Remote Onboarding

Leveraging Employee Onboarding to Unify Culture in Global and Hybrid Workforces

“An effective employee onboarding program is the cornerstone of a vibrant and unified company culture, serving as the most proactive measure to embody and enhance the values and practices that define us.”

We often talk to people teams and hear things like:

  • We had a strong culture in our HQ. We’ve hired significantly in other geos and it feels like we have an HQ culture and a remote culture.
  • Our engagement surveys show folks generally feel strongly about their own teams/manager but not as positively towards the broader company.
  • Now that we’re in many offices, our culture feels quite splintered.
  • Now that we’ve grown to independently running departments, the company feels siloed. There’s a “sales culture” and an “engineering culture,” what might as well be two different companies.

So, you’ve decided you want to revamp and improve those less-than-ideal Glassdoor scores (ahem, I mean revamp and improve your company culture) – you get a task force together. You have an idea of your company values, programs you want to put in place to improve culture based on the feedback, and you’re thinking about how you should go about implementing all this. The options you’re considering:

  • Let’s do a big release to the whole company. Go big or go home.
  • Let’s focus on managers. They are the key to everything else – study after study shows. Let’s get them aligned on our new approach.
  • Let’s focus on department X first. They’ve always had the best exec sponsor for all things culture and would be easy to try everything out with.
  • Let’s focus on Office A. That office can serve as a self-contained way to roll out the program.

What if I told you, the way to address all of this is actually none of the above. It would be primarily through your onboarding program. Sounds like it’s a bit out of left field, right? Well, let me explain.

An Employee Onboarding program is the most effective way to proactively define and activate your company culture. As you’ve no doubt read, company culture is not about the fun benefits you offer your employees – a lot of companies are realizing this out of necessity as we have gotten into the year of efficiency. In fact, it’s about how people interact with each other when they aren’t being told what to do. So, a lot of company culture is a sum of the activities and beliefs of the leadership team combined with whatever each employee is bringing into the picture.

You are probably equipped with a list of company values. You are probably communicating with your employees all the time. Managers probably know that they should recognize great work by their employees, especially when they showcase company values. Execs are probably showcasing successes and reinforcing exactly what you are all in together doing. But