When Katherine left her job at a big-time marketing agency to join the ranks of an up-and-coming startup, she was eager for the change. But her first weeks on the job didn't go as smoothly as she had hoped, and those weeks turned into months. For Katherine, switching gears from her old company culture and immersing herself in the new one proved more challenging than she'd anticipated.  

Her last job adhered to a strict hierarchical culture. Katherine was used to following a structured set of systems and running everything up the chain of command. The company culture at her new company was the opposite. Upper management praised employees who identified new opportunities and ran with them. They applauded risk-taking and instilled a deep sense of trust in their teams. 

Katherine, still rooted in her old company's hierarchical cultural beliefs, quickly felt herself falling behind the pack. She circulated creative new ideas to her manager and waited weeks for a response. Meanwhile, her colleagues hit the ground running with new campaigns on a daily basis. Katherine felt directionless and frustrated. She blamed upper management for ignoring her and bristled at those who gushed about their new initiatives. It wasn't long before she started looking for a new job. 

Katherine herself isn't real, but her story is all too common. Every leader and employee knows what it's like to be a new hire -- it isn't easy. In order to execute a smooth transition for those coming from one culture into a new one, leaders and new hires must meet each other halfway. Here are three simple steps to help make the onboarding process as seamless as possible:

1. Shine a Spotlight on Company Culture 

Company culture is often so embedded in the DNA of founders and longtime employees that it can be easy for them to not realize those culture foundations are not as clearly comprehensible to new employees. 

According to the Partners In Leadership Culture Advantage Index, only 36% of employees believe that the leaders within their organization consistently create experiences that reinforce the desired culture. This is a startlingly low percentage, especially since, according to the index, 96% of employees cite culture as more important than strategy when it comes to attaining results. 

Failing to communicate company culture can have serious consequences. Without a compass to point new employees in the right direction, top priorities fall through the cracks. On the contrary, according to a recent study, "Companies that were listed among the Best Places to Work based on their corporate culture delivered nearly 20% higher returns to shareholders relative to comparable companies over a five-year period." 

Case in point: Executives that clearly define their corporate culture during the onboarding process -- and embody it daily -- set their company up for success. 

2. Prize Candid, Consistent Communication 

Paul J. Meyer, pioneer of the self-improvement industry, once said, "Communication -- the human connection -- is the key to personal and career success." He wasn't lying. A study from Gallup found that leaders account for up to 70% of the variance in engagement through their communication and interactions with employees.

Communication is the foundation of the employee-manager relationship. Whether in-person, via email, or text, the initial and ongoing communication between leader and employee significantly impacts the employee's continued engagement or lack thereof. Gallup's research further reinforces this, indicating that a manager who holds regular meetings with their team can expect to see their employees almost three times as engaged as those employees whose manager does not hold frequent meetings with them.

Case in point: Company cultures that prize candid communication create a safe space for employees of all levels and tenures to express their ideas, concerns, and frustrations, ultimately helping them feel more bought-into the company. 

3. Empower Employees to Own Their Challenges

In a positive work environment, all employees have a clear understanding of: (1) their organization's most important objectives; and (2) their role in attaining them. Clearly defining organizational goals and explaining the why behind them is essential during the onboarding process, when new employees are learning the ropes and grappling with what is expected of them. It also sets the scene for personal accountability. 

Accountability is often discussed in the wake of a gregarious mistake, when managers or coworkers are seeking someone to blame. How we define it in New York Times bestseller The Oz Principle, accountability is a positive force: "A personal choice to rise above one's circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results."

Defining accountability in this way during the onboarding process -- while clearly stating the company's top organizational goals that everyone is expected to work toward -- empowers employees to own and actively problem-solve the organizational challenges they face.

Case in point: Redefining accountability helps employees focus on what can be done, rather than what's out of their control. 

Setting Employees Up For Success 

Onboarding plays a critical part in any new hire's journey. When done correctly, it lays the foundation for a successful career. Done haphazardly, it sets the stage for poor performance, low engagement, and ultimately, greater workplace turnover. 

Katherine's corporate transition -- and those of thousands of other real-life employees -- could have been more seamless had her new managers been upfront about the company culture and their organizational goals. With a clear sense of direction, Katherine would have been well positioned to ask, "What else can I do?" rather than, "What are you doing for me?"
So what would it have looked like had Katherine's leaders put a comprehensive, culture-focused onboarding plan in place? According to recent research, organizations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%. It's clear to see that a little time and effort upfront goes a long way. 

Published on: Mar 2, 2020
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