about 23 other kids run in, who had just spent a half-hour together in the cafeteria. They are all wondering who this fat dorky kid sitting by himself talking to the teacher is.

How do you think fourth grade went for me?

Well, not super great. Thankfully I was smarter than most people in my fourth grade class, so I kinda went full “Teacher’s Pet” on that deal and won a bunch of academic awards, got As, all that. I guess some of that was cool. Socially? I had absolutely nothing. A lot of that was my fault and rooted in some of my own 9–10 year-old issues, sure. But a lot of it goes back to those first 30 minutes.

Now, the adult/business equivalent of “Changing schools” would be “Changing jobs” (or I guess changing relationships, but jobs is far more common. Somehow I’ve done both, a few times, since I’ve been an adult!) And the “first 30 minutes” equivalent is what the HR “professionals” call onboarding.

It’s usually an abject train wreck. I’ve covered off on this topic dozens of times; this is probably my most impactful post on it. I don’t want to belabor exactly why onboarding is so bad, because I think most of you understand it. In American companies, at least, there’s a huge focus on “competence” in hiring — which is good! — but that leads to this idea that people can come in and “hit the ground running” and not really even need onboarding. This is stupid, because the culture of a place and who does what and all that is very important. It takes the highest-earners months to learn that stuff, and the whole reason they stay higher earners is because of relationships.

The other problem, of course, is that HR typically “owns” onboarding. First issue: no one cares about HR, especially at the executive level. Second issue: let’s say a HR team had an amazing slate of metrics about onboarding. They go to a big meeting and try to report on it. All the other people want to hear from HR, typically, is (a) compliance stuff and (b) “Can we get Todd, who we don’t like, fired soon?” No one wants to hear onboarding metrics. So it gets ignored.

Oh, there’s a third issue too

The silo’ing of information!

I’ve had friends making six figures — that’s a lot for a company to spend on you — and on Week 4, they still don’t have access to the tools and platforms they need to be productive.


People hoard information, usually to maximize their own relevance because they are not finding said relevance in their marriage or elsewhere in life. I mean, let’s just be honest.

But it’s always ironic as fuck to me that we talk incessantly about “productivity” in a work context, but then are fine with someone not being productive for a month, month and a half, two months simply because we need to feel and remain relevant.

My September ’18 story

I started at a gig late September ’18. Immediately had emails with work assignments. Hit the ground running. I actually didn’t have the log-ins to these platforms yet — and couldn’t even get ’em! And guess what, the dude assigning me the work? He was on fucking PTO! My boss was in meetings all day, so nothing was happening there. I was freaking out until about 2pm, when finally some woman taught me what was expected of me … then I got blasted a week later for doing it wrong. LOL. This is how we commonly approach onboarding. There is absolutely no thought, nuance, precision, or strategy to the process. It’s just like “Well, ya got hired, I guess … go and do stuff now?”

My July ’14 story

I started a gig then too. Had lunch with my boss. She couldn’t tell me how the company made money. (Red flag.) Walked around and did some uncomfortable intros in the doorways of different managers. Nodded at people. Left at 4:15. The next day, some no-context deliverables started coming in. I got #piped from that job, and about three months ago, I actually saw that boss at a restaurant and she put on shades to avoid having to talk to me as she passed me to go to the bathroom. Is the demise of me at that role all about poor onboarding? No, not at all. I fucked up a lot. But … was the first foot not a good one? Indeed.

Now bring in turnover

There are companies that legitimately have a 90-day turnover problem. If someone is leaving your job within three months, there is no way you onboarded that person correctly. No way. Maybe they are an asshole, yes. Guess what? You still did not onboard them right. No one leaves a job that quickly unless the first stages are a complete mess.

One issue here is the tenure of onboarding. Many view it as the first couple of days. What if we extended it to mean the first 3–6 months? Very few companies even do 90-day reviews. Maybe there’s a correlation between lack of 90-day reviews and increase in 90-day turnover, especially in the supposedly feedback-seeking millennial generation? I know it’s not causal, but still.

Transactional vs. transformative

Go back to my story above. I was nine years old and switching schools. That should be a transformative moment. Instead mine was completely transactional. I sat in a room and twiddled my thumbs, then generically talked to my teacher.

Now let’s say I am 35 and start a new gig. Now my commute is changing. My daily responsibilities are changing. Who I see every day is changing. My salary is changing. It’s a transformative time. What do most companies do? Here’s a bunch of paperwork. Here’s an IT password. It’s transactional.

See how that gap might create problems?

What’s your take on all this?

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