Get to Work! Slow and Steady Onboarding No Longer Wins the Race

July 27, 2017 | Holly Pennebaker | HCI
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The AJC Peachtree Road Race is an Independence Day tradition so celebrated that a southern city of 5.8 million strong basically shuts down.

Folks near and far flock to Atlanta, and crowds assemble along the race route for explosions of excitement, blazing summer sun and to make some of the most special memories imaginable. In 2017, a Gainesville, Ga. man ran to fight neuropathy despite numbness in his toes, a local retired firefighter ran the race in full gear in honor of 9/11, and even blindness couldn’t keep a Georgia native from crossing the finish line. (Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Known as the largest 10K in the world, needless to say, the Peachtree Road Race is a BIG deal.

In 2012, the 47th running of the race reeled in more than 58,000 victorious contenders. It also marked my second day of work at the NBC affiliate in Atlanta.

You’ve heard of “the multiple” Peachtree Streets in Atlanta, right? Well, they all shut down, too. Late because at least two of “the Peachtree Streets” were closed, I was told by my seriously-swamped and buried-in-work digital executive producer to immediately begin using photos in the station’s inbox to build an online photo gallery. After just few hours, the album grew to include hundreds of pictures. It was a head-down task that kept me busy for my entire shift, and then some.’s Peachtree Road Race galleries average more than 2 million page views each year. The photo gallery assignment on July 4, 2012 made a great fit for the newest station employee (me).

The gallery served up a challenge –- a project to take on without formal training on the station’s CMS, before being informed on photo editing policies, and just one day after sending my first-ever email from my company address. But I couldn’t stop to think about those things. It was a stretch assignment early in my tenure that ignited accountability and rapid growth.  

Looking back, the all-hands-on-deck media coverage that’s demanded by the race overshadowed any kind of traditional onboarding. There was no welcoming introductory packet, and if I needed to use the restroom, it was up to me to find it.

Once the race coverage died down later that week, I jumped right into daily hyperlocal reporting with minimal training. Along with writing up to 63 news stories per day, I was held accountable for getting myself acquainted and asking questions along the way. I had to be productive as a new hire because of the intense news industry’s demands, its fast pace and the initiative required when working in a Top 10 market.

Onboarding programs are important in a new hire’s initial development. Although successful without a formal program, I paid thanks to a small learning curve. In Atlanta, it wasn’t about throwing me into the fire too quickly; it was about setting me up to perform in one of the fastest-paced work worlds. 

If there is, in fact, a certain amount of time from employees’ first day of work until the day they reach high-performance goals, how can leaders prepare them to be productive and dynamic from day one?

Instant added value from new hires, according to Harvard Business Review’s Amy Gallo takes more than basic information and fundamental skills. Employees must be properly equipped to start strong and get clear on the organization’s goals, fit into the company culture and access information for a thriving, successful start.

There’s no need to put new employees in a conference room with a drawn-out, strictly formatted and exhaustive onboarding schedule.

Don’t start by deeply explaining the company’s history; simply start by saying, “Hello!”

Enable employees to feel at home in their new positions and expose them to the actual culture in which they’ve entered. Leaders must be authentic about how things work and allow new hires to see the reality of where things stand … even if it’s not a perfect picture. Clear communication sets new hires up to meet expectations, follow standard operating procedures and handle tasks according to team preferences.

Don’t leave new hires lost out in left field; bring them into the dugout and include them on all strategic plays.

Showing new hires the ropes also means getting them hooked up with the right people. Identifying folks with which new hires will most closely work drives early performance. When connections are established early in their careers, new hires will accelerate their learning because they feel supported, encouraged and they know to whom questions should be directed. It’s never too early to feel like part of the team!

Similar to my experience, employees can immediately be assigned to real work. Let them ride the learning curve at their own pace and allow them to ask for what they need. Employees that are assigned a real project get into “working mode” rather than “training or student mode,” according to Gallo.

Perhaps the best motivation comes from empowerment, a sense of ownership and the pressure of a deadline. Learn more about how to best prepare new hires for success in their new roles by joining us Aug. 1, 3-4 p.m. for the webcast, Successful Onboarding: Accelerating Time to Performance.