Your company culture is unique. It’s the ecosystem, the DNA, and the lifeblood that courses through the veins of your organizational body. Culture is the living, breathing and forever-morphing embodiment of how stuff gets done at your place of business; it’s the traditions, norms, attitudes, and the supported and/or reinforced behaviors of your employees. During the recruiting process, you’ve talked about your culture with job candidates. “We’re a fun place to work and our employees are passionate about what they do,” you may have shared. You may have told applicants, “We’re a very collaborative group as evidenced by our flat hierarchy.” Or perhaps you let them know, “Everyone here puts in long hours. We work hard, but then we play hard.”
Once you extend an offer and your candidate accepts then guess what? The onboarding process has begun! It’s at this stage that you reinforce what you’ve shared, and it is, quite frankly, critical that you begin to do so as soon as you get the “Yes, I’ll come and join your organization” answer. During this period, when the candidate may be working out a notice at their current employer, they are consumed with doubt as they wonder, “Will I really fit in? What if everything I think I know about Company XYZ is wrong? What if I’m making a mistake?”
While it’s critically important that you incorporate your culture into every interaction with candidates and employees, during the onboarding experience, it’s absolutely necessary.
The Culture Club The newly hired employee is looking for affirmation of everything that’s already been discussed. It’s now when you can capitalize on this curiosity and at this stage you should:
Maintain communication. After the offer is made and before the new hire’s first day, you need to stay in touch. This is not the time to enter the zone of silence. Everyone can have a role in this—the HR representative or recruiter, the new manager, and team members, and even the CEO.
Review how you handle the compliance/mandatory issues. Are there items you can take care of ahead of time or will your new employee experience a tortured first day of filling out form after form? Organizations should provide online access to all materials, including benefit enrollment forms and summary plan descriptions, organizational charts, the employee handbook, and policies and any other necessary items. Completing those items early allows day 1 to be all about assimilation and socialization.
Plan the first day. Make sure everyone is prepared for the employee’s first day in the office—workspace is set up, laptop is ready, phone line is assigned, and all network logins and email accounts are operational. If you promote a relationship-based culture, make sure lunch plans are in place so the new hire doesn’t have to fend for himself in the overwhelming chaos of the employee cafeteria.
Show and Tell Some researchers assert that individuals with the “Big 5” personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) often experience greater onboarding success. This occurs because these individuals are proactive, more open to new experiences, and eager to seek out information. They look for acceptance and will often be interested in building relationships with their new co-workers.
Obviously not every new employee will exhibit all these broad traits. Some may have a bit of this and a dash of that. And while you may have hired someone who appears to be assertive, sociable, and curious, you still need to get the employee assimilated within your specific organization. It’s time for you to show and tell.
Think back to the outright giddiness that bubbled up in your first grade classroom when it was ‘show and tell’ day. Your classmates were eager to share about their goldfish, their baby sister, or the prized postcard they received from grandma. I recall not being able to sleep the night before ‘show and tell’ where I deftly demonstrated my 6-year-old culinary skills by making a proper PB&J sandwich. You can—and should—replicate that type of excitement during the onboarding process. You may want to:
Conduct tours. Take all new hires on a tour of the building, facilities, and other offices and allow them to “see” the visual manifestation of your culture. Ideally this matches up with what you’ve previously told them. If you’ve recruited by promising a dynamic and innovative culture, there better not be a bunch of silent, sullen, and dejected looking employees stacked in endless rows of beige cubicles.
Tell stories. Don’t just toss a timeline slide up on PPT during new employee orientation and consider the job done. When you share the history of your company, bring out the historical artifacts. Do you have ledger books from the 1930s, product advertisements from the 1950’s, or hilarious pictures from disco era holiday parties? Maybe you have film footage of the former CEO, sporting mutton chops and a perm, breaking ground at a construction site. Bring that stuff out, and let people touch it, laugh at it, and interact with it.
Meet the people. Everyone likes to meet celebrities, and let’s face it, the biggest celebrity in your organization is the CEO. Make sure the CEO makes an appearance early on (ideally on day 1) to share their vision, passion, and goals for the company. If the CEO can’t appear in person, consider using technology to connect new hires with the CEO via Skype or even a pre-recorded video message.
Onboarding neither begins nor ends on the date of hire. It starts with the accepted offer and continues on for several months after an employee’s first day. Your role, should you choose to accept it, is to make sure each employee understands, embraces, and fits your culture.