It takes two to build a relationship, two to have a conversation, two to complete a sale, so doesn’t it make sense to see onboarding as a two-way activity?
Quite frankly, to do otherwise is to instantly confer an authoritarian master/servant outlook on the relationship between the organization and its people; not what you want in today’s open, empowered and innovative business structure.
So why is it then that so many organizations still see onboarding as a one-way process? We may have moved away from the ‘there is your desk, get on with it’ model but in far too many instances onboarding is still seen purely as a training-process, getting the new entrant up to speed on order for them to take up the reins as quickly as possible.
And whilst task and process knowledge is important it should be only one element of a rounded and holistic introduction to the organization and its culture. Even here, the introduction should be two-way. Let’s look at a few reasons why….
Why should onboarding be a two-way street?
Let’s start with the presumption that you have hired for cultural fit. I don’t mean here that you have appointed a ‘mini me’ clone, but rather have brought on board someone who is in tune with the aims and values of the organization and who you think will bring something to enhance the business offering.
Business culture isn’t set in stone; it flexes with every action and interaction under the guiding hand of the leadership. You can try and impose the culture but in doing so you will suppress any benefit which you may have received from appointing people who are likely to enhance it in some way.
"Business culture isn’t set in stone; it flexes with every action and interaction under the guiding hand of the leadership".
So naturally there will be an element of sharing. On your part you will be helping your new employee to immerse themselves in the culture of the organization. On their part they will be starting the process of exploring how they can bring their personality, abilities and strengths to the benefit of the business.
That brings us on to employee engagement; the perennial challenge for today’s businesses. A topic in its own right, despite numerous attempts to boost engagement through a variety of means survey after survey highlights continuing low levels of engagement.
One of the reasons behind this is that far too many organisations still see employee engagement as a top-down exercise. So they will undertake surveys, discuss the results at management level and then take action (or not); in many instances not even providing feedback on the results of the survey.
Turn this around, make employee engagement a bottom up exercise and organisations can enhance the chance of an improvement in engagement levels. Where better to start this bottom-up process than with new employees? Yes you have to share the values but then make the conversation a two-way affair. Ask open questions, actively look for feedback and opinion and move from ‘we’re going to give you this’ to ‘what do you need from us’.
Business leaders nowadays recognise the importance of building a culture of innovation in order to provide differentiated solutions to genuine problems. In order to do so the relationship between business and its employees has to change. People have to be given the freedom to experiment and to ask 'what if' questions, to engage with customers at a new level and to collaborate.
"People have to be given the freedom to experiment and to ask 'what if' questions"
As a result strict hierarchies and silos have to give way to a freer, more collaborative, way of working in which teams form and reform in response to operational need. This may come as a shock to someone who has been brought up in a more traditional organisation. Here again the onboarding process is a perfect time to up a more innovative mindset by encouraging contribution and dialogue.
One of the top tips for onboarding directors and senior managers is to ensure that they meet key customers as early as possible in order to start building relationships. Whilst it may not be practical for every new employee to have the same level of introduction to key customers, the earlier they can build up a customer excellence mindset the better.
Organizations such as Zappos are famous for giving every new employee a term in the call centre, learning about the importance of customer care. Other businesses will rotate back-office staff through front-office positions and vice versa to help them to gain a more holistic view of the organization.
Whatever the route chosen, the more interaction, the more your new employee is encouraged to bring themselves to the relationship, the better service they will give to customers.
When you chose someone to join your organization, and when they chose to join you, you both saw something in each other that would make for a positive working relationship. That relationship started in the recruitment process before your new employee even stepped through the door and it has to continue through the onboarding process if the eventual relationship is to be mutually beneficial.
The more open the dialogue, the more you can encourage the new member of your team to open up and start bringing themselves to the process, the greater the chance of them furthering the aims and values of the organisation. Every journey starts with a single step. By making onboarding a two-way process your new employee’s journey within the organization will run and run.
About the author
Perry Timms is the Founder & Chief Energy Officer of PTHR, with 30+ yrs experience in people, learning, technology, organisation change & transformation. His personal mission is to see more people flourish through their work, and help shift organizations as a force for societal good (not just profit machines). PTHR's mission is defined as "Better Business for a Better World". In October 2017, his first book, Transformational HR - was published by Kogan Page and the Energized Workplace published in August 2020. He was an extremely proud new entrant to the list of HR Most Influential Thinkers for 2017 and again in 2018 + 2019 (in the top 10 both years).