DIY OnBoarding – An Engaging Endeavor

A conversation last week got me to thinking about a past effort – from 1986 actually.

One person on the Zoom call remarked about OnBoarding and how it’s mostly terrible and boring.

I didn’t remark on it – as the meeting was on another topic about Learning – but it got me thinking about that past project and how I handled the situational variables that my client was concerned with.

My client, AT&T Network Systems, was going through a tremendous amount of change – and with more on the horizon.

AT&T Network Systems was formerly Western Electric, the manufacturing arm of Ma Bell, as we used to call the monopoly that was AT&T – but was no longer. The US Justice Department had broken up the monopoly and AT&T Network Systems was changing just as its customers were changing.

One of the BIG consulting firms had advised AT&T Network Systems that its Product Management function wasn’t up to snuff, and would need some serious retooling.

The late Ray Svenson and I bumped into someone Ray knew from his past work in AT&T (he was a former Bell Labs engineer and then an AT&T manager) at a bus stop at an airport right after an NSPI (now ISPI) Conference where I had made my 2nd national presentation on Curriculum Architecture Design (CAD) – and the two old colleagues chatted about that and then AT&T Network Systems’ needs, and the next week ray and I flew to New Jersey so that I could make my presentation.

That presentation was not on OH Transparencies with an Overhead projector – but was on a double-wide flip chart easel – the same device we used to capture our data in the Facilitated Group Process approach to team-based analysis and design.

I guess I wasn’t too surprised to find that our soon-to-be client also used these double-wide flip chart easels and paper.

We discussed the client’s need, went back to Chicago and wrote up a draft Project Plan and Proposal, sent that plus out 1984 Training Magazine article – and soon won the work.

Then Ray, Karen (my wife at the time), and I started doing the Analysis – via individual interviews as the churn at AT&T Network Systems was such that they weren’t willing to assemble groups of Product Managers to quickly bang-out the data in a 3-day meeting.

So the Analysis took weeks and weeks. Instead of 3 days.

After the Analysis, came Design which I did on my own – as that was my thing.

And after the design was reviewed and approved I led the client and his key stakeholders, from the 4 business units, in the Implementation Planning effort – deciding what to do – and to certainly not put into place everything missing on the Path.

As I guided the client and stakeholders through the Design – all of the less-than-highly-critical Knowledge and Skills, framed in the modular design on the T&D Path – would be left to Unstructured OJT (a decade or so later that became more popularly known as Informal Learning).


After the performance-based CAD effort was completed – I was hired to develop the high-priority modules of the modular curriculum that I had architected. We started with the OnBoarding Content – always on the front-end of a T&D Path.

Packaging OnBoarding content back in those days – given the infancy of digital systems, mostly non-connected, had my client worried about the costs to keep any Instructional Content up-to-date with the moving target of the organization, its configuration, its leadership, their missions and visions, and product & services rendered to internal customers and/or external customers.

So I suggested – once we got into detailed design following the macro design from the CAD effort, to package a series of DIY (Do-It-Yourself) modules to facilitate the Learner (the new Product Planner) in conducting their own Orientation and OnBoarding through series of Structured Interviews with the boss, team, and clients, and Structured Observations (of Product Team Meetings, meetings with clients) with briefings before (“what’s going to go on in this meeting and what and who should the new person pay attention to” – and debriefings after each meeting – to answer “what the hell just went on in that meeting?” (as we used to joke).

You are only “new to the organization” for a short time and would be forgiven for not knowing things. But sometimes/most-of-the-time – that window is awfully short.

If one left the OnBoarding – providing information and insights and answering questions to busy supervisors – it was unlikely to happen or happen well. They were swamped.

So my idea was to offload it to the Learners/Performers themselves. It was Performance-Based and Personalized. And with motivated learners – it was likely to get done.

Especially when each new person had a paper module in their hand that they used to ask questions – and then took notes in – making it VERY OFFICIAL – don’t you know. ;)

I wrote a post about this back in 2011 – here. If you want much more detail about all of this.

Module 1053 – Orienting Yourself to the Organization

Module 1054 – Orienting Yourself to the Job

Perhaps your OnBoarding design could borrow some ideas from this approach.

Remember “Stupid Questions” aren’t stupid in the first weeks on the job. But that doesn’t last, nor are they forgiven, for very long.

Arm new people with “what to ask of whom and when” – as they certainly aren’t likely to come on board knowing that on Day 1.


One comment on “DIY OnBoarding – An Engaging Endeavor

  1. Pingback: The Lively and Disagreeable Podcast – References & Resources | The Pursuing Performance Annex

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