Onboarding: the role of language

Anthony Haynes writes: Recently, we published on this blog our guide to on-boarding (‘Successful on-boarding‘, 2 April 2015). Since then I have read a helpful post on another blog – one that provided an additional, very practical idea. (I’d like to credit the blog, but find I can’t now trace it — if anyone can help me to do so, please let me know.)

Anyhow, the idea concerned language. One of the obstacles that new staff face is the need to decipher and acquire the language that their employer uses. This is most obvious where technical terms are concerned. But because this is obvious, these are the terms that colleagues are most likely to think to explain to the recruit.

A more difficult area concerns words less technical terms that still constitute jargon — or everyday terms that may be used with non-everyday meanings. These are the terms that colleagues are likely to forget to explain.

To give two examples from a time when I made a career switch into book publishing. Publishing has some technical terms, especially in the area of typography, printing, and paper. Examples include ‘quarto’ (a specific page size), ‘slotted’ (a kind of binding), and ‘ISSN’ (international standardised serial number, for identifying journals). When I was new to publishing, colleagues did think to explain such terms.

But what about ‘strip and rebind’? (Not as kinky as it might sound: actually the process of removing hardcover and adding a soft one.) Or ‘tipping in’ (adding a page to a book that has already been printed) or ‘trade books’ (books that sell primarily to consumers, through retailers, as opposed to library purchases or textbook adoptions)? These phrases consist of everyday words, but that doesn’t necessarily help you to discern the meaning. Yet the mundaneness of the vocabulary means colleagues may not think to explain them.

So the idea — the one that I cannot now source — was to provide recruits with a guide to language, for example in the form of a glossary.

To this idea, I’d like to add another: creating a glossary is an admirable idea but one that is difficult to implement well, for precisely the reason given above — people forget which terms recruits might need to have explained — so my suggestion is, each time a new member of staff arrives, ask them over the first couple of weeks to note all the terms that caused uncertainty or perplexity, then build these into a cumulative list from which the glossary can be compiled and updated.

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