Organisations that feel desperately stuck in the cycle of ‘hiring-attrition-hiring’ can move to ‘hire, invest, improve, and grow,’ assure Mark A. Stein and Lilith Christiansen in ‘Successful Onboarding’ (www.tatamcgrawhill.com). Urging organisations to go beyond ‘traditional orientation’ to a programme covering ‘culture, social networks, early career support, and strategic insight,’ the authors speak of ‘onboarding margin’ as the resultant financial gains.
Aghast that onboarding is the neglected stage in the employee life cycle, they demand that it gets its deserved budgetary attention plus passionate pursuit as in the case of lean manufacturing and six-sigma initiatives. For, “Tailoring the day-to-day experience of new hires through their first anniversary date, strategic onboarding can produce more satisfied employees and a more productive workforce better aligned with company objectives. In the process, it can produce a stronger, more dynamic, more profitable organisation.”
Practices in Ford, Cisco
The book recognises Ford as an onboarding pioneer, for its ‘boot camp’ that emphasised teamwork and networking as much as employee satisfaction. “All salaried workers started with a multi-week programme of experiential learning and team building, trying to solve real business problems under tight deadlines. The intense programme aimed to build relationships that lasted long after the boot camp.”
Another early-adopter is Cisco, which developed its ‘Fast Start’ programme in 1998, putting the standard paperwork online and asking employees to fill it out before the first day. “The work also included reading a variety of documents on the company’s operations, strategy, and culture. The company’s IT department aimed to have new employees’ computer, software configurations, and phone ready by the time they showed up for Day One.”
Aiming to free recruits from the bureaucracy that often dampened enthusiasm and energy, Cisco put its new employees through two days of training and then had them work closely with their managers over two weeks to set personal goals, the authors narrate. They find that the company’s approach to orientation has a much larger purpose than administration and compliance; it aimed to have talent hit the ground running almost immediately while making that talent feel connected to the organisation.
An important section in the book is devoted to ‘culture,’ which most new hires fear because ‘often, cultural norms at companies are inherently elusive, ill-communicated, or implicitly transmitted, and these cultural norms directly inform judgments about performance.’
On ‘workplace slang,’ a key part of the company’s culture, the authors offer some interesting examples:
•In Procter & Gamble, more than a third of search activity on the intranet is about acronyms such as SMOT (second moment of truth, i.e. the moment when a customer uses and judges the company’s product), GBU (global business unit), and XFS (cross functional solution).
•In FedEx, ‘purple promise’ refers to the firm’s commitment ‘to make every customer experience outstanding.’
•In the US Army, common questions can be, ‘Who is the belly button (i.e. the person in charge) on the issue?’ and ‘What does it look like from your foxhole?’
•At Accenture, employees track billable hours by ‘entering it into ARTES,’ whereas at Booz Allen Hamilton the phrase used is, ‘entering my TOL.’
The most significant principle that the authors lay down for those responsible to frame messages about culture is ‘honesty.’ That is, do not take a sales or advertising approach in communicating culture to employees, and more so to new hires.
Speak openly about the ‘true culture’ so employees can get a sense of what their actual experience will be on the job or can validate what they have experienced of the culture so far, recommend Stein and Christiansen. They exhort firms to even strive to point out existing shortcomings in the culture, the reasons these shortcomings exist, and the efforts the organisation is making to bring about change.
Examples from Netflix, Apple
In this context, Netflix is cited as a company that does ‘a great job of presenting an apparently honest portrait of its own culture,’ through a 128-page PowerPoint presentation on company culture posted on its website. In the presentation, the CEO and founder Reed Hastings himself introduces the firm’s culture in an open, honest, and engaging way, discussing the company’s nine values, viz. judgment, communicating, impact, curiosity, innovation, courage, passion, honesty, and selflessness.
Interestingly, as the authors point out, Netflix’s presentation goes further to outline seven other ‘aspects of our culture’ such as ‘high performance, freedom and responsibility, context not control, highly aligned, loosely coupled.’ To promote ‘high performance,’ the firm encourages ‘honest assessments,’ and counsels new hires to collect frank feedback, thus: “To avoid surprises, you should periodically ask your manager: ‘If I told you I were leaving, how hard would you work to change my mind to stay at Netflix?’”
It is not ‘hard work’ or ‘loyalty’ that the CEO asks for, but ‘all-star performance,’ because “in creative work such as that performed by Netflix’s workers, high-performing colleagues are ‘ten times more effective than the average employee – a far greater spread than in procedural work,” the authors reason.
Another such powerful example is of Apple which gives its new hires a carefully designed welcome box containing a short, clear, and inspirational statement of what the firm values and doesn’t value as regards performance. “There’s work and there’s your life’s work. The kind of work that has your fingerprints all over it. The kind of work that you’d never compromise on. That you’d sacrifice a weekend for. You can do that kind of work at Apple,” begins a snatch quoted in the book. Read on: “People don’t come here to play it safe. They come here to swim in the deep end. They want their work to add up to something. Something Big. Something that couldn’t happen anywhere else.”
Use interactive technology
Among the ‘best principles’ listed in the book is the use of interactive technology for teaching company culture. Wikis located on central intranet portals enable new hires (especially younger ones and those who work offsite) to distil unwritten cultural rules efficiently and collaboratively in a less formal environment, the authors counsel. “In this instance, new hires can post what they are seeing as the unwritten rules and other aspects of culture and performance as they experience them. The collective group then has rights to modify the cultural assessments, resulting in a community assessment of the culture, which in turn validates or dispels the perceptions that are being formed.”
General Mills, for example, has streaming television content in its Champions TV channel (offering cultural programmes, social announcements and corporate information), and also an email-based daily newspaper to inform its employees about upcoming events, group announcements, and relevant news about the company and the industry. The book captures a new hire’s feedback, as follows: “Thanks to the newspaper I know what’s going on at both the wider company as well as in the market as a whole, which is pretty cool. It makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger than my department.”
A note of caution the authors hasten to add is that companies should be careful not to deploy a one-way communication system that comes off as corporate indoctrination and programming, because employees today are too smart and too sceptical. “Before you can blink an eye, they’ll write you off as inauthentic and the message as irrelevant.”
“We get a feel of the demand-supply dynamics in the IT labour market…”
“From ‘breaking’ news headlines?”
“No, from the changes introduced in our food-courts!”