To set new hires at any level up for success, companies need to think beyond just tactical onboarding initiatives and give equal focus to assimilating them into the cultural and team dynamic. The first few days, weeks, or even months at a company can feel pretty lonely. They don’t really know anyone. They’re not fluent in the acronyms. They don’t get any of the inside jokes. Too often new employees are left to fend for themselves when navigating a company’s landscape.
According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, most large companies do a good job of tactically orienting new employees--setting them up on their systems, providing them with the employee handbook, directing them to the nearest bathroom--but most fall short on actually integrating and familiarizing new hires with the company culture which can slow down the rate of contribution, cause unintended rifts and negatively affect talent retention.
But there are easy ways to create a more supportive, inclusive environment out of the gate and set people up for success.
Many times new employees have a long list of people to meet with during their first few weeks to get to know colleagues, but typically these meetings are solely focused on professional topics--what is your role here, where did you work before, etc... Using this time to get to know each other on a personal level will help colleagues form faster, more empathetic working relationships because we bring our whole selves to work. During these early meetings, ask (respectful, appropriate) questions about their life outside of work that will get conversations going like “Is there anything you’re looking forward to?” or “What is the best meal you’ve ever eaten?”
The first day new-hire lunch with the team is always a nice touch because, hey, free lunch! But make a concerted effort to NOT talk about work, or at least business. Similar to the one-on-one meetings, take this time to talk about things that will likely not come up naturally during the work day like favorite childhood cartoons, first concerts, or top 3 movies. And it’s important to remember that “team” does just refer to others in the same department. So often now people are working cross-functionally, and taking the time to mix and mingle with others so early in the onboarding phase will help keep silos from unintentionally developing. Something as simple as a quick coffee break or ice cream run with colleagues can help form the foundation for strong working relationships out of the gate. Remote teams can do something similar to get to know one another like allocating time for a group video or Slack chat.
Yes, everyone is busy. Likely new hires are being added during a time of rapid growth or when teams are stretched thin. Taking the proper time to get a new colleague up to speed, not only on the systems and processes, but also the cultural norms of the company, is a vital investment. In a survey of new leaders, almost 70% pointed to the lack of understanding of company norms and politics as primary reasons they fail or stumble out of the gates. When asked what would reduce failure rates, they emphasized constructive feedback and help with navigating internal networks to gain insight into organizational and team dynamics.
By adding company and team cultural assimilation to the onboarding program and promoting interpersonal connections, employers help new hires feel more included, more supported and more setup for success.
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