Onboarding Tips

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Onboarding Tips

Learn these from great leaders.

by: Howard M. Guttman

Leadership Excellence

September 01, 2008

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How do you keep  the momentum for high-performance in theface of the rapidly revolving door? About one in four employees departs for other pastures every year—and that doesn’t include those who are fired. Add to that the number of internal transfers and the repercussions of mergers and acquisitions, and churn becomes a major challenge.

One way to keep the revolving door from spinning out of control is have an exciting long-term strategy and business prospects, with effective operations, and progressive HR policies. Even so, you can’t stop turnover, since high-performers are targets of headhunters.

Turnover puts high priority on finding the best way to bring in new players and integrate them into the culture. Onboarding within a high-performing culture is challenging. Newcomers tend to feel as if they’re entering a brave new world in which all the axioms that worked for them in hierarchical organizations are suddenly up for grabs.

Alignment is not only about reconstituting the performance context—strategy, goals, roles, accountabilities, and ground rules for decision making—but about reshaping business relationships. The alignment process creates a powerful, shared experience in which leaders and players learn to show up “for real”: to be candid, depersonalize, confront one another, and hold one another accountable.

Take These Four Tips

Here are four tips from leaders who have met the onboarding challenge:

1. Start at the beginning with the interview process. Let candidates know what to expect. In his initial contact with candidates for executive positions at Chico’s, CEO Scott Edmonds explains the horizontal model and the company’s commitment to it. He tells them that working at Chico’s will differ from their past experience: that they will be held accountable by both their leaders and peers, that they’ll be expected to deliver on commitments or explain why they can’t, that a big part of their compensation is based on teamwork. He then probes for “fit and feel.”

The mindset of great players includes: thinking like a director, putting the team first, embracing accountability, and being comfortable with discomfort. Use these attributes to screen candidates. To what extent do they measure up? Does their background reveal clues to how successful they’ll be? Question carefully. For example, ask, “What is the biggest mistake you have made professionally?” If the answer comes back, “I’m an overachiever,” or “My standards are too high,” be wary. A candidate who substitutes disguised strengths for weaknesses may not accept accountability—much less hold peers and leaders accountable.

2. Stay close to new hires by putting in place a weekly feedback session to answer questions and address needs and concerns. Include new hires in their team’s reassessment and skill development sessions. At Chico’s, all employees who have joined the company in the preceding half year attend an off-site meeting devoted to continuing the horizontal integration process.

3. Role-model. Years ago, a team of sociologists studied the behavior of straight-out-of-the-academy police officers. They were brimming with pride and enthusiasm; however, this quickly turned to cynicism once they joined the police force. The behavior role-modeled by supervisors and peers was decisive in their change of heart.

David Greenberg, senior VP of HR for L’Oréal, notes: “When you join our team and see all members role-modeling certain behaviors, you quickly see how to do it. You see that everyone has a voice, that disagreement is okay, that conflict is dealt with by depersonalizing. If someone is marching in a different direction, you see them being held accountable. This sets up and makes clear what the expectation is.”

4. Provide mentors. Mars Inc. finds mentoring to be effective in bringing new hires into the performance culture. Each member is “adopted” by another player, who takes responsibility for daily reinforcement of high-performing behaviors. In another organization, senior leaders are paired with up-and-comers. Bringing on new talent regenerates an organization by importing new talent, skills, perspectives, and energy. Harnessing these “gifts” early is a challenge. Manage this resource-for-renewal effectively to achieve standout performance.

 
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