ONBOARDING: Let’s Get Serious

The way I look at it, onboarding programs should be taken more seriously in the world of talent management. Done well, onboarding can help people in roles critical to a company’s value agenda get traction in their jobs much sooner, accelerate results, and reduce time to value. Onboarding, therefore, has to be more than just a matter of lining up a series of personal introductions. It should be a matter of precisely introducing a person to what is “new” to them—the specifics of their work, the challenges of the business, the anticipated risks they will face, as well as their key working relationships—in a way that will have a significant positive impact on both their performance and their results.

Yet, all too often, we relax into mere formality after successfully completing a great hire. Perhaps we assume we can leave this less “sexy” part of the HR job to someone else—or that less is more. Perhaps we assume (unconsciously, of course) that, if the new person is really as great as we think, they should be able to figure things out for themselves. These erroneous assumptions have us providing less than what our organizations truly need in today’s current business environment.

We are asking people to face challenges that are without precedent. We cannot relax. We have an obligation to help them get up to speed as easily, quickly, and efficiently as possible.

A Traditional “Feel Good” Formality

One of the companies I started working for had me invest my first three months in conversations with hundreds of people. Every day, they inundated me with appointments with top management across the organization. No one had articulated the specific work I would need to do in my role or why I should take the time to talk with any of these individuals. So there was no particular agenda other than to meet and introduce ourselves to each other.

Everyone was welcoming. Everyone was grateful to get a chance to talk with me about their jobs and how good they were in them. I took copious notes, assuming that everyone’s role was going to be relevant to the work I was supposed to be doing for the company. At the end of my first 90 days, I found myself looking at those notes in dismay.

I had a warm, fuzzy feeling inside at the end of the onboarding process. But I still wasn’t clear about the specifics of who and what I really needed to know and which resources were actually going to be necessary to get my work done.

Admittedly, the company’s “formal” orientation left me feeling very important and cozy in my new environment. But it was clear to me that, in spite of the copious amount of attention given to introducing me, no one had made the connection between the formal process of being introduced and the work I had to do. Meeting everybody who might need to know me not only used up my energy and wasted time I could have spent meeting with the people I really did need to be working with. It also wasted the energy and time of all the people I didn’t really need to meet with. In all honesty, that onboarding—and others like it in my career—generated little to no momentum in terms of helping me get a serious start in delivering value in my new role.

That is why I think we should apply as much precision and rigor to the practice of onboarding as we apply to a new investment thesis or business strategy.

A Contemporary Connection to Value

Like talent development, onboarding is another aspect of our management practices where I believe the three fundamental principles of the Talent to Value approach (outlined below) and the precision of the RoleTalent Card can serve us well.

1. It is all about the link between talent and roles.

The RoleTalent Card connects a specific critical role with a specific individual talent.

When we create a RoleTalent Card, we clarify the significance of the work to be done to the organization. We identify work priorities. We make strong connections between the jobs we need done by the role and its key internal and external relationships. We connect everything that a person in the role will do with the value we expect them to deliver. All this information can be used to design a set of the fewest possible number of onboarding activities to help drive value up and time down (that is, help the individual produce as much value in as short a time as possible).

2. There is only so much one person can do.

As Sandy Ogg says, “People always overestimate what they can achieve in one year, and underestimate what they accomplish in three.”

The key is focus. Rather than simply have a new hire meet everyone right at the beginning of their tenure, it makes much more sense to design a highly focused strategy, based on the insights of the RoleTalent Card. Instead of having their schedule be driven by everyone else’s interests and vanity, the person can focus on the activities pertinent to their top value-ranked Jobs To Be DoneTM and to mitigating the risks inherent to their role. They can meet people they need to know when they need to know them. This is less wasteful of everyone’s energy and time. It also creates a shorter path for the person to follow to deliver the value expected of them in their role.

3. It is better to seek out risk than to ignore it.

As we say in Denmark, there are no five-legged sheep (translation: there are no perfect candidates). And just as there is no hire without risk, there is no role without risk.

The RoleTalent Card illuminates the exact nature and scope of the risks inherent in a particular roletalent combination. Using insights gleaned from this data, the Talent to Value methodology then designs a set of a vital few interventions to mitigate those identified risks and “coach” the value into existence in the role. With all this data in hand, you can forewarn the person coming into the position of the challenges and risks they will most likely face, as well as tell them of the changes you have already made in the organization to improve their chances of success (such as updating decision rights, budget, and headcount). You will also know where they will be great and where they will need support, either in the form of additional/new direct reports, mentors, or executive coaching.

You can learn more about how this tool departs from traditional talent management practices in our upcoming release “The RoleTalent Card: Unpacking the Precision Multi-Tool of Value Creation”. Or feel free to contact me to discuss how this approach could help your organization get more serious about onboarding.

Topics: CHRO, Connecting Talent to Value, Onboarding, Talent, Talent Management, Hein Knaapen Series


Hein Knaapen

Hein is an internationally recognized expert on HR innovation, talent development, and organizational capability building. As an advisor and mentor, he aims to guide leaders toward maximizing the return on their talent investments.