On-Boarding Quickly

Ms. Mary Ann
Oct 29 · 8 min read

How’s that working for ya? Procedurally speaking?

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

You know the old saying about not being able to see the forest for the trees. A similar idea can be applied to businesses and how they utilize and train their employees.

Sally is so happy to have a new job.

But, as soon as she starts warming up her newly designated office chair, this is when the games begin. Sally is to be trained.

She is given a schedule. A memorandum outlining how her training is to proceed. Which days she will be learning what. Also provided are insights as to the person with whom she will be paired each day (subject to change). After two weeks of this, Sally will be deemed fully viable to progress towards working independently. The schedule says so. So it must be true.

Sally, herself, is prepared. She is purely all eyes and all ears, and is equipped with a well-rested sponge of a brain. A more ready and willing participant to begin soaking up industry-specific office jargon, there never was. No doubt she will soon be on par with her more seasoned coworkers. This is why she was hired. She has the intellect and the drive to learn and perform. The ability to get up to speed quickly was something that was emphasized both within the job posting itself and during the interview process. It is a requirement of her employment that she be “fast-tracked.” No problem at all. She’s got this.

Except. That she has to be trained. The training won’t do itself.

Sally is paired up with the absolute best of the best. This first person slated to train her, it seems, is some sort of legend among her peers. As introductions are made, accolades are poured out generously by Sally’s boss onto this obvious rock-star of a mentor. Sally is on schedule to begin learning from one of the great ones. She’s definitely on that fast track. It’s good to be Sally.

The following day, when Sally settles in to begin her training, it becomes apparent just how special of an opportunity she has actually been given. Her mentor, it turns out, has never taken on a mentee before, not in a formal sense anyway. Sure, this lady has been a long-time role model in the office and is the go-to person for many less-senior workers when they have questions, but to date she has never taken on the role of training someone one-on-one. But, she’s a top performer. That much is clear. Probably just never had time to do the formal mentorship thing before. Anyhow, Sally is to be the chosen one. Looks of admiration are thrown towards her from all corners.

But, let’s cut to the chase here. Maybe you can see where this is headed. What happens when the rubber meets the road? When the shizzle starts to get real, as they say? You guessed it. When Sally actually starts training with this accomplished worker-bee-goddess, things don’t really go all that smoothly. Why? Several reasons.

For one thing, this particular mentor, although well-accomplished in her craft, doesn’t know how to verbalize the complexities of her work. Sure, she showed Sally the ropes, but only for the most basic of tasks. Sally is training for an exciting position where each day will no doubt be different from the last, yet she is only shown what to do in “perfect” circumstances. Well, she does have to start somewhere, right?

The next problem is just a variation on the first. The person training Sally doesn’t have the capacity or skillset necessary to write a proper outline or flow-chart directing Sally’s course of action based on different sets of circumstances. She expects Sally to learn the same way she did. Through trial and error, time put in, and pure grit. The problem is that Sally is to be held to a different standard than the one her mentor was held to. Remember — Sally is expected to be on the “fast track” by her bosses. Is this really fair when training methods have not evolved?

A third problem which Sally encountered really hurt, frankly. It seemed that her particular mentor didn’t trust Sally enough to let her jump in and get started doing the work. It seemed that the mentor didn’t want to allow Sally to make any mistakes because it might reflect badly on her, the trainer. So, in other words, if the trainer didn’t know how to explain something to Sally, it was easier to just do it herself and move past the sticky “issue”.

Number four here is the real doozy. Sally’s mentor has a habit of “holding back” information. Not only due to not knowing how to best explain certain aspects of the job, as mentioned above (that’s understandable), but also it seems, she’s holding back for more nefarious reasons.

In the article, “3 Tips to Engaging Your “Difficult” Millennial Employees,” author Alisha C. Taylor refers to the mentor who holds back as a “knowledge dragon.”

In this piece, Alisha writes the following:

There’s a term in our workplace the “knowledge dragon.” This refers to a worker that sits on a treasure trove of knowledge and refuses to share, teach, or engage until they’re poked or prodded. Millennials abhor the knowledge dragon.

Alisha goes on to give valuable advice in her article about how to help other employees rather than hoarding knowledge for one’s self. “Dragons,” she says, “are mistaken in the belief that their actions provide perpetual job security.”

