Learning How to Dance and The Rhythm of Onboarding

Remember that time back in middle school when you had your first school dance? Ok, so maybe you were homeschooled, but just follow me here. Remember the feeling of excitement coupled with utter fear? Should I ask him/her to the dance? What if someone asks me to dance? How do I dance? And if you’re like many people I know (including myself), you asked your friends a few questions, but then you went to your mom to learn how to dance. Now whether it was mom or dad who did the actual dance lessons, mom was usually the one to orchestrate the event. Before the dance, mom and/or dad laid out some expectations of things they wanted you to think about, but also some things to watch out for.


Let’s recognize that this entire process occurred within the confines of a family unit of some sort, and most of the time, within a safe space. Those lessons, expectations, and even your ability to ask unnerving questions were all predicated on a familiar environment that has customs, communication patterns, and relationships that make it “tick”.


Now…remember that feeling you get every time you start a new job? Even the most seasoned professionals have their doubts and self-esteem challenges. When it comes down to it, people enter a new job wondering what the dance will be like. Will people like me? Will I be able to perform to their expectations? Will I be able to really do what I want to do here? Will I look forward to coming to work every day? Will this give me an opportunity to get where I want to go in my career? These questions are just a few of the many thoughts that new employees have.


Quick! You’re back at the dance, sitting around, just watching. You’re watching because you don’t have an environment that provides you an opportunity to learn, much less ask the question of “how do I dance?” So you sit there, watching, hoping that no one asks you to dance, though there is also a big part of you that really wants to get up and move. But you’re mortified at the thought of being embarrassed on the dance floor, so you sit there all night. You get so bored that you decide to go and do other things that have nothing to do with the dance.


So it is for a new employee on the first day of a job with a company that lacks an onboarding system and the necessary environment to provide her the support she needs to learn how to “dance” within her new role. She’s got skill and talent, and she also has initiative. But without direction, on-the-job training, an understanding of expectations, and the purposeful communication from HR and management, she’s forced to watch others to see how things work. A few months into it, she’s frustrated that she’s not learning the rhythm of the job, or worse yet, her boss tells her that she’s doing the wrong dance, so she leaves or is let go.


Today’s human resources technology can create a powerful system that beautifully integrates a new employee into the team or “family.” This system is a purposeful, scheduled, and on-going process that provides: a support network, a safe space to ask unnerving questions, a platform to share expectations, a place to learn, and a method by which an employee continues to excel.

Here are some keys to a powerful onboarding system that teaches an employee how to dance in rhythm with your company:

Utilize the Power of the Symphony: Placing new hires on a team that includes management, builds teamwork and a supportive environment to teach company values and priorities. It also gives people the space they need to learn and play their role while seeing how their part fits into the rest of the organization.

I Played this Song for You: The onboarding process shouldn’t be about pushing people through, just to say they filled out the paperwork. The goal of an effective onboarding system is to get an employee to becoming a fully functioning member of the team. This type of process requires personal engagement, and communication that is tailored for each individual. Make the process as personal as possible. It’s a great time to encourage your new hire that she can bust a move with her individual style while staying within the confines of the beat of the culture.

Consider a personalized welcome gift, assigning a mentor, or other ongoing communications that tell your employee that you understand them, and that you are going to give them the tools they need to succeed.

Show Them the Story Behind the Music: There’s a tremendous amount of satisfaction, and a feeling of belonging, when someone sees “behind the curtain.” Obviously, you don’t have to give away all the company secrets (use discretion here), but make sure your new employees understand the culture, what it is, and why the company does the things it does. Let them in on thoughts towards the future, and reveal the expectations you have for them in shaping that future.

Tune the Process: Don’t consider the onboarding process to be a one-hit wonder. This is an ongoing journey to make sure that an employee continues to grow and excel. Make sure that you’re fulfilling the promises you’ve made, and that the process is living up to employee expectations. Ask questions, schedule follow-up conversations with HR and mentors, use surveys, and schedule check-ins to assure that a new hire is learning to dance.

You get one chance to make a first impression, and the onboarding process is the first impression that a new employee gets of your company once they begin. Take pride in your employee onboarding system so that your employees can find the rhythm of your company culture!