All Onboard: The First Six Months

As an adolescent growing up in the mid-to-late 1990s, I had two favorite television sitcoms: “Seinfeld” and “Friends.”

Both shows left an iconic footprint on American popular culture, and both always seemed to have that one episode where it did nothing but recap the best moments of the show leading up to that point.

You all know what I’m talking about — “Oh yeah, well the jerk store called, and they’re running out of you.” Classic.

With the six-month anniversary of this blog quickly approaching — Feb. 15 is the official date, for those wondering — I thought it would be both fun and appropriate to take this chance to do a quick recap of the first six months of All Onboard.

When I was first sat down by my then new editors and told that they thought it would be a great idea for me to write this blog, I was both horrified and excited.

One the one hand, it was my first few days and I was being tasked with writing about a topic I knew about as well as I did the lyrics to Barbra Streisand’s greatest hits collection. On the other, it was exciting that, as a writer, I would get my own channel to develop a persona and voice — not to mention this blog also created the potential to serve as a personal journal to log my own new-hire experience.

Unfortunately, aside from my first few posts I haven’t spent much time dealing with my own on-boarding experience. Since the parent company that publishes this magazine — MediaTec Publishing Inc. — is pretty small, my on-boarding experience was fairly informal. The detailed-but-not-exhaustive employee handbook came in the mail, I read it; my first day came, and I was eased into my responsibilities. No expansive orientation or presentation outlining the company’s culture, etc. Just the basics. The rest I learned myself along the way — and that’s OK for a small company.

The rest of corporate America doesn’t operate quite as simply when it comes to new employee on-boarding, I learned. Those who have been readers of mine from the beginning know that I tended to write of things like I was learning of them for the first time — because I was!

On Aug. 19, 2011, I wrote my first post, “A Real-Time Look at On-boarding.” Since I had no idea what on-boarding was at the time, I thought it was best to define it from the get-go. I then detailed my first week, which, as I look back on it, was completely overwhelming. I wrote of all the new systems and information I had to learn on the fly; how I had to learn about new subjects and cultivate new sources quickly. Like most new hires, I survived. I had mentors and bosses who were willing to let me learn and make mistakes, and that is essential to the on-boarding experience.

On Sept. 16, 2011, I had my first opportunity to speak with someone who has become an incredibly reliable source of mine: George Bradt, a founder and managing director of executive on-boarding firm PrimeGenesis. The post was headlined, “Five ‘Landmines’ New Hires Should Try to Avoid,” and dealt with some of the major missteps new hires make during that initial on-boarding period.

The following week, on Sept. 23, I wrote the converse to that post — “The Four ‘Landmines’ Bosses Should Avoid in On-boarding a New Hire.”

In “Manage Performance Now — Not Later,” I grappled with the stogy practice of the traditional performance review. As I fairly blatantly said in the post, the traditional performance review — an annual, or maybe twice-a-year occurrence, in which a manager reads off a standardized sheet of paper detailing if you’ve done a good or bad job — is outdated and relatively ineffective.

The best comparison I heard on the typical notion of the performance review went like this: “If your dog pees on the carpet in your house, you tell him right then and there that he/she was wrong — and your dog is not likely to do it again. You don’t run to some file and scribe that on Nov. 1, Buster peed on the carpet, and six months later bring in up to your dog.”

Lastly, on Jan. 19, I penned, “Attention On-Boarders: Teach Culture.” This one stuck out to me because it was the one thing I felt was lacking from my own on-boarding experience. Company culture is an incredibly hard thing to teach — especially for a small firm that maybe hasn’t spent the time and effort to define and investigate what its culture is to begin with. But after reading some educated perspectives on the subject in preparation for the post, I learned that teaching culture, while not necessarily at the top of the on-boarding priority list, can be incredibly important to a new hire’s development.

There you have it — some of what I define as the highlights of the first six months of All Onboard.

It’s far from a perfect product, but I’ll keep working at it. Please feel free to email, call, tweet, fax, send a telegram — whatever your heart’s desire — and let me know what you like, don’t like, think I should focus more of this space on, etc.

The first six months were fun. Here’s hoping that the second six are even better.