I had never heard the term “knowledge dragon” before, but I have surely encountered a few of these creatures, just as Sally now has in her new job. So, the plot thickens — how is Sally supposed to get up to speed quickly (as was mandated in her interview process) when it seems that her “fabulous mentor” is growing thicker scales of secrecy by the minute, and is protecting select “golden nuggets” of her expertise in a hidden cave far away from Sally’s field of view?

One more thing. Sally can now count up the distinct obstacles she has faced during her training using four of her fingers and now a thumb (in case you’re keeping track). Here’s the latest. Sally is being trained by more than one person.

That’s a good thing, right? Sure it is. I’m not even being facetious. And I’m not going to delve too deeply into this point. I honestly think that it IS a good thing. But, here’s the problem with it: Sally gets mixed messages in her training when sitting with different people.

Ok, here’s the part where I go ahead and interject myself into Sally’s story a little bit. (Yeah, you got me — Sally’s story really is partly my story). My take here, you will see, is that I have a love affair of sorts with written procedures (nothing too weird I promise). It’s just that I think that they’re way under-utilized in certain circumstances.

Not to beat a dead horse, but I pose the question to you, once again, dear reader…how in the world is poor Sally supposed to get up to speed more quickly than her predecessors without any solid guidelines to follow?

I mean, I know that she’s a Millennial and all, and can probably run mental circles around the older folk in the office (whilst simultaneously posting stuff for sale on ebay on her iphone) but come on, she’s not really so exceptionally gifted that she can’t use a leg up. Am I right?

Ok. I don’t want to lose you here. I’m about to wrap up this side-show.

We live in a world that promotes swiftness, brevity, and getting up-to-speed in one’s job almost instantaneously. My friends, I offer you today a solution for this seemingly impossible task in a world where buzzwords and unreasonable expectations circle around us like drones flying just beyond our reach.

What’s this modern day innovation with the potential to save us all you may ask? Robotics? Blockchain innovation? 5-G perhaps? The solution I present here is no mere snake oil. Here it is:

Photo by Matt W Newman on Unsplash

Drumroll. Oh, wait a minute — shoot, perhaps I’ve actually already given it away. The answer is written job procedures! — gasp — that unsexy thing that no new worker ever wants to be caught looking at, much less following.

After all, wouldn’t that take away from the individual flair, their sparkling fresh take on how to do the job? Maybe. But, at least the complexities that were faced by the previous workforce would be documented and recognized so that the new set wouldn’t have to re-invent the wheel.

With properly written, logical documentation, a company could provide the tools for new employees to reach that fabled land of smooth and ultra-quick on-boarding with nary a hitch.

As someone who’s done more than a few laps on the gig-economy short track, I’m always somewhat shocked to see first-hand just how very few up-to-date, detailed job procedures seem to exist at each new post I find myself in. It seems as if, in my experience, hardly anyone has taken the time to break down jobs (seemingly simple at first glance, but much less easy to discern upon execution) into easily managed, documented parts which can then be followed by new hires.

What I usually encounter instead is a kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants training situation where I glean bits and pieces here and there until the puzzle finally comes together.

Usually, after being in said job for a couple of months, what I begin to notice is that a logical set of patterns existed the whole time within each job, but that one has to nearly beg, borrow, and steal (remember the gold that the dragon’s guarding?) to learn what these patterns are. Wouldn’t it be simpler to just have them written down for sharing? Up in some cloud somewhere, perhaps? For the gig worker folks especially. And also for those talented ones on the “fast track.” They could use a little help as well. Crazy talk I know.

Just to be clear, I promise that I’m not trying to disparage anyone’s lack of skill at writing down the bones of a job. Not everyone can do this. Some people really are the bomb when it comes to performing their job, but can’t seem to put the every-day steps they carry out down on paper. I get that. Everyone’s different. But, what I’m saying here is that there ARE folks out there (at work or trying to get work) who do have bonafide documentation skills. It’s just that (again, in my experience) companies and bosses do not seem to encourage (or may I be so bold as to say allow) employees to take the time to slow down, study, and document their processes for posterity.

What do you think? Is it worth employers’ time and money to ask employees to keep up-to-date procedures, or even to hire people who just learn/write procedures? Or would this simply be a waste in this fast rolling world (when REAL work could be done instead)? Do procedures really change so fast that it’s of no use at all to document them? What does your experience tell you?

Ms. Mary Ann

Written by

Mary Ann makes her home in the Appalachian Highlands, has a Bachelor’s in Industrial Engineering, and is nearing retirement at stay-at-home motherhood.

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