Onboarding, give it a year!

I have to warn you, before you start reading this. It is not just about learning. It is also about my first year as a mum. But just to be clear, it is not a blog about being a mum. There are a lot of those out there, and I am not that type. It is about onboarding. About how the first year of being a mum comes strangely close to the first year in a new job. And when I look back now, I realize three lessons that every company could benefit from when designing onboarding. (“inwerkprogramma’s” in Dutch)

Formal training at the start is not enough

The goal of onboarding is to get up to speed as soon as possible. Every onboarding is designed like that. When you have a baby you get a week of onboarding too. In NL that is called “kraamhulp” which roughly translates to “nurse in your home”.  In 1 or sometimes 2 weeks a nurse teaches you “everything” you need to know about your new baby. But to be fair, it is as if your onboarding week started the day after you have had a plane crash. Yeah your brain works perfectly and you feel completely….. fit for the job.

So after the week of “formal” on boarding you are left in your job. A job you have never done and need to have understood by then.  So to be very clear, you can not know “everything” after 1 week of onboarding, so you are by no means prepared for the job. And as a newbie you start making mistakes: So you forget to put the stroller on its breaks, the baby falls of the bed because you needed to grab something and nobody told you what you needed to do when the baby braks out in a rash. So in the workplace, it is not different. They can’t tell you everything you need to know after formal onboarding. So maybe you make mistakes or you disrespect the informal ways of working, because there are so many things you need to remember and you are not fully prepared. So please don’t think someone is ready to go after formal onboarding you need to design for more than that! You need more to get up to speed!

Have a great support system in place

So imagine you are new on the baby thing, and you have been massively independent for most of your adult life. Having a support system in place is the last thing on your mind and even if you have a good system in place, then still you need to be able to ask a question. But still you find yourself in a situation where you don’t know the things that seem the simplest: How do we go outside what do I need to take? If the temperature is rising, when do you decide to not use a blanket for sleeping, do you let them nap on your chest all the time or do they then get used to that, what do you do when they WON’T stop crying?. The simplest things can seem very complicated in the beginning. Same goes for onboarding, your new hire really knows how to print, he just doesn’t know how to use your printer system! And they do get the idea that they can be flexible in work hours, but they just don’t know the informal rules of the organization yet, so they keep asking what to you seems like simple questions. And therefor, new hires need not only training, but a good support system. And that system should to two things: Explain them what they need to know to get the job done, but also to reassure them that it is ok to ask a question or to make a mistake. That the company doesn’t lose a client when you forget the attachment one time.

You can never not be fully prepared for the problems you encounter later in the job. That is what experience is all about. For me support was in my friends, (Thank you WhatsApp) and obviously my mum and sister, but I also found some great performance support examples “in the workplace” in places I had never expected performance support. We all know support is not necessarily always people 🙂 look at this cool example:

And the final lesson is: Give it a year…

If you have no previous experience, it takes a year to be onboarded. Not to do work, but to be onboarded. To understand what the culture of the organization is, what the ways of working are, what is expected from you and how you are expected to behave. For me it took a year to get a new definition of myself as mum and entrepreneur, to not freak out if I can’t find the answer right away and to have the confidence that she will be fine eventually and most importantly not feel a burden when asking for help.

When you are new in an organization you are surrounded by people that know how it works, that don’t have your questions anymore and are willing to help but don’t always know how. It is like that as a mum as well as a for any new hire. Most people around you have the experience, they want to help, but don’t know your questions and its hard to be vulnerable in a world where everyone wants to be the best mom in the world and doesn’t like to be vulnerable. In a work environment where you are still trying to proof yourself that they “hired the right person”, it is hard to ask for help. Which is why you need to give your new hires the freedom to give it a year and ask all the stupid questions. Allow them to make mistakes and build experience in a safe environment. It is a pity you don’t get to practice on having a baby in which the babt has multiple lives 😉

So please onboarding experts and organistions:

  • Formal training is not enough to get up to speed
  • You need a good support system in place, with people and help as well as performance support in the moment of need (https://applysynergies.com )
  • Give it a year, be kind to yourself and new hires and acknowledge that we all had to learn at some point


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