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Developmental Inboarding: When should career development start?

Authored by: Managing Partners Roger Pearman and Robert Eichinger

We have a suggestion for a fresh “next practice”, for when an organization should begin formal career development planning and execution. It should start immediately after an offer has been accepted, before the first day of employment or when the official onboarding period begins.

Here is how we came to this viewpoint.

First, there is onboarding research and a set of best practices to get new hires off to a good and fast start. Using experience-tested approaches is a really good idea. Much work has been done on the so-called first 90-100 days of employment. Some of this work has shown that about 25% of first day employees make the mental note that the job is not what they expected it to be, the boss isn’t someone they really want to work for, or the organization isn’t everything it could be. Although they don’t leave that same day, their countdown clock has begun, and their mindset is negative. Predictably, they make marginal contributions for the time they do stay. 

Next, there is engagement research and a set of best practices for defining the culture, environment and conditions for employees to bring their “full self” to their work, to include full, discretionary effort. High engagement leads to performance and retention, especially for people blessed with strong talent (the high potentials). Engagement research indicates that this group is keenly interested in being developed for performance today but especially for opportunities tomorrow. They respond to the engagement items that generally ask: “do you think people in senior management are paying attention to your career?”, and “are there palpable developmental initiatives and programs that you can see and experience?”. People of talent want to be developed. Now.

Then, there are the self-awareness studies that almost universally find that true self-awareness leads to both increased life and career success. Self-awareness allows realistic deployment, career planning and development. It includes knowing where one stands in the eyes of top management. Building self-awareness is a lifelong endeavor. It forms internally and feeds what you think about yourself after receiving feedback from others over time. 

From a career standpoint, it’s important to understand how others see and experience you, which may or may not match with your own, internal picture of yourself. There is also your internal “ego ideal”, the person you would like to be and how you would like to be experienced by others. The best view is a synchronized self-view. In other words, “who I think I am, moving toward an improved ego ideal and seen by significant others in the same light”. Anything we can do to help people gain this level of self-awareness is a winner, even when the feedback stings.

Lastly, there is the research and set of best practices on career development and succession planning, which says It takes a decade or more to manage the development of an aspiring, strongly talented, early careerist into a viable candidate for roles and jobs of material significance. Survey and tracking research consistently shows that about 5% of any employed population COULD make it all the way to the top, if properly developed. They don’t all get there. Some who should not be there make it anyway and often have expensive struggles while at the top. The lesson is to start as early as possible, with the right people, in the right way, to assure long term retention and development.

So, What is it and When Does it Start?

When does serious development start? For most it takes a year or two to get started. Organizations wait until after a couple performance reviews and a couple annual talent reviews to verify the hiring impression of having the right stuff. Sometimes organizations wait until two bosses concur that the talent and potential is there. It may take the first two or three jobs to garner the collective decision that a particular employee is worth the investment.

With this slow start, the best candidates may leave for better career opportunities since they have not seen nor experienced palpable development and attention. They are not shown nor convinced that people at the top care about their long-term success.

Onboarding starts on Day One, after constructive treatment during the interview, offer and acceptance period. Inboarding can start before Day One.

Many people are hired for a job. For example, “We need ten, skilled web design people to work on our social media presence and footprint”. Not much thought is put into what these contributors might be able to do ten years down the road, nor how many could lead that team? 

Many organizations think beyond the first few jobs by pondering “Who can do a good job now and grow into something more material later?”. 

Some organizations hire with an eye toward the long-term future. They think about who could, with the proper management and development, grow into viable candidates for C-Suite and other top roles and jobs in the enterprise. 

Although Inboarding would be a benefit for all, it is particularly important for people hired for the long-term, especially High Potentials.

Welcome On Board Image
Inboard before Onboard

Should We Inboard or Onboard? 

Inboarding, as opposed to Onboarding, means in the family more than on the team. Inboarding means having a developmental plan before Day One. It means showing that we really care and that we know starting earlier is a competitive advantage.

We hire talent using either a formal or informal template or profile of what we are looking for. We base this on the knowledge, skills, abilities, attributes (KSAs) and experiences we believe (or have proven) would fit best with the job we are filling and the career we envision. 

The candidate evaluation process typically includes multiple people who interview and reference the candidate collectively, leading to the one they want. What’s generally put on the table for discussion are the impressions we all had. What about their style or their overall persona? What were their strengths, weaknesses, or unknowns? What is their likely career path? In which area(s) are they yet untested? 

An offer is made and accepted.

Now what?

Very valuable information was used to make the hiring decision, and that same information is extremely valuable for the person being hired, especially as it could inform the incremental building of self-awareness. We suggest this information be used to get the new hire off to a better start. It is smart and prudent to prove that we care and that we want to start development earlier than other potential employers.

We need to formally or informally collect the narrative impressions from all the interviewers and reference checkers. Talent Management or recruiting professionals would deliver the results to the incoming employee before Day 1.

Here’s the script:

“We’re excited that you have accepted our offer and look forward to your joining us.

We would like to share with you our collective impressions and will facilitate discussing that information with your boss on Day One, leading to a deployment and development plan.

We acknowledge this is a set of first impressions that may or may not be true once you start your work here, but we thought it might be useful for you to know.

This is what we collectively thought were the strengths that likely got you here.

This is what we thought were your developmental opportunities, the things we will help you work on.

These are what we thought were your “untested” or not yet demonstrated abilities, the things you have not yet been asked to do that we will give you an opportunity to try.

Are there adjustments, things we missed, additions we were not aware of, or things we misjudged?”

Inboarding best practice would be delivering this information before Day One to give the incoming employee time to reflect and respond, then scheduling a development discussion on Day One facilitated by Talent Management or HR, with the new hire’s first boss. Seek alignment on “who I am”, both from the new hire’s viewpoint and from how others experienced them. The meeting both starts the new hire’s career record by setting a base viewpoint to be verified early and often, and shows we care enough to get started on palpable development immediately.

For those who own Talent Management and for the executive team, it’s the earliest possible start to building the bench with new talent. Everyone wins.

All aboard! Or, better yet, all Inboard!

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