Your onboarding sucks because it has no authority to it

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The onboarding process is something all companies should think about, but very few actually seem to. If you want some super depressing stats about the onboarding process at most companies, for example, read this.

I don’t work in HR, no. Because of the silo’ed nature of most first-world business, you might assume I have no thoughts or feelings about how to better an onboarding process. You’d be very, very wrong. I write about this all the time — like how to revolve onboarding around stories, overhaul your program, or more directly discuss job goals.

I care about onboarding process because I’m a human being. I’ve had a lot of absolutely terrible jobs. I’ve spent months and months going through some awful, mostly-irrelevant hiring process only to show up on Day 1 ready to hit some targets and prove my value. What usually happens? Transaction after transaction. Fill out a form. Here’s your desk. Your email password is so-and-so. By Day 2, your boss is hurling no-context deliverables over the fence. “Maybe talk to Larry? I think he owns that P&L…”

You see stats all the time about new hires looking for new jobs in six months. Why does this happen? Because your onboarding process sucks. But maybe there’s a better way.

Your onboarding process: Toss some authority at it

I hate the deification of Silicon Valley companies as much as the next guy, but this is interesting. Here’s an interview with the author of a new book called Chaos Monkeys. It’s about Silicon Valley culture. This dude had a company that was acquired by Facebook. He did some work with “Zuck” and “Sheryl.” Here is an interesting paragraph:

Your first day at Facebook, you’ll have two emails in your inbox. One is a sort of generic, “Welcome to Facebook.” And the second one is, “Here’s a list of software bugs to fix.” On your first day, you’ll pull a version of Facebook’s code to your personal machine that’s your version of Facebook. You’re encouraged to go ahead and make changes, upgrades, improvements, whatever, from day one. You’re actually entrusted with that much authority. Facebook is literally a quarter of the internet everywhere in the world, except China. Here, some 22-year-old engineering grad has a version of it on his machine and he’s going to push a change to it today.

See how this is different than “Let’s walk through the office and do some generic intros with middle managers?”

This is Day 1 legitimate target-hitting. You’re going to make a difference, in some small way, at Hour 4 of employment. That’s big.

Onboarding process: The disconnect with hiring

I just addressed this a little bit above, but here goes again. In an ideal world, any concept around “hiring” is essentially rooted in trust. A company vets you, and then agrees to pay you money. In all likelihood, the execs of that company could care less about you and would rather have your salary as part of their bonus. But some of their lieutenants shrieked and hollered about headcount, and eventually ’twas granted. Now you’re an employee!

You just went through this whole deal rooted in trust. And now you come in Day 1 and … what happens? Nothing. It’s all fluff. Half the time, your manager barely seems prepared for your first day. I had a 13-week summer gig in ’13. My first day, my manager — who I had talked to several times — barely knew my name. It’s demoralizing as hell. It’s hardly an effective onboarding process.

Whenever we talk about getting HR a “seat at the table,” I always think about this. Two of the big processes that HR “owns” are hiring and onboarding. Both are usually an abject train wreck. I’m not even sure how we call HR “human” anymore. It’s typically automated-to-the-hilt bullshit designed to make people feel small or annoying.

But when your first day is a no-context wasteland, that’s sad. When your first day involves pushing code to perhaps 1B people? That’s cool.

Onboarding process: Why does no one care?

Short answer: it lives in HR. Executives have bigger, badder things to worry about. Gotta slay revenue dragons. Gotta murder growth targets.

Longer answer: most companies are set up to deify process and product. People are an also-ran factor. Executives will hole up in 12–20 hours/week of meetings about their financial metrics. The last time they looked at a talent pipeline? 1994 — and that was by accident.

“Talent pipeline? That’s HR shit. I bring in the cheddar, baby!”

There’s a long-standing belief among many guys that rise up in companies that talent is interchangeable. They might want a hot secretary (“talent”) and some target-pounding lieutenants (who they will never promote), but beyond that … whatever. Get a product out the door. Smile and dial. Press the flesh. Hit the targets. Call an eight-hour meeting about Q2 revenue plays.

Onboarding is about people. People usually don’t matter.

The sad part is this, though: onboarding is your best chance to really explain to someone what the “culture” or “ideology” of a company is. Within a few days, that new hire is diving into tasks. Deliverables city, baby! At that point, there’s no time left to discuss ethos and culture. It’s all Temple of Busy bullshit.

This is how we whiff on the onboarding process often. But with one simple step — some legitimate authority or a real project on Day 1 — we don’t have to.

Any other thoughts on the onboarding process?

My name is Ted Bauer. Be my friend.

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money:

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