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The One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge :: Week 17 :: People :: Onboarding

The struggle for talent is real. Hiring managers kiss lots of frogs on their way to finding a well-hidden prince or princess. And when they find a stellar employee, the organization is challenged quickly to find the best way to engage them in meaningful work and give them opportunities to lead and grow. And, maybe more importantly, those employees must work seamlessly with a new team that must quickly produce results where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Onboarding is the key activity to accelerate the integration and productivity of newly hired employees. Successful onboarding starts even before the hire, continues through the offer and acceptance and wraps up a few months into employment.

For purposes of this week’s One Year, Thirty Minute Challenge, we’re going to assume that during the recruiting and hiring process you made sure the new employee is a good fit with the company’s culture and embraces the company’s core values. If that is not the case, the onboarding activities are all paddling upstream and will ultimately end in the employee’s soon departure.

Let’s jump into this week’s exercise. I’m going to list several things newly hired employees need to understand and experience. During the 30 minute exercise, I’m going to ask you to open a Word document or pull out a notepad and, item by item, identify opportunities in your current onboarding process where new hires can get that information and experience. Then I want you to customize those items, so they work for your organization. Finally, I want you to think about who could most effectively deliver the information and experiences – it might be you.

  • Pair the new team member with someone who models the culture fully and can explain it in detail. You already checked for culture fit during the hiring process, but onboarding is the chance to flesh that out. Remember, culture must be caught AND taught. I suggest using an employee commitment document that spells out the employee’s commitment to the organization, team members, customers and personal growth. If you want a sample employee commitment, email me.
  • Explain the company’s value creation activities. How does the company create a product or service that customers are willing to pay for? What are the key components of the process? Where do the key activities take place? What benefits do customers derive from the product or service? What tangible or intangible advantage does the customer receive that makes him/her willing to pay more money than what it costs the company to create the product or service?
  • Explain how the new team member’s job fits in that value creation process. How does their work create a better customer experience, make the product of higher quality or drive costs down? How can they increase economic value creation for the company or experiential value creation for the customer? Implicit in this conversation is an explanation of the team member’s new job responsibilities.
  • Attach purpose to the work. Companies must make money to survive, but they must not exist solely to make money. It’s comparable to saying that humans exist solely to breathe. We must breathe to exist, but we all aspire to more than just breathing. Help the new team member attach greater meaning to the work of the organization. Maybe you give families more leisure time by making everyday responsibilities faster and easier. Maybe you provide a venue where guests can make vacation memories that will last for a lifetime.
  • Understand the new team member’s personal and professional goals. The most effective way to manage employee development is to align the employee’s interests with the interests of the organization. To make that happen, you must understand the employee’s goals and aspirations and craft growth plans where those goals intersect with the organization’s future needs. Every employee wants to be good at their job. Help them get there AND simultaneously realize their own personal growth goals.
  • Help them integrate into the organization. Marcus Buckingham’s important work documented in First Break All the Rules details the importance of relationships in the workplace. Happy employees have a “best friend” at work and have someone speaking into their personal and professional development. The nuances of relationships in the workplace are impossible to address in a short post but let me make a few quick observations –
    • The goal is integration not assimilation. Don’t push team members into molds, instead encourage them to contribute their unique skills and perspectives.
    • Build trust that makes room for frank conversations informed by multiple differing perspectives and opinions.
    • Encourage both autonomous work (flexible schedules, work from home) and collaboration (ad hoc groups and projects).
  • Explain the mechanics of working in the organization. Help them understand the org chart (bosses, peers and subordinates), how to access benefits (insurance, retirement, PTO), how to use the technology (equipment, access to data) and how to navigate the physical facilities.
  • Explain how they can leave their mark on the organization. We all want to impact our corner of the world. Help new team members block out time for deep work. Ask what “flow” typically looks like for them. Explain big problems and big opportunities that exist in your industry and your company and encourage them to engage in the discussion. Ask new team members to be on the lookout for ways to do things better, faster and cheaper. Encourage team members to speak to problems and opportunities that are outside their discipline. Explain how to communicate ideas to pivotal people in the organization.
  • Explain how to “pull the ripcord”. Even with rigorous screening, hiring and onboarding processes, occasionally you’ll make a hire that just doesn’t work. Explain to the team member what to do if they feel like the new job is just not working out.

Check in periodically in the first few weeks to make sure the new team member is productive, connected and well informed.

Would you be disappointed if 2020 looked exactly like 2019?

I’ve been asking myself that question. And now is the right time to ask it. The time between now and mid-December has been called the “100 day sprint” or “the most important 100 days of the year”. Why? Because everyone is back in the office after summer, back in the routine and hunkered down for a busy three and a half months. For some companies, it’s the run-up to a busy holiday season. For others, it’s time to prepare 2020 strategic plans and operating budgets.

In a very real way, the foundation for your organization’s 2020 is going to be laid in the next 100 days. Do it well and 2020 could be your best year yet. Do it poorly or don’t do it at all and 2020 might be just a carbon copy of 2019.

So, what should you be looking at right now? I have a longer list, but if you can’t swing a full-blown strategic planning exercise (which, in my opinion, you should commit to), I’d turn my attention to these four items first –

  • Ask hard talent questions – Do you have the right people in the organization who can take you where you want to go in the next 2-3 years? If not, can you develop existing staff or do you need additional talent? Do you have chronic personnel problems you’ve been reluctant to deal with – people who are poisoning the culture or who are consistently under-performing? If so, what are you going to do about it? Are there one, two or three people, who, if they left, would put your organization at risk? If so, what have you done to mitigate that risk?
  • Gauge organizational health – Is the company culture healthy? For example, is there clear and complete communication up and down the org chart? Is there transparency so that people have the information they need to make good decisions? Are you and are the other leaders in the organization setting a good example in your approach to work and in your interactions with every stakeholder group?
  • Reexamine value creation activities – Do you know the key drivers of the value surplus for your customers? When was the last time you examined your entire value creation chain looking for opportunities to improve vendor performance, inventory management, cross-department collaboration, processes, quality and logistics?
  • Measure what matters – When was the last time you revisited the metrics on your balanced scorecard? Are they really indicative of organizational health? Are your systems providing data quickly enough and to the right people so your field decision-making is data-driven and your longer-term decision-making is data-supported?

Inertia is strong. The pull of ordinary daily days will drag you right into the holiday season before you’ve taken any time to plan for 2020.

I’ve rewritten this last paragraph several times. Originally it said that you’re busy and looking at just these four things is better than doing nothing at all – that’s true. But, I want to encourage you to do the hard thing and take a much deeper dive into your organization. Don’t make 2020 slightly better than 2019. Make it much better by critically and accurately evaluating the current state of your organization, thoughtfully envisioning what you want 2020 to look like and deliberately crafting a plan to get you from the former to the latter.