All onboard

A metaphorical howl of despair echoes across the internet as far as the Talk Normal inbox from Mr C of South London, whose identity I am protecting for obvious reasons:

We are in the process of being “onboarded” as a supplier by a well known IT brand. The people concerned have used this term constantly as a verb, adjective and noun in the last 48 hours. For them it is obviously normal.

Well, Mr C, the abuse you are suffering is thankfully still rare, but we should not be complacent. Though deliberate onboarding is still used only by a small number of companies, that number is shooting up. There are more onboarders living and working among us than ever; the most sickening aspect is that, for them, it’s completely normal. Look:

That’s spectacular growth for a word that has no obvious reason to exist, and which I can’t find mentioned at all until 1998. Before 2002, there is one mention of the word for every 10 million published articles in the Factiva database.

The growth is mostly from the sector that Factiva calls talent management, which is one of those phrases, like “fresh frozen”, where the first word is put there to make impressionable people feel super happy. The talent management sector produces press releases about onboarding with headlines like:

Fortune 100 Companies Will Unite at Peopleclick Authoria Global Client Conference to Discuss Business and HR Trends

Note the use of unite, which tries to make a sales conference sound like a protest rally (“What do we want? Onboarding! When do we want it? On receipt of satisfactory references!”).

I’ve even found some mentions of offboarding in the last couple of years. As a weasel-word for “sacking” or “making redundant” it has limitations: imagine calling the victim into your office to explain tactfully that you’re offboarding him, and then having to explain what you just said.

I’ll give a mug to the first firm of supply chain analysts that has the brass neck to try to sell a report about the trend towards hyperonboarding™. But I must be careful what I wish for.

Meanwhile for you, Mr C, it’s a Jordan Boob Dilemma moment in South London. Do you allow yourself to be onboarded in silence, in the knowledge that those who thoughtlessly onboard you today may onboard literally thousands of suppliers in the future? Or do you refuse to be a part of a procurement system that does this to innocent young businesspeople like yourself? It’s probably too late to save Mr C. But we must take a stand.

1 Response to “All onboard”

  1. 1 Kate Greenwood February 6, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    Interesting… I recall, we used to sing a hymn at school,sung with gusto, for fear of being shouted at of course! It went along the lines of: “get on board little children, there is room for many or more” It always bothered me a little. With age I can see we were being invited to be culturally open minded and not afraid of overcrowding, it always made me think of trains for some reason, and England (I appreciate this is a parallel to your article) …

    However, carrying on,as business is as it is today; with quality, risk and performance management behind many companies success statistics measuring: low customer intolerance; keeping control of the company is somewhat important. If onboarding is just that, a phrase, we may escape standing forever without a desk or phone.. and welcome the days of home working hey!

    Not being one of the companies you want to give a mug too (I’ve already earned mine – all you readers!), I must say the word hyper does suggest…a need for recommendation rather than an innocent and misplaced solution: My advice: If you are all found standing in companies without a desk or a phone; having onboarded; err away from the word hyper – whilst you are working with them. Do not on any circumstance dish out sweets with E numbers, or any form of love pill! (I think most IT departments have worked out how to stop the sales opportunities coming in for those things now) Oh and watch out for the music played in the background over the radio! (Sounds like I’m talking about a supermarket or rave experience???) Sorry. Tim, if this wasn’t the response you wanted or is considered inappropriate. It needed saying! Ethics and all that. I do like the idea though of the boob job metaphor, I am always being asked! From a manufacturing level… I think the same applies?? Keep asking if you have no other interests in life!

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