This month my column has focused on the issues we create when we try to introduce new employees to the workforce and control their behaviour. We’ve explored how little time and effort goes in to welcoming the new hire you’ve spent time and money attracting. We’ve talked about the negative impact of the employee handbook on first impressions and the fact that rules won’t protect your company from employee related disaster.
I think it’s time to consider a different approach to both new and time-served staff members. One that is increasingly gaining momentum in modern business. It’s called onboarding, and we should forgive the redolence of American business-speak because the alterative expression is even worse: Induction.
Induction is a term that is used in midwifery to signal a forced delivery; often traumatic and sometimes creating long term damage!
Wikipedia has this to say about Induction: "A form of training for new employees that should include the development of theoretical and practical skills, and also meet the interaction needs of the new employee. It is usually focused on the particular safety issues of an organisation and will include much of the general information delivered to the employees."
I sense the heavy hand of the HR police here. But thankfully some wag at Wikipedia has added a corollary to lighten the piece:
"This concept involves officially endorsed business processes; it does not include unofficial and frequently clandestine initiation practices such as hazing."
No indeed. Agnes from accounts will have to wait for her first company team building day to experience that.
By contrast, Wikipedia defines onboarding thus:
"Also known as organisational socialisation. The mechanism whereby new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills and behaviours to become effective organisational members and insiders."
Semantics apart, this whole matter deserves more focus. Both research and conventional wisdom suggest that employees get about 90 days to prove themselves in a new job. So employers must give them an accelerated start. My own chairman, Professor Nader Tavassoli (www.nadertavassoli.com) is of the opinion that unless a new hire is onboarded within 30 days, the opportunity is as good as lost.
And the number of people starting new jobs at any one time is significant. I’m not aware of any measures of employee fluidity in East Africa but in the United States 25 per cent of the workforce are organisational newcomers coming to terms with new working environments. In the same country 50 per cent of all senior outside hires fail within 18 months, and 50 per cent of all hourly workers leave new jobs within 120 days. Just imagine the cost to business.
So, what can we in East Africa do to make onboarding "the way we do things around here"? First of all we have to decide whether our business is best served by informal or formal onboarding. The first is probably more appropriate to small enterprises, or to larger businesses with a well-developed culture. In informal onboarding the new employee benefits from around-the-job conversations with managers and peers. Colleagues who are very clear about what the business is trying to achieve and what behaviours are therefore required. You’ll see it in successful restaurants where waiting and kitchen staff know exactly what they are about - and are therefore able to mentor new members properly. They also tell them in plain language when they need to pull their socks up, or praise them when they deserve recognition.
The Society for Human Resource Management tells us that formal onboarding is more structured and refers to a set of coordinated policies and procedures that help the employee to adjust to her new job - both in terms of tasks and socialisation.
The global cosmetics brand L’Oreal runs a two-year, six-part integration programme called L’Oreal Fit. It includes training and roundtable discussions; meetings with key insiders; on the job learning; individual mentoring and activities outside the office such as shadowing assignments and product experiences.
Now, we’re not all global cosmetic giants with deep pockets, But I’m pretty sure we can all think of ways to help new employees become company insiders more quickly. And with online technology and a better understanding of behaviour change, such onboarding activities don’t have to cost the Earth. Or distract valuable resources. More on this next week.
Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising most of them spent in Africa. He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside, an international company that helps organisations to deliver their brands and strategies through their people. www.thebrandinside.com
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