We are all familiar with the term “onboarding”, which became in vogue during the 2003 release of “The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels.” However, over the course of a decade, the term “onboarding” has morphed into “orientation”, a disastrous error. Here I present to you two markers that lead to failure of an organization’s onboarding process.

The first mistake is not truly understanding the difference between onboarding and orientation. Many organizations either confuse them with each other or, worse yet, companies only relegate onboarding to the executive level employee. These companies believe that like orientation, onboarding is a one to two day process during which “wining and dining” takes place for the executive level new hire. Add to this the incumbent is over-loaded with executive material, all while being introduced to stakeholders, as appropriate. Following this, the employee is placed on one of two tracks, which more than likely have been predetermined prior to the hire… solve our problems or become window dressing. Not so fast, onboarding is best defined by Michael Watkins, a whopping—90 days! Even for window dressing.

The second mistake is not understanding your culture, not being able to articulate your culture, and not preparing the incumbent for the new culture. We have not fully begun to understand the impact of culture on a person’s success because it is hard to identify which form of culture (i.e., social, ethics, value, knowledge, appearance, et.al.) has the most meaning; we do not have a clean way to isolate them from one another and there is not a clean way to measure their isolated impact.

If we look at Wikipedia’s definition of Culture …
… “the term “culture” in American anthropology had two meanings: (1) the evolved human capacity to classify and represent experiences with symbols, and to act imaginatively and creatively; and (2) the distinct ways that people living differently classified and represented their experiences, and acted creatively. Other anthropologists describe culture as an integrated system of learned behavior patterns which are characteristic of the members of a society and which are not a result of biological inheritance.

From this vantage point, we can begin to better understand why one or two days are not nearly enough time to identify, explain and indoctrinate your organization’s culture into a new hire so that a their opportunity for success is increased exponentially. Think about it; underneath the sheets of culture lay office politics, most certainly a showstopper.