Practical Leadership

Raising Them Right: The Value of Onboarding

CCPL AddisonOnboarding new employees is critical to the success of any organization. Without a deliberate and thoughtful onboarding process, new employees are set adrift in an organizational culture without any guide–and some will lose their way. Done correctly, a good onboarding process will imbue the new recruit with company values and energize them to find where they can contribute their unique talents to making the team better.

The military is famously successful at building camaraderie and esprit de corps in part because we begin at the beginning. Warfare is a team sport–it requires the synchronization of sometimes thousands of people working on wildly different processes in order to bring violence to a crucial spot in time and space. That synchronization requires trust, selflessness, courage, and commitment. The ancient Greeks and Romans were successful in battle because they fought as a team, rather than a mob. The American military is the best in the world because we fight as a globally synchronized team. As I told my young Airmen many times, there’s no place on the planet we can’t go and either take a picture, feed someone, or destroy something. That sort of power only happens when you have shared purpose and trust on an epic level. My fellow Airmen share values and mission–and we trust each other to watch our “six” and with our lives.

How does the military do it, and how can a for-profit company benefit from copying that process? To be sure, maintaing a sense of share purpose a constant process over the course of an Airman’s career, but it begins in basic training. During the indoctrination phase of basic training, we don’t merely teach the new recruit how to fill out forms and say, “yes, sir,” we help them transition from being individuals to being part of a team. We teach them to march, even though troops haven’t maneuvered on the battlefield in blocks since the 1860’s, because marching teaches them to work together and connects them to 5,000 years of military culture. We give them new haircuts and we give them uniforms to help them see their connection to each other. We teach them to respect their sergeants–and we make sure those sergeants are men and women worthy of that respect–to help the recruit understand leadership and find a role model. We give them a sense of history, and we connect them to it; and then we charge them with the weighty task of defending their homes and each other from a determined enemy. We give them purpose and connect to the larger whole.

Non-military organizations can do the same but with their own methods. The overall goal of basic training is to get an Airman on the other end–someone who can begin contributing on Day 1 and who internalizes our values. That should be the goal of onboarding at any company: a new team member who is fully “on board” and willing to contribute.

  • Begin your onboarding process with helping your new recruit understand the history of the company. Connect them to that history by explaining the company mission and energize them to understand their role in that mission.
  • Teach new recruits to respect their leaders. Have company leaders come and speak to them, make those C-suite leaders accessible and real. Believe me, when a CEO addresses a new recruit by name and concretely explains how the recruit’s particular job enables the company to be successful, you’ve onboarded correctly.
  • Explain the company culture. Helping the new recruit become comfortable in their new environment will give them a jumpstart toward contributing sooner.
  • Give them something to unify the recruit with the company–a pin, name tag, embroidered polo shirt, or maybe just a sticker for their car window. Giving the recruit some sort of “uniform” is a visible reminder they are now part of something larger than themselves.
  • Connect the new recruit with a mentor. Developing employees and helping them grow is a key responsibility of leaders, and it’s a sound investment in the company.

Done correctly, a good onboarding process will energize the team and build a sense of shared purpose. Giving someone a mission is the first step to creating a culture of excellence, and a place people love to work.


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and writes for his own Leading Leaders blog, and GeneralLeadership.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *