Getting On-Boarding Right for a Healthier Organisation


By Sam Robinson

While talking to a client in a government organisation recently, I realised how sloppy I am when talking about onboarding and induction programs. For the sake of clarity (I love clarity!) a few definitions:

  • Recruitment: the broad process of attracting and selecting people to join an organisation
  • Selection: choosing a single candidate for a role (part of a selection process)
  • On-boarding: the process of integrating an individual into an organisation, whether this is based on skill development, cultural norms and beliefs, or systems and process knowledge
  • Induction: the process of informing a new employee about an organisation’s policies, systems and procedures (part of an on-boarding process)

I’m not an HR professional, despite LinkedIn assuming I am, so please excuse the lack of convention. These are definitions I find helpful and I’m not suggesting this is “the general consensus” or an “industry standard”. (By the way – a topic for another time – what do you think when people throw in those phrases?)

I want to focus on on-boarding because it’s often relegated to the “we strongly intend to look into this in the next financial year” pile. Looking at an on-boarding process can provide a window into the health of an organisation. When I’m helping an organisation improve, I look at an on-boarding process as evidence for:

  • How well is knowledge shared across the organisation? Is important stuff freely available? Is the knowledge targeted to what the audience wants to know?
  • Are people proud to work here? How do people describe the organisation? What are they saying? Do they believe it?
  • Are systems well designed and integrated? Do systems talk to each other and can the links be articulated by everyone?

Most importantly, on-boarding is evidence of love. Now, if you have been in a workshop or leadership program that I’ve facilitated, you know I bang on about this. Love is a universal human value. All of us have made judgements about something according to whether we think it shows “the love” or not. For example, most of us would think refusing someone leave to go to their father’s funeral doesn’t show the love (among other things!).

An on-boarding process that consists of ‘here is your desk, there are the loos…good luck’ doesn’t generally rate highly on the love scale. Unfortunately, I see this all the time. And very often, people will carry this impression with them for their whole time in the organisation.

A good contrast is how schools help new students get comfortable with the new environment. Here’s how a school I know “on-boards” its precious new students:

  1. A few months out from starting, kids arrive at the school for a casual briefing with the teachers (parents too), and get to meet their buddies (and it’s cool to be a buddy)
  2. About a month out, kids arrive at school and meet their buddies again, get shown where everything is and get to have a play for a little while
  3. On day 1, the new kids get a special assembly and a welcome from all the other students
  4. In the first 3 months, the kids are asked how they are going, and parents come in for an interview with the teacher

The analogy to me is a very powerful one. We seem to show the love to kids at school, but  all too often we lose the love when we get all grown up and sensible. Why? Their system works very well. No system is perfect – but imagine the child’s experience if they turned up on day 1 completely cold, stressed, apprehensive, and afraid. It’s not good for them, their teachers or their parents.

Now back to organisations. There are ways you can improve this – no doubt the school I know started with very little in place too. A few things to consider:

  • Pairing new people up with old hands (a buddy system)
  • Welcoming new people in a genuine way, for example profiling them in the newsletter, and talking about them in the staff meeting
  • Interviewing them early on for their impressions and what they think is good and what could be improved. They have fresh eyes: harness that and show you care about them

It’s not just kids who need the love – we all do, in every organisation.

At LKS Quaero, we help leaders to create the right culture through systemic change and leadership development. If you’d like to know more, visit us at or follow us on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter.