Don’t onboard into a moving canoe

Have you ever tried to step into a moving canoe? It’s awkward for everyone involved. It’s hard to find your balance and nothing feels settled.

Well, that’s the feeling that millions of new employees experience every day with the way many companies onboard their people. It is abrupt, awkward and imbalanced. It’s ineffective for the individual and for the entire team.

Too many organizations spend the majority of their onboarding efforts focused on logistical items (where will you sit, how do you get paid, fill out these forms, etc.) and then launch their new employee at break-neck speed into the sink or swim mentality of the new job. The unsettled and disoriented feelings send ripples throughout the entire organization.

For some companies this awkward onboarding of new teammates is the way they do it because that is the way they’ve always done it. They forget to step back, connect with the human being, and then truly help them assimilate into the exciting mission of the organization.

So what are the best leaders, teams and organizations doing to proactively onboard new hires with more intention, balance, and success? Here are a few elements of what the best are doing:

  • The human element — Drop the dreaded orientation that is filled with 99 percent logistical and boring content. Don’t make people’s first day or first week miserable. Connect with the human being that you are investing in and engage their mind and heart in the bigger picture mission of what your organization is here to pursue.
  • Honor values — Plato said, “What is honored will be cultivated.” Allow time and intentional space for your new employees to dive into discussion about the values your organization is trying to honor each day. Let them participate. Let them discuss. Let them be challenged to think about not just what they will do on the job, but how your organization is committed to honoring the job.
  • Establish guide posts — Onboarding is not a fast food experience. It is not a one and done development program or orientation initiative. The very best organizations and leaders recognize that they have the opportunity to anchor positive habits for the way their employees develop in the first 30, 90, 180 and 365 days (and beyond). They set intentional guide posts at specific milestones along the employees journey that extend their cultural learning and development.

No matter what role you play in your organization, your ability (or inability) to connect with, communicate with and collaborate with human beings will determine your level of effectiveness.

So, quit making people jump into a moving canoe, and instead, take them on more engaging and intentional cultural excursions. Not only will your new teammate feel better about their new life, but the entire organization will paddle more effectively.


Jason V. Barger is a globally celebrated keynote speaker, leadership coach and author of Thermostat Cultures, Step Back from the Baggage Claim and ReMember. He is founder of Step Back Leadership Consulting, a Columbus-based company that works with businesses and organizations worldwide.