- THE CHALLENGE
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Did you study Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Psych 101? In case you didn’t, here’s a quick summary that also sheds light on an onboarding best practice that we use at my knowledge transfer consulting firm:
Maslow’s basic thesis was that people have to worry about things in order. They need to start by making sure that they have air, food, and water, because, well, survival is pretty important. After their basic needs, they look for a roof over their heads. Then, once they’re warm and dry, they can go on to the finer things in life. He called this stage “self-actualization” and for sake of illustration I’ll equate it to a really nice car, or whatever else makes you happy. In a nutshell, Maslow said that it doesn’t matter how nice your car is if you can’t breathe.
If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, picture your new hire walking into your office and hearing you say:
“Oh good, your timing is perfect. I’m working on developing the budget for the Walker project. I wanted to explain it to you so you can take on the Adams project. Have a seat and I’ll walk you through the basics… [blah, blah, blah].”
This doesn’t sound too bad at first, but while you’re delivering the content, the new hire is wondering:
Who is Walker?
Who is Adams?
I develop budgets?
How often do I do this?
Is there a template, or do I just wing it?
Do I have access to that database yet? Is there any documentation on this process? What software do I use? What if I screw it up?
With all of that noise going on in her brain, it is no wonder the new hire doesn’t get the details the first time through. Chances are she has a limited vocabulary, doesn’t get the “big picture,” and is stressed because no office space is available yet.
BEST PRACTICE: START WITH AIR, FOOD AND WATER
Returning to Maslow’s hierarchy, we know that the new hire needs air to breath, food to eat, and water to drink. What are the equivalents of those in a business setting? The first step is to think about all the foundational tools, resources, language, access, relationships, and general information your new hire is going to need to survive. It is the checklist of stuff she needs to get before anyone teaches her any skills and before any knowledge transfer can begin.
MAKING A LIST & CHECKING IT TWICE
This Air, Food and Water checklist is one of those things that can get lost when onboarding a new hire. I suggest that you have your most recent new hire read through this and draft what he thinks would be a useful list, as that person probably knows exactly what should have been included. Make it a policy that each new hire uses the list and then update it for the next. In that way, the list will always be as up to date as the last person hired. For more on this topic, see a detailed discussion in my book Teach What You Know: A Practical Leader’s Guide to Knowledge Transfer Using Peer Mentoring.
SUMMARY: With Air, Food and Water, your new hire will get up to speed faster and spend less time solving set-up problems that she’ll never encounter again. The less time she spends as a net negative on the team, the quicker she can focus on learning the skills necessary to do her job and increase team productivity.
Knowledge Transfer Today Blog — A source for knowledge transfer, talent management, and the practice of teaching what you know.
Steve Trautman is corporate America’s leading knowledge transfer expert. With two decades of application inside blue chips and Fortune 1000s, his pioneering work in the field of knowledge transfer and related risk management tools are now the nationally-recognized gold standard. He is known for a high energy style that combines humor, street smarts, and board room wisdom. More about Steve