What the Tokyo Transit System Taught me About Onboarding

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What the Tokyo Transit System Taught me About Onboarding

On my first trip to Tokyo, in 2004, this was the first image that greeted me.  I considered myself a seasoned traveler.  I had been to many places and experienced just about every type of situation a business traveler can face.  But this was different.  It was awe inspiring.  No, it scared the living hell out of me.  On that map, which looked like the printed circuit board for a high definition television, I had to locate the Shinigawa station, and subsequently my hotel.  Equipped with nothing more than about 14 hours of Pimsleur language CD time under my belt, I waded into the fray.

Does this sound familiar to you?  It should.  We do this to new employees every single day.  And we do it without batting an eye.

The story might not be exactly the same, but the situation is very similar to what new employees report feeling on their first few days on a different job. We don’t do it on purpose.  We never do.  I’ve had managers tell me that they hire smart people and they expect them to just figure things out.  The problem with that theory, is that if the way they figure things out isn’t the way the manger expects them to figure them out, or if it takes them too long to figure it out, they are branded out of the gate as poor performers.

So what should you do to lessen the anxiety of your new employee?  Here are a few suggestions:

1.  Start communicating early – Before their first day.  I’m not talking about a welcome to the company form letter sent by your HR department.  I’m suggesting a phone call or a personal email that lets the new person know that you really are glad they are joining the team.  During this interaction, let them know what to expect when they arrive.  Who will meet and welcome them in person.  What role will you play on their first day?  When will you first see them and what should they expect during that meeting.

2.  Set expectations – As close to the minute the new employee arrives as is humanly possible, let them know what you expect from them and what they can expect from you.  It’s vital that you let them know that as a new employee, it’s not only ok, but it’s required that they ask questions when they don’t know how to do something.  This is not a sign of weakness in the new employee, but rather an indication of high performance.

3.  Help them build relationships – One of the most powerful things that ever happened to me as a new employee was when my boss (Thank you, Courtney) sat me down on my first day and told me there were 5 people he wanted me to build relationships with over the course of my first couple of months.  Not only did he tell me who those people were, but he explained why those relationships were most critical.  I have always attributed my ability to get up to speed quickly and painlessly to those relationships.  It was the pot of gold to me.

4.  Assign a guide – Back to Tokyo for a moment.  On a Saturday, I visited the gardens of the Imperial Palace.  While on the grounds I was approached by two Japanese students who offered to give me a tour of the garden so they could practice their English.  They were not associated with the palace in any way.  They just wanted to help and in the process get some much needed language practice.  We should be intentional about this in our workplaces.  You don’t need a formal mentoring program or specific guidelines.  Simply find someone in your department who is passionate about the company and the team and ask them to be a resource for the new person for a specified period of time.  It makes them feel good and it helps acclimate your new employee.

I hope that helps.  The next time you see one of your new people standing on the platform, staring at the subway map with fear in their eyes.  Know that there are simple ways you can help them make a smooth transition into your organization.


By | 2016-10-25T16:34:15+00:00 October 16th, 2012|Blog, Leadership, Organizations, Selection|Comments Off on What the Tokyo Transit System Taught me About Onboarding