3 | OnBored: I've fallen overboard... whose fault is that?
Whose fault is it when new hires fall behind? The answer seems unclear.
To recap where we’ve been:
Week 1: I decided I’d start off by seeing what others are saying about onboarding programs. Very little has been said. But there is a handful of other people (including Gorick Ng - author of The Unspoken Rules and friend of mine) who think publicly about the experience of new employees.
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Week 2: I listened to a podcast episode with Gorick. His discussion brought to surface a very real tension between the responsibilities of the new employee and the responsibilities of the organization they are joining.
This brings us to week three. Here are my questions for today:
I’m very curious about this idea of ‘responsibility’. Are individuals responsible or is leadership responsible for people being able to ask the right questions?
Is anyone else talking about this question of responsibility? Perhaps they are in other discliplines/areas. Let’s check.
Where do *I* think this coversation should start?
Off the top of my head, I think this conversation should begin in political philosophy. This question of responsibility is very similar to questions We ask ourselves (society) about social mobility. Should the poor lift themselves up or is it our collective responsibility to lift up the poor? In this case, should the institutional/social capital poor lift themselves up? Or it is our collective responsibility to lift up the institutional/social capital poor?
A similar place to start would be the thought-space of disability studies. Conversations about the medical model vs. social model of disability address where ‘responsibility’ is, can, and “should” be placed.
The Responsibility Puzzle | Angle #1 - Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
, The Comeback
Every time I read about Maslow I become more obsessed; today I learned about the latter years of his life & his “crusade for humanistic psychology”. I learned a few things about the thinking of our guy Maslow… it may help us to crack this ‘responsibility’ puzzle…
Humanistic politics. Maslow once said “No real growth is possible without a firm basis of law and order. Yet, it is also possible for a society to become stuck or immobilized at the law-and-order level and to emphasize this condition so much that an individual’s possibilities for growth are limited”.
Maslow also said that we’re “always in a state of becoming and that one’s ‘inner core’ consists merely of ‘potentialities, not final actualizations’ that are ‘weak, subtle, and delicate, very easily drowned out by learning, by cultural expectations, by fear, by disapproval, etc.’ and which can all too easily become forgotten, neglected, unused, overlooked, unverbalized, or suppressed.
This concept of the “easily drowned inner-core” led me to a book called Transcend. Its author, Scott Barry Kaufman, uses the metaphor of a sailboat:
What does this mean for onboarding?
In my (current) idea of an ideal world, We are responsible for one another’s survival needs: self-esteem, connection, and safety.
Once those needs are met, we as individuals are more likely to be able to achieve our individual higher needs of exploration, love, purpose.
To use the sailboat analogy, the more ‘complete’ my sail is, the easier it is for me to ‘catch the wind’ and think beyond my own sailboat. I can look out for other boats or team up with other sailors to design the world’s next autonomous boat, disrupting the sailboat industry for decades to come.
This ability to think beyond one’s sailboat is what we can call transcendence, or “the highest levels of harmony within oneself and with the world”.
Where this becomes complicated, though, is when a person has experienced sailboat trauma. Throughout childhood, they crashed their boat repeatedly because it had holes in it. Years later, the crack in the boat is finally patched, but because the person is used to operating the boat with that crack, they keep sailing inefficiently. They avoid storms completely and sail painfully slowly. To give an example, I have a friend who makes six figures but (knowingly) hoards her money because she had a financially insecure childhood. People like my friend who had security-related traumatic experiences as a child (eg., abuse, social exclusion, poverty) may continue to act out those security needs - even into adulthood once those needs have been met.
The Responsibility Puzzle | Angle #2 - Political Philosophy
I read this paper about how capitalism and communism are not necessarily in opposition. Dirk-Hinnerk Fischer & Hovhannes Yeritsyan argue that they’re not even alternatives. They are systems that satisfy different stages of technological development.
In the context of corporate onboarding programs, this could mean that the ‘responsibility’ of individual vs. institutional changes based on the ever-shifting needs of the employee.
Angle #3 - Disability Studies
In any situation where we’re helping people, we are acting out our unspoken opinion(s) on whether the person is the problem or society is the problem, and whether the person or society is responsible for solving the program. Let me explain:
In the disability world, there are two main approaches:
Medical Model: Disability is a disease. We help disabled individuals by making them fit better into the society we’ve created. Let’s give them wheelchairs, medicine, psychiatrists, etc.
Social Model: Disability is a social construct. We help disabled individuals by changing society. Let’s add ramps to buildings, improve access to natural foods, and shorten the workday.
Where does this bring me?
First off… oof. This is deep stuff. But I see three themes here:
Responsibility | Organizations need to decide and communicate who is responsible for successful onboarding of new hires.
Political Philosophy and recent disability research validate this tension and give us some language to discuss it.
Maslow’s Needs | Not all needs of new employees are equally urgent to address. Safety needs are probably most important, and then growth needs, and so on.
Imposter and Twitter Syndromes | A new employee could have a better-than-average grasp on the job, but think they’re inadequate due to past experiences, social anxiety, or trauma, limiting their potential to thrive. On the other hand, a new employee can be performing inadequately yet falsely believe that they’re performing on-or-above par. This employee may spend time in their ‘sails’ (seeking purpose, love, exploration) while simultaneously performing very poorly.
In the context of employee onboarding, we might call the former phenomenon ‘imposter syndrome’ and the latter ‘Twitter Syndrome’ (when you underestimate others’ knowledge and/or underestimate your own ignorance on a certain topic).
What to explore next week?
How do we calibrate our own understanding to that of those around us? (i.e. how do we find out the extent to which the yellow circle and blue circle overlap in a certain work situation?
If I have time, I’d like to get thoughts from people who have designed corporate onboarding programs. How do they know their onboarding program is working? Or maybe a better question… how do they know it’s not not-working? or how do they know what ‘working’ even looks like?
And here are a few questions that have come up but that I’ll be setting aside for now…
What are the safety needs of employees? What are the growth needs?
I want to know whether we can expect these to be consistent from company to company.
Once I know these, I can ask… do safety needs need to be met before growth needs can be addressed?
If this is the case, then I should make a decision on whether I want to focus on safety or growth needs.
To what extent are safety and growth needs intertwined? I imagine that feeling a sense of self-actualization when one enters college makes it more likely that they will leverage safety resources (e.g. my master’s thesis).
Might be interesting to revisit my master’s thesis here. Where are there references to safety vs. growth?
Can these be detected in how students talk about their college experience, what they’re looking forward to?
How might an onboarding program improve perception of safety in order to accelerate growth?
Probably by introducing them to things and people they assume are threats or are indifferent about… or by affirming individual students and/or creating spaces for them to affirm one another.
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