Why aren’t direct job goals discussed more during the first-day/first-week onboarding process?

Been thinking about this a little recently in the broader context of Human Resources: is the first day / first week of work, as currently constructed in most places, really that effective? Now, of course this varies by organization, but think about this: typically you meet with someone from HR and you do the normal paperwork stuff — tax forms, waivers, direct deposit, etc. Then you meet with your boss and you likely see your workstation, get your computer, maybe talk for 30 minutes-1 hour about the job (decent amount of small talk, naitch) and then maybe there’s a lunch and some training (typically not by your boss, but by a peer) and then the day’s winding down and you’re probably not that focused anyway and that’s Day 1. Come back for Day 2 and typically it’s a bit more of the same, although you start getting invited to meetings and getting tasked with projects. Now you’re an employee!

This makes sense from a logic perspective, sure, but from an effectiveness perspective, it seems to have some flaws. Now let’s be clear — I’m writing this, and above I’m describing experiences that I’ve had, or my friends have had. Yours could be different. But why couldn’t Day 1 involve kind of a first performance evaluation? After all, if you’re going to get evaluated at Month 6 or Year 1 and the evaluation is going to be against certain goals, shouldn’t those goals actively be set in the first week or two? Performance evaluations are a bit of a train wreck, and predominantly for two reasons: (1) they’re sporadic and feel rushed and (2) they’re often ambiguous. You could fix No. 2 by clearly stating what the value-adds of the job are in the early stages; too often I feel like the first performance review is based off things from the job description that led to the hire — as we all know, job descriptions are semi-bunk.  So that’s the first thing: can’t we set real goals and expectations early on, as opposed to just diving in? The business mentality is often just to dive in — work work work things need to get done busy busy busy —  but stepping back and providing some context would seem good.

Here’s another thing that I tried to work with last summer (to some, albeit not a lot, of success): what about a “passport”-type system where new hires have to get a certain amount of “stamps” over 18 months? This is important in terms of preventing work silos; too often people come in to a new job and focus on their team, their responsibilities, their boss, etc. That’s all well and good and natural and logical — and 85 percent of your focus should be in those areas — but you need a broader context for what other people do, how they support the mission of the organization, how they could work with you and your team, and, frankly, who the bosses are and what they like (promotion is ultimately a lot about those types of politics, so ya best learn ’em). Some of the “stamps” could be: cross-functional projects, leadership speed mixers (rotate around to different bosses for 2 minutes), community service, five different trainings, mentor or mentee relationship, etc. The goal would be to set up real contextual connections to the organization and the work, as opposed to focusing the new employee just in their area.

There’s also something to be said for an onboarding system that allows employees to, essentially, be themselves from the get-go; you can see more on that detailed here. I like that concept in the sense that often, when you start at a new place, you want to see where you fit in with the different dynamics, so sometimes you downplay who you really are (you almost assuredly weren’t yourself in an interview process, because although everyone tells you to be, no one is really there yet).

Straight up, though: just like a job interviewer pretty much knows if he/she will hire you within five minutes, you pretty much know how a job will be within about a week of working there. That’s why bad or poorly-managed onboarding programs lead to people bolting. My job last summer was only construed as a summer job — between the two years of grad school — but I theoretically could have turned it into something else. But read that first paragraph above; that’s a lot of how work was, and it got boring in parts. I wasn’t “engaged” (buzzword alert!) and thus my desires to extend were lessened. 25 percent of employees who leave jobs leave them in the first 18 months. Sure, that’s not a majority number … but that means 1 of every 4 people you see walking around the office might be gone within a year or so. That’s a bit sobering, no? One of the reasons is how you foster that initial connection — i.e. onboarding. Do you foster connections with paperwork, or real discussions about the role and how things fit together? Seems logical, right? Then how come we don’t do this? Is it because of our compliance-driven department structures? Is it because “that’s the way it’s always been done?” Is it because of perceived cost issues to on-board better?

What do you think?

Ted Bauer

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