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Members of Silverstone Business Forum ‘onboarding’ with Lisa Too – so keen they are ready to row already!

I like learning new things – and one thing I learned recently was the expression ‘onboarding’ for bringing new employees into a company and getting them ‘pulling together’ with the current team and organisation. I looked it up on Wikipedia and they give a thorough explanation of what the term means – they even explained that other parts of the world have a different term, the best bit for me was the very last line, telling me what ‘onboarding’ or ‘induction’ was also known as….

Onboarding, also known as organizational socialization, refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders. Tactics used in this process include formal meetings, lectures, videos, printed materials, or computer-based orientations to introduce newcomers to their new jobs and organizations. Research has demonstrated that these socialization techniques lead to positive outcomes for new employees such as higher

Tactics used in this process include formal meetings, lectures, videos, printed materials, or computer-based orientations to introduce newcomers to their new jobs and organizations. Research has demonstrated that these socialization techniques lead to positive outcomes for new employees such as higher job satisfaction, better job performance, greater organisational commitment, and reduction in occupational stress and intent to quit.

These outcomes are particularly important to an organization looking to retain a competitive advantage in an increasingly mobile and globalized workforce. In the United States, for example, up to 25% of workers are organizational newcomers engaged in an onboarding process. The term Induction is used instead in regions such as Australia, New Zealand parts of Europe and Canada.

This is known in some parts of the world as “training”.

Onboarding with Atlantic Experience is getting the audience aligned with me as the speaker and it also has a practical application when we use ‘Lisa Too’ either at a speaking event or when we are out on the water – even when she is on a trailer there is a knack to ‘onboarding’ and it pays to talk people through how to clamber onto the boat and what to look out for when they are on her. It is difficult not to smile for example when some new ‘crew’ sit on the seats and are facing the wrong way – it is so easy to do and how the seats look does give the impression to sit the wrong way round. Yet imagine that in an organisation – their belief is that they are doing the right thing and yet they are literally going in the wrong direction – how often must that happen?

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Onboarding – it can be tricky for everyone involved – much like clambering aboard the boat, and then making yourself at home in that tiny stern cabin…

There is a danger that whoever comes on board we can assume that they are aligned with our view of the world and will look at things in a similar way to us. Assuming as we know is easy to do just as it is dangerous to do – we can end up scratching our heads in disappointment whilst the new team member may feel fear, anger, frustration that they don’t understand where we are coming from.

Recent examples of this have been on our ThamesRow when novice crew come on board to row the boat for the first time – our expectation is that they will step up to the plate straightaway, based on the thought that they would not have volunteers to come on board if that was not their intention. Without fail, everyone did exactly that; on day two and three of the row it was even more intense as stress, physical and mental fatigue plus the brutal weather conditions piled huge pressure on everyone; it was like a friendly powder keg ready to explode at any time. The great thing was that the ‘newbie’, Sean, completely recognised this and his ‘organizational socialization’ was exemplary and a mark of his innate character and willingness to be an effective part of the team. (Read Sean’s story here.)

In our ocean trip there were many ways we ‘onboarded’ as the crew was selected over a series of sea trials; simply rowing together, socialising before going out on the water. Training courses, be it sea survival, VHF radio, ocean navigation – we got more and more time spent together, working with each other, learning about each other; some of that though, from my perspective, set us up for more difficulty when we came to the real thing and rowing out of the harbour. I was nervous of Mark Beaumont – from my perspective we just did not ‘click’ at all whereas Simon and I got on like a house on fire from the first time we met. As a crew we went through the Insights Discovery programme to learn more about our own personalities and each others in an effort to build the team – however as we had no time to really work with it I believe that it perhaps hardened our differences rather than allowed us to work with them – a definite missed opportunity as the Insights Discovery Wheel is a brilliant tool.

Looking back our biggest failure though was to ‘onboard’ the people already on the boat – the skipper and the second in command. We never tested those already there – we were all new to the trip as our challenge was to become the first boat in history to row across the ocean in under 30 days. We did not test the skippers physical fitness as it did not occur to us to do so; we did not fully test that all of us were fully commited to the 30 days – the second in command asked me ‘At what point Ian, did this become a world record attempt’? – and that was stood on the harbour wall just before we left!

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Onboarding Atlantic style! Midnight, out at sea – the current crew are helping the new ‘crew’ come on board, literally!

As a crew we were far from aligned yet we gave ourselves no real chance to find that out whether that was through fear of telling the truth, fear of being found out for who we really were (me included) or whatever the reasons. The problem was that once we were at sea and started to face the huge physical and mental pressure of the task in hand then the cracks started to show, then they started to widen and become fractures….and then we capsized!
That in itself led to a further requirement for ‘onboarding’ – this time up the sheer steel side of a 40,000 tonne freighter in pitch darkenss – a good exercise in motivation and just how much you want to become part of the new ‘organization’! That’s another story though!

So call it what you like, onboarding, organizational socialization, induction or training – what it will need is to have an environment where the current team can bring on board new team members for them all to work together with a common goal to ‘make the boat go faster’. Everyone has to have the confidence to be able to share their fears and hopes, their strengths and weaknesses so that trust is built up – then everyone knows where they stands and will benefit going forward.

Oh, and a bit like on the Atlantic, if it gets to a point where that cannot develop then a ‘man overboard’ procedure might be a useful backup…!

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