Stop Focusing on What Your Company Does During Onboarding

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Dec 13, 2019

Does your onboarding program focus on what your company does? If so, you might have a problem.

According to research by the Brandon Hall Group, companies that invest in onboarding improve new-hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%. Organizations with weak onboarding programs, on the other hand, “lose the confidence of their candidates and are more likely to lose these individuals in the first year.”

The report goes on to list the adoption of tools and technology, induction into mentorship and coaching programs, and formal social-networking opportunities as factors that produce a strong onboarding process. And sure enough, your company might offer these or other benefits, but when telling new hires about them, you might be making a big mistake. That is, you risk emphasizing so heavily what you do that you fail to explain why you do it in the first place. 

The way your company operates is integral to your culture. Failing to familiarize new hires with the whys of your policies, practices, and processes creates barriers that inadvertently make it harder for people to relate to and integrate into your culture.

The Power of “Because”

All of us like to feel as if there’s a reason behind the things we do. That’s why Ellen Langer’s famous Copy Machine Study increased compliance to a request by 55% simply by introducing the word “because” (even when the request itself was practically meaningless). As the researcher Robert Cialdini points out in his book Influence, “A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.”

We can apply this principle to being a new hire. As someone who just joined an organization, which of the following instructions are you most likely to remember and act on?

  • “We try to print double-sided, when possible.”
  • “We try to print double-sided, when possible, because we found it cut our supply bills by about 25%.”

Upon hearing the second statement, you would likely not just follow through once but remember to do so again and again in the future. 

Of course, that was a fairly innocuous request. What happens if we apply the same kind of “lead with why” thinking to onboarding?

Leading With Why

Leading with why doesn’t have to mean providing an in-depth background for every step of your standard onboarding process. You don’t, for instance, need to explain that filling out I-9 paperwork is mandatory because the U.S. government requires you to turn it in.

Instead, look for areas within your process that intersect with your company’s mission or where you’re communicating critical work procedures. Could you:

  • Define not just your core values but why you’ve chosen them and how team members live them?
  • Talk about how lessons learned from past culture initiatives and how they have shaped the program you now have?
  • Describe the benefits associated with compliance to the culture, whether that involves tangible rewards or simply some greater sense of satisfaction?

If you can’t adequately convey the reasoning behind core elements of your culture, this could be an indication of weakness in your program — or your culture itself. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise, as 80% of companies don’t intentionally craft a culture.

Carrying Why Forward

Onboarding is a chance to solidify the culture your new employees are joining by helping them understand why it exists in the first place. For example, you can deliver onboarding checklists and new-hire documentation in customized folders that visually highlight your culture. You could take culture immersion a step further by organizing a company-sponsored night out for the team your new hire is joining. 

Meanwhile, don’t limit  leading with why to onboarding. Once you’ve defined the whys that underpin your culture, look for other opportunities to extend impact across your organization — from your recruitment process to companywide trainings to even your performance-evaluation program.

You may not even realize that you’ve been living in the land of What. But once you embrace the power of Why in all of your corporate and HR initiatives, the increased buy-in you’ll see will ensure you’ll never want to go back.

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