Is Your Onboarding Program Designed To Do This?

May 27, 2015 | Stacey Rivers | HCI
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If you have been in the workforce for 10 years or longer, then you probably remember the anticipation you felt when you where hired for your first job. If you were like me, then you were anxious to get the cliff notes for starting your career at a new company. Rarely that is what you received on the first day; actually it was more like the basics for where to park, along with where you can find your workspace. What I really wanted know was how to begin my illustrious career plan in the organization, but that never came as part of the packet. Since my first onboarding experience several years ago, employees in almost every company are still asking for this same information today. 

Onboarding programs are designed to provide the foundation needed to assimilate to the operation, but what should be considered as part of the program structure is the ability to define success at the individual level. In a recent article I wrote called "Why Google Is Giving You Their Playbook", I discussed the importance of companies publicly sharing the nuances of their culture to generate a pipeline of the "right" talent. This article continues the conversation to focus on integrating the "right" talent by designing an onboarding program for the individual employee.

The New Era of Work 

Studies have shown the new workforce is quickly changing the way companies have traditionally "worked". Company policies that were previously dictated are now being adjusted to provide flexibility and some level of autonomy. The focus is shifting from "how it gets done" (process focused) to "what has been done" (results focused). At the end of the day, if delivering results through hard work and expertise is what matters most, then the following questions will disrupt your onboarding program.

3 Questions You Should Answer:

1) How are new employees set up for success in this emerging era of work? 

2) What organized changes are being implemented to breakdown silos and converge cultures?

3) How are leadership styles and work styles co-existing without detracting from the focus on the core business? 

From Onboarding To Career Management

Onboarding in the traditional sense definitely has its place in the system, but engaging employees at the onset to specifically address their career concerns apart from where they sit in the organization sends a new message. If onboarding is the “You Are Here” sign on the career map, employees need a custom roadmap for how to get from “here” to “there” (the career aspirations they have for themselves), and companies can demonstrate a vested interest through this modification. To begin this process, new employees should partner in designing their own onboarding program. While all of the answers will not be discovered the first day, this provocative question is poised to feed their career aspirations with a blueprint of the organization to explore. The next step is to push the boundaries of onboarding to the next level by including a yearly onboarding exercise for existing employees. As you may begin to surmise, this is a framework that is quickly becoming performance focused by incorporating the entire organization to connect the dots for how they understand their impact on the company's success, AND how they can build their career path in the organization. The proposed model speaks to a few areas where companies have been challenged such as recruitment, onboarding, career-pathing, performance management, engagement, and retention.

Before this approach can be successfully implemented, managers who "grew up" in a culture that traditionally defined how employees worked will now have to adapt their management style and collaborate with employees to deliver results. In this new work era, the focus must be less on how the work gets done, to instead ensuring the product is of quality, on time, and on budget. The ability to adjust and thrive in this type of culture is the new measure, and to do this with excellence will take teaming up with employees to determine what success looks like together for the department, and individually for the employee. 

In this new world, a manager's role must be defined as one who: 

1) Provides oversight and guidance, not dictating the "how" but rather the "why", to foster a level of autonomy.

2) Ensures employees understand the company's strategy, communicating high level information employees can relate to and develop business acumen.

3) Shares insight for what is next, keeping employees' eyes on the horizon to build engagement and inform their career plan.

4) Becomes the glue between senior leadership and the front line, performing a more strategic role and less tactical activities.

5) Encourages exploration, stretch assignments, and guidance for how to become a viable candidate for the next assignment without promises.

With this type of leadership style, onboarding moves from a one-time event for new employees to a performance expectation for everyone. New employees will be brought into a culture that embraces career management from the very beginning.

Leadership and Organized Changes

In order to accomplish this individual framework for onboarding, the program must evolve into an ongoing process to continually shape the culture and expand beyond the company walls. This method utilizes leaders in the strategic role of architecting a culture that breaks down silos, making it accessible for everyone to transition, align, and integrate with the culture or subcultures. Allowing employees to decipher the unwritten rules will take the guesswork out of what it takes to be successful in any area of the organization. This creates an atmosphere where people can manage their careers while setting the company up to achieve its goals. By giving employees the ability to freely work, learn, plan, and deliver, the company gains a workforce invested from the pipeline. As a result, the level of transparency will reveal two conditions: Some employees will align and support the strategic direction, while others will respectfully resign because it does not agree with their career goals, and both are correct. The primary goal of this strategy is to build a culture that joins and supports the company's vision. Career goals are personal decisions in parallel with one's life goals, and as employees evolve, so will their desire for what role they want to fulfill. 

If done correctly, the benefit for the company is a strategically focused culture from the pipeline, better engagement and retention rates due to employees owning their careers, and higher productivity rates as a result of managers performing strategic roles, ensuring quality products and services.


About The Author

Stacey Rivers is the Director of the Executive Portfolio Management Office for a technology division at Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. In this role, Rivers is responsible for aligning organizational strategies and objectives through portfolio-level oversight and governance of technology projects and operations to support business and finance initiatives across multiple platforms, applications, and services. She has a MS in Management with a focus on Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness, and a BS in Technology Management. Rivers is an HCI certified Human Capital Strategist (HCS) and a Strategic Workforce Planner (SWP). You can access more of her content on Twitter or