Three Unproductive Approaches for Onboarding

The key to successful onboarding is to get the right results. No one formula works for everyone. Every company and every new employee is different. Some ways do exist, however, that are clearly unproductive.

The following are three examples that unfortunately occur all too often.


  • How the method works: No formal orientation or adjustment process exists for new employees. You leave each employee alone to learn the ropes simply by observing and asking questions on a spontaneous, as-needed basis.
  • Faulty rationale: If employees are smart enough to get hired, they can probably figure out for themselves what they need to know about the job, the company, and the facilities.
  • Why this method doesn't work: Relying on osmosis fails to take into account how difficult it is for new employees to grasp the nuances of a company and simultaneously learn what's expected in a new job. Worse yet, this method conveys a general attitude of indifference that can very easily carry over into employee performance. Another problem is that new employees are often shy about asking questions, which means that they don't get the answers or guidance they need until after they begin to make costly mistakes.

"Just follow Joe around"

  • How the method works: "Joe" can be "Jill," "Frank," "Melanie" or anybody who has been with your company for more than a few years. The idea is to pair the newly hired employee with one of your tenured staff members – but without giving the experienced employee specific instructions on how to manage the process.
  • Faulty rationale: If you have the newcomers simply follow around more tenured employees for a couple days, they pick up the basics. This approach is simple and inexpensive.
  • Why this method doesn't work: Joe and the newcomer may have nothing whatsoever in common, making communication strained. Another problem is that Joe's idea of communicating may be for the newcomer simply to watch as Joe does his job. Joe may have little or no insight into the new hire's role or the expectations of the person's manager. In addition, the newcomer may pick up more than just Joe's skills – for example, any negative feelings or opinions Joe may have toward the company. Without clear instructions and careful selection of which person the new hire follows around, you may unwittingly be undermining your efforts.

Watch the video

  • How the method works: You hire a hotshot production company to produce slick video content that tells new employees everything they need to know about your company in a 12- to 15-minute session. The program consists of seating new employees in front of a monitor and having them watch the presentation. You don't even serve popcorn. Or worse yet, you e-mail new employees the link to the video on your intranet, telling them to watch it on their computers whenever they have the time.
  • Faulty rationale: Everybody loves videos, right? Besides, you don't need to waste any time with person-to-person contact or training.
  • Why this method doesn't work: Videos, no matter how cutting edge the presentation, can't answer questions. You have no guarantee that the newcomer is actually paying attention and not daydreaming. Nor do videos offer concrete insights into that specific individual's job. By simply using a piece of technology with little or no input from you and other key managers, you also run the risk of employees assuming that you view helping new employees adapt to the company as little more than a formality, like getting your driver's license renewed. That's not a good message to send.