What Businesses Should Learn from the Military – Part II, Onboarding

 

 Final Drill

There needs to be a very detailed process to track progress and development and know how well a person is being integrated into the company.

In the military, this is boot camp and the next six months of training that usually follows before you ever even join your real team. In business, we call this is onboarding. In the military there is also unit onboarding. Along with basic training and job training, it’s the first few months after entering a unit. That means that Marines spend more than a full year in training before they ever actually do their job.

I know, you’re thinking that isn’t feasible for you company. “We can’t exactly send everyone to boot camp.” I know, I know, but your onboarding sucks, regardless. What’s your excuse now Stanford dropout CEO? A few of you who know less than you think, are saying that you would just love to waste the military’s limitless funds on infinite training. The military would also love to live by that fantasy. What Marines do, however, can be done at any company with competent management. Marines utilize a combination of formal and informal classes to train for every problem they may come across. While formal schooling is costly and time consuming from an owner’s perspective, most of the other training is directed at the manager’s level and relevent to the small group unit. If a manager can’t really set goals that are achievable and teach the path to reach those goals, he isn’t that integrated himself. He’s just winging it, which means that that new employee is swimming in the open ocean without even a lighthouse.

Literally, onboarding is the most important part of the hiring process after vetting. And that thing you have your receptionist or office manager do to get their paperwork in the system, walk them around the office and show them their desk? You think that is onboarding? Of course you don’t, but that is all you do. I was at one company where the onboarding was made up of what basically was just a club of concerned employees, junior employees at that, who wanted to make it easier for new people based on the problems they had coming in. There was no leadership involvement, whatsoever. It obviously wasn’t a concern, and I bet it isn’t a concern for your company either.

You can have great talent show up, but feel completely overwhelmed, lost, confused, without any idea how to navigate your systems (or even your office) and in fear of not knowing who to ask. What ends up happening a month later? You label him a failure and show him the door. You recite that tired trope about how you as a manager failed, but really you just blame him, when really, surprise, surprise… it was your fault. You dropped him in the deep end and you both sank together. Hope you’re happy.

One thing that many people don’t seem to understand is that, in most places, an employee doesn’t truly pull his weight until after his first year at a job. This is even more true if your company is highly integrated, complex and if there are many systems in place. Those who have been in for a long time know exactly where to find what, but the new person must build those mental networks and learn while doing to navigate the backend efficiently. They might surprise you with bits of awesome from time to time if they are allowed to work on their own and use resources intuitively available when arrived or that they brought with them. That doesn’t mean that they are integrated, though. Given time, everyone who doesn’t integrate will show themselves to be the failure you made them. The smart ones are just geniuses of misdirection, but they are all still mostly just helping out while others do the heavy lifting. If you fire a person before that one year anniversery, you honestly never really gave him a chance to begin with. More importantly, depending on your priorities, you just wasted a lot of money, lots of your time and possibly ruined someone’s life.

Have an onboarding plan that extends throughout the year. Make every part of the process a routine, practically a religious routine. Make it applicable to every teir of the company. Make all new company hires go through a part of the process, different divisions another, all the way down to work groups. Make the managers responsible for coming up with integration plans for their teams and measure that effectiveness against other rational expectations. They are interruptions to the work needing to be done, but they are investments in the individuals ability to do it, which is much more valuable moving forward.

In this line of thought, in the event that you see that one of your managers has fired someone with less than one year on the books, you need to seriously question that manager’s capabilities in guidance. Perhaps they were once marvelous workers, but doing and leading are two very different skillsets. It may not have been an appropriate choice to promote someone to a role requiring a completely different series of abilities on the premise that they showed a great deal of other abilities in their last job. If the problem continues, you may not even realize that you have a detrimental cancer to your company’s ability to grow in the future because your manager, not the people he is hiring, is the problem.

Blues


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