In-Describable Onboarding: Involved Onboarding

Why an Effective Onboarding System Must Involve its Trainees in the Training Process

Involved Onboarding

There’s an old adage attributed to Benjamin Franklin that, as you might expect, contains a lot of wisdom in just a few words and can help us understand the importance of an involved onboarding process. It is:

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

As it turns out, this saying is almost certainly not one of Franklin’s. He may have said it at some point, but its origins likely go back to early Confucian philosopher Xunzi. Nonetheless, there is still much to learn from this simple triad.


Despite what we might wish were the case, our memories are far from perfect. This is particularly true when it comes to pieces of information that we encounter only once. For example, it is likely that if you stopped reading here, by this time next week you would not remember who is actually responsible for the adage above. However, if I went into great detail about Xunzi’s life and times, explaining that his given name was actually Xun Kuang but he is widely known as Xunzi, which means Master Xun, you would be more likely to recall this information in a week. (Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz.)

On the other hand, if I had you spell out his name by hand a few times and then follow that up by perusing the internet for any information about him that you could find, then explain his influence on Confucian philosophy, his name would be frustratingly engrained in your memory.


Or consider a less obscure topic: Driving. It is only so helpful to have someone tell you how to drive a car. While more helpful, it is also insufficient to have someone explain how a car works and teach you the ins and outs of vehicle operation. To really understand how to drive, you have to get behind the wheel and take a test drive. While there is certainly an element of danger to driving for the first time, it’s better to have this experience in the confines of a testing environment rather than driving for the first time on a busy interstate or downtown road.

Application as Involved Onboarding

What does all of this have to do with employees? Well, it demonstrates the importance of an involved onboarding process. Merely telling employees what is expected of them will, according to our good friend Xunzi, cause them to forget it. Taking the time to explain the how and why is a better approach and will enable them to remember what you showed them. However, the best approach to onboarding is to involve the employees in their own training system by giving them some hands-on time with their tasks and responsibilities, and then provide them with feedback about what they did well and what they could improve.

This way, they can attempt to apply what they have learned while still within the confines of a learning environment. Mistakes are not only less costly in this scenario, but they also allow for teachable moments, ensuring that the same errors are not made once the employee is out in the real world. This isn’t to suggest that employees should be tasked with performing job duties prior to having received any instruction on best practices, only that once they have been taught they should be allowed to put that information into practice. Or, in other words, teach them how to drive, but then hand over the keys and let them take a test drive.


For more information on involved onboarding, see our other posts at