What's Your Dark Pattern?

In my most recent post about employee growth at your company, I paraphrased Brian Balfour’s words on authentic growth and applied them to employee onboarding. Now, I want to explore the idea of dark patterns, another concept he speaks about as it relates to customer growth. Companies make and practice dark patterns not just on their customers, but on their employees, too.

As Balfour notes, dark patterns arise when a company insists on growing in a manner that benefits them, but not the customers. For example, those awful pop-ups that force you to sign up for something because you have to answer yes to escape are dark patterns. We see those patterns throughout the customer journey — customers have a lifecycle and so do your employees. The employee lifecycle looks something like this:

Employee Lifecycle

Let’s examine some of the dark patterns companies engage in during the employee lifecycle:

  • Advertising jobs with a career page that shows a stock photo of a more diverse workforce than they actually have
  • Encouraging applicants of underrepresented genders or backgrounds to apply, then failing to notify those specific applicants who weren’t called for an interview (via automated message, etc.)
  • Transitioning new hires from a great recruiting experience to a nonexistent or terrible onboarding experience (especially when hiring rapidly)
  • Offering money for professional development, but never reminding employees about it or encouraging (sometimes requiring) them to take time to do it
  • Telling high performing employees that they have to prove they’re worth the promotion by “working two jobs for a while, then we’ll see”

Failing to effectively support an employee who leaves — especially if the reason is a bad manager or poor HR support As an example, let’s dissect one: Transitioning new hires from a great recruiting experience to a nonexistent or terrible onboarding experience(especially when hiring rapidly). This one seems like an obvious place to start for me because so many companies do it.

It’s easy to do the interviews, send the offer, set the start date, and dust off your hands and get onto the next one that teams rarely consider that limbo period between the offer and the start date.*

The second limbo period we fail to manage is the first 30 days for new hires:

  • If you have a welcome email, if it doesn’t have context about Day 1 (what to wear, when to show up, lunch plans, what to expect…) then it’s an issue.
  • If you have a Day 1 experience, and you have some talks that spew everything the new hire could possibly ever want to and not want to know about benefits, payroll, the company org chart, HR team members… (catching my breath) and an IT setup that has some grumpy IT person growling at them to change their passwords, learn what PII is, don’t do this on your phone, use your laptop this way, and oh yeah, you don’t know Google Apps? Yeah sorry we can’t teach you that…. If that’s your onboarding, that’s an issue.
  • If you haven’t created a minimum viable onboarding program and you don’t have at least a list of people to talk to (with context) and links to read (with context), that’s an issue.
  • If you haven’t worked with managers to make a culture of 1:1’s and you haven’t gotten them to schedule them weekly with new hires, that’s an issue.

I know it’s hard to make all of this (and more) happen before a new person arrives. But what’s not hard? Asking your most recent hire to help you reverse engineer a better onboarding process. You shine light on dark patterns when you consciously recognize them, realize the impact they have on employees, and, oh wait — what is the impact?

When companies remain in this particular dark pattern, dark things happen.

Things like culture not getting delivered to all members of the team equally (because the brand story and values weren’t shared). Things like employees taking way too long to get set up and really get cranking on the work they were hired to do. Things like employees leaving because they didn’t feel like they were a part of the team.

The next time you find yourself thinking you might be able to slide by with what you have, or with nothing at all, think about the dark pattern you might be in, and the long term impact it’s going to have on your team and your customers.

You’re building the best product in your category in the world.

Why not build the best team? Learn more about building the best team with Edify by your side at edifyedu.com!

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Posted by Kristen Gallagher

Kristen Gallagher

Photograph by Hailey King

Kristen Gallagher is the founder and CEO of Edify, a learning strategy partner that develops learning strategies and employee onboarding programs for high-growth technical organizations. Kristen has architected and delivered onboarding programs for companies bringing on just one person a quarter to 100+ people a quarter, in just one office and 13+ global offices. Her range of expertise in the science of adult learning, business strategy, knowledge management, and organizational development means that Kristen architects programs that are designed to evolve and scale with rapid changes.

At Edify, we believe that high growth doesn't have to mean high pain. We partner with you to build programs customized to your team to get your new hires up to speed faster and better - and help get them past those critical 6, 12, and 18 month marks. We do what few consultants dare to offer: we actually integrate your IT, HR, and Facilities teams to create a unified onboarding experience for both employees, managers, and administrators. We create onboarding experiences led by the new hire themselves - creating value for their development and their manager. We deliver value across the business by helping you create a business objective-focused and actionable learning & development strategy. We help you pinpoint the challenges your junior and seasoned, but unsupported, managers face in juggling people management and technical management, then we solve for exactly those challenges.

If you're tired of scrambling to onboard your new hires, struggling with the same-old, same-old management challenges, and looking to galvanize your team so they can meet the vision, it's time you looked for a partner like Edify!