How do we get newcomers onboard?
Onboarding refers to the mechanism through which new staff acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective “insiders” of the organization.
The organization’s onboarding process, for most us, was very informal and lacked structure, except for various administrative tasks. We know that there are no shortcuts, given the amount and complexity of tacit knowledge that is difficult to transfer. When we started working in the team, we may have found gaps in our knowledge, skills, or experience – including ones that no one could foresee or expect.
Efforts to formalize onboarding inevitably run into the same difficulties as formal training. When a person arrives in a role, there are likely to be urgencies to attend to. In the process of dealing with these, newcomers have to establish themselves, begin building relationships with others, and make sense of the complexities of the workplace, often on their own (as everyone else is supportive but simply too busy).
This points to issues at the level of the organization (beyond the team) around succession planning and handover. For example, the budget for a post does not allow for the new hire to shadow outgoing staff, and there is no established mechanism to ensure a comprehensive handover.
Gaps in technical knowledge are possible, but less likely than gaps in “understanding how everything works together and the procedures and so on”. Other gaps will appear over time. Yet onboarding is a repetitive process, some gaps can be identified ahead of time, and there is a tangible benefit to abandoning the prevailing sink-or-swim” approach.
Photo: Boarding Royal Carribean’s Vision of the Seas in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (Light Nomad/flickr.com)