Does this process look familiar?
- Sign these papers
- Company history and culture
- Policies and procedures all employees need to know
- Training for your job
This is the exact onboarding flow I’ve experienced in every job I’ve ever had. There are plenty of problems with this design, many of which we’re addressing throughout our #onboardingSOS series. However, step number 3 may be the biggest issue I have with the traditional approach to onboarding. New employees have a lot to think about. Will they be good at the job? Will they like their team members and boss? How does payroll work? Etc. But the biggest concern for me—and the most powerful consideration for new employee success—has always been the same, regardless of company or role: Will I fit in here?
Every organization promotes the importance of cultural fit when recruiting and training new employees. It’s not really a point you have to argue or justify nowadays. But, if you’d like a data point, Liz Pellet from Johns Hopkins University conducted research that found 95% of candidates prioritized culture over compensation. Culture is a critical component of workplace effectiveness. Unfortunately, organizations often fall short in their attempts to help people fit in as quickly and seamlessly as possible.
To borrow from Josh Bersin, “Culture is the set of behaviors, values, artifacts, reward systems, and rituals that make up your organization.” In other words, it’s a complicated concept—one that you can’t distill down into a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation. Culture is how it feels to work in a place. That feeling—like any other feeling—is difficult to explain in simple terms. New employees are exposed to a company’s culture well before they walk through the door—potentially for years as a customer. Onboarding provides the opportunity to accelerate the integration process and help the employee understand who we really are as an organization, before they get swamped with the everyday demands of their new role.
The problem with the traditional approach to onboarding, when it comes to culture, is our habit of trying to tell new employees what it’s like to work in our environment. Trainers overwhelm their audience with inconsequential facts and figures about the history of the company, along with verbatim mission statements and values. Then, they get quizzed on what they remember as a way to assess their understanding of the organizational culture. To put it simply, no one needs to know what year your company was founded on their first day, and I have yet to see wide-scale memorization of a mission statement lead to record profits! While exposing people to this information over time can be useful, it shouldn’t be the primary way we share who we are with our new team members. Rather, we must sideline the ‘show and tell’ act and find simple but meaningful ways to immerse new employees in our true company culture, early and often.
Yes, employees will soon be immersed in the realities of their new workplace when they get on the job. However, depending on the role, the transition may take days or even weeks, during which time they are making decisions about their fit. Once on the job, they can become siloed by function and have a difficult time connecting with the larger organization. Onboarding, especially the reimagined approach we have been exploring in this blog series, gives us the chance to expose new employees systematically to our mission and values in action.
While the steps you take to immerse new employees in your culture will vary by organization, time, and resources, here are three simple but awesome ideas.
- Customer Perspective
Employees aren’t the only people who are exposed to a company’s culture. The customer experience is also shaped by the overall feel of an organization. While a new hire may have been a customer in the past, placing them into the customer’s shoes—but with an employee perspective—can demonstrate how culture comes to life in the day-to-day environment. For example, new Cast Members at the Walt Disney World Resort spend part of their orientation day exploring The Magic Kingdom Park. While the majority have been to the park before as guests, they are instructed to take a closer look at how Cast Members execute on the company’s values in real life. They’re able to reflect on this experience and share insights that provide great context for classroom storytelling and future on-the-job training.
- Volunteer Experience
Community is a growing consideration in corporate culture. Organizations must be aware of and purposeful in their impact on local communities. This can be a powerful differentiator for both customers and applicants. Rather than just tell new employees how important the community is to the company, onboarding is an early opportunity to involve new employees in making a difference. For example, once I reworked a corporate onboarding program to include a half-day volunteer experience at a local food bank. New and existing employees were invited to participate as a way to demonstrate the entire organization’s commitment to the community. Taking the time out of a hectic onboarding schedule to help the less fortunate also made a powerful statement about company values.
- Ride Along
As I mentioned, new employees can quickly become siloed in their roles and lose the larger connection to the organization that was experienced during onboarding. This may be their best chance to get an understanding of what everyone else in the company does, and how they contribute to the larger culture. Providing the opportunity to “ride along” with experienced team members in different roles can quickly expose new employees to the everyday feel of the company, and connect their job to the bigger picture. In some cases, this may be as simple as a shadowing experience in a different department. For more distributed organizations, it may require a bit more logistical wrangling to match new people with veteran “ambassadors.”
Onboarding is just the beginning of an employee’s integration into the workplace culture. The feeling of whether or not it is a fit will be influenced continuously by a variety of factors. While the organization as a whole must continue to assess and manicure workplace conditions to align to the intended culture, an effective onboarding experience can start this process on the right foot and quickly validate the employee’s decision to accept the new role.
Are you still trying to tell new employees about your culture in a classroom, or have you found new ways to immerse people in what it feels like to be part of your culture?