Putting the human back in human resources

Recently I saw a post from an HR director in LinkedIn’s “largest HR group.” They were asking for help creating a title for their newly revamped process of “inducting” new hires. I read in disappointment through the 47 comments from other LinkedIn members offering more jargon, acronyms, rhymes, and cutesy expressions. Did no one else think that these responses were missing the larger point? Everyone seemed comfortable with the terminology “induction process.” This terminology has been in the HR lexicon for years, but the term and the thinking behind it has to go.

I’ve worked at and consulted with many organizations over the past 23 years. I’ve had a lot of “day ones” in my career. The suggestions seemed to reinforce an obtuse view of what it’s like to be the new hire. Unless you are going into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, who the hell wants to be inducted? It sounds like an Orwellian process, where a microchip is inserted, your head is shaved, and you’re fitted for a gray jumpsuit and fed corporate propaganda with bowls of gruel.

I replied to the LinkedIn post, “What’s wrong with simply welcoming somebody into your organization?” Why can’t it be a welcoming or greeting or receiving or salute rather than a process or procedure? Most people would rather be welcomed than inducted or onboarded or assimilated or integrated. Why does the experience need a quasi-technical name smacking of insincerity?

Reflecting on my new hire experiences, it was similarly disappointing. Day one is often being shown where the bathrooms are located, a swift walk around the premises, rushed introductions, and prattle. Then I’m shown my desk, some binders, the usual HR paperwork, and told, “Oh, your manager isn’t here, read our [outdated] intranet until we figure out something for you to do. We’ll be back to buy you a sandwich at some point.”

Sounds like I’m exaggerating. I’m actually flattering the shameful experiences from some companies. At the Fortune 500 level you’d think they’d have this down, but some of my experiences have been soulless.

What’s the alternative? I’ve seen some interesting videos where people are cheered as
they enter work, similar to a star quarterback running onto the field. That’s better, but it may not work for everyone. I’ve seen pictures of people getting care packages of logowear, gadgets, office supplies, and other accoutrements like Hollywood stars at the Oscars. This is nice, too, but it’s really just pretense.

Here’s an idea for welcoming someone new. (Supervisor please be present on day one.) New hires are likely going to a bit nervous and anxious, so say hello with a smile — like meeting an old friend. Offer to put their stuff someplace safe and invite them out for a coffee or breakfast. Spend the next hour or two talking. Relate to your first day and tell your story. Get to know that person who will be spending up to 10 hours per day as part of your team. Help them open up so you can get the best from each other, and then use the rest of the day to get to know the organization. Stay with them as they learn the ropes and be their guide. A new person with new ideas and energy is a gift to an organization. Everyone should be celebrating because this person isn’t just filling a spot; they’re making the tribe smarter, more talented, and more capable. You can even use a game or some kind of activity to meet other people from other departments. These moments of high energy and curiosity are golden, so capture all the questions and thoughts during the critical first moments of building relationships. It’s also a wonderful time for veterans to reaffirm their reason for showing up each day.



We are always being “onboarded” to new ideas, initiatives, customers, goals, and projects, so the opportunities to connect, grow, and share are ever present. Through extensive primary research, I learned onboardings, kick-offs, inductions, and typical HR processes were painful to most people, primarily because these processes completely lost the human perspective in exchange for paperwork.

What if there were modern resources to guide the day-one welcoming process as an overall employee journey that helps bring out the best in all of us? In fact, there are tools specifically designed to augment human connection, meaning, autonomy, and culture in the workplace. It’s a concept that sounded absurd just 10 or 15 years ago— after all, boomers claim to have never needed such squishy things at their jobs! Times have changed and will continue to change even more rapidly. Putting the human back in HR is needed more than ever because innovation, growth, and great culture is founded on trust. Trust is a human need. It starts on day one and no microchip implantation is needed.

Scott Kohl is co-founder and CEO of ThirdSpace, a Madison-based startup developing online tools to improve employee engagement.

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