Onboarding or Welcoming People Into Your Homes

Daryl Thomson

It’s not that complicated...really.

In a split second it happened.

One minute I was normal—relating to others, getting places on time and navigating my way through the social complexities of life as a well-adjusted Generation Xer in a post-modern North American world. The next minute, I am sitting within my cubical-dominated landscape, clutching to the latest publication of various organizational fadists and gurus in order to be successful in my chosen line of work. Whereas in my life outside of the office, I am able to roll with whatever life offers—both the good and the bad. I rely on friends for support. I understand the value of giving back to the community. And I seldom find the need to use phrases like "low hanging fruit" or "maximize the return on investment" in casual conversation.


In some ways, I feel like average-joe Clark Kent who steps inside a phone booth and emerges as some organizational superhero wannabe—one minute one person, the next minute someone else.

I marvel at the complexity of organizations and yet am amused at how those of us within organizations often perpetuate the complexity in ways that make little sense. It’s like we think we have to be two people—our real life selves and our work selves—and heaven help us if the two ever meet. Maybe this is why we don't invite friends to work functions or work associates to our summer picnics with friends.

All of this to say, I have been musing on the subject of onboarding and orientation lately. And although human resources folks and executives are clamoring for ROIs and business cases to justify why these things are important, I wonder if common sense can help put things in perspective.

The principles behind the most effective processes and practices used to welcome people into our organizations are the same as those we consider when inviting someone into our homes. We vacuum the living room and tidy the kitchen because we want people to feel comfortable. We create space for conversation because it is polite, because we enjoy their company and because we want them to know that we are interested in them as people. We don't ask first time guests in our home to spend hours filling out paperwork, and we certainly don't abandon them to our cluttered basement and leave them to decipher why we invited them over in the first place.

Likewise, we understand that relationships take a while to develop so we don’t try to force feed our guests insincerity or slick slogans. We want them to like us and we want to like them...because if they know that we care, they will keep coming over (hopefully with muffins) and the relationship will grow. Friendship and commitment will root. And we both learn we can lean on each other through the good and bad times.

I am a big fan of corporate orientation and onboarding. But let’s strip off the corporate lingo and at least be honest about what we are trying to achieve: welcome guests into our space, put them at ease about how things are done, spend time listening and making it easy for them to want to come back.

Maybe it’s time we revisited the language of orientation and onboarding to recognize it for what it really is.

Now back to my phonebooth...

First published on Human Resources IQ.