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Why Calling Corporate Onboarding “Drinking from a Firehose” is Accepting Failure

By Jacquelyn Adams

Employee onboarding is too often viewed as a burdensome rite of passage, and sometimes just comes short of cruel and unusual punishment. As a longtime trainer, it pains me that this journey can be so frustrating and tedious, leaving enthusiastic new employees feeling disenchanted and disheartened about their new position. A common phrase many businesses use for onboarding training is “drinking from a firehose.” Why not just put up a sign that says, “Welcome, and enjoy attempting an impossible task”?

This type of defeatist mentality is an acceptance of failure throughout the training department. It would be unacceptable for most other industries, and should be unacceptable in training as well.

This can create some severe pain points for the company, such as high employee turnover, lack of productivity, increased unscheduled equipment downtime, and more extended mentoring training.

So, buckle up, buttercup! We are about to tear through the list of “training fails” to set the stage for changes:

Training material

Let’s start by cutting back on the content. If employees are not being held accountable to learning some of the material, wouldn’t it be better to remove these topics from the instruction? If employees are expected to learn it, why aren’t they being held accountable by evaluating their understanding, either through performance evaluation or other testing?

Instructional design

Instructional designers need to be more purposeful when determining the learning objectives, and to what extent the learning needs to be understood. This is a foundational part of training development — choosing which subjects need to be included, and the extent to which the learner should know them/be able to perform that work. SMART learning objectives provide the framework of the learning experience.


Why aren’t the trainers briefed on facilitating the course and evaluating the learning properly? Once the instructional design material is appropriately developed, the trainers need to conduct the courses in the proper method. For example, trainers may feel more comfortable giving lecture-style learning, but the class could be filled with tactile, hands-on learners who would more effectively pick up the lessons in a demonstration/perform lab setup. For this reason, trainers must follow the format laid out by the instructional designers.

Training managers

Training managers need to step up and claim responsibility for training deficiencies. This includes inconsistency in the training material, the courses’ instructional design, and the way the trainer is delivering the learning.

So how did we get to this? Here are some reasons why training departments may have accepted these lower standards:


Training is typically considered a cost center for the business, not a revenue-generating department. Therefore, it’s not always held to the same standards as other departments in the company.


Employees who excel at a technical role (such as performing maintenance on equipment) can sometimes be placed in a training role — with the expectation that they’ll be able to teach those skills to others. Businesses assume that a person who can do a task is also able to teach it, but that assumption should have been retired long ago.

Lack of Accountability

Often, training classes are only evaluated by the employees who’ve attended the training. But just like we would never leave it up to high school students to evaluate their teachers, it’s not the role or responsibility of employees to be the trainers’ sole evaluators.

Yes. that was a whole lot of negativity, but fear not, friends! This article is more than just talking about the doom and gloom of what is. There is hope on the horizon. Over the next few months, we will be circling back to these topics as we flesh out these concerns, learn from our mistakes, and choose a better path as we move forward.

Jacquelyn Adams is a storyteller and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, vlogging about the future of work… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.


Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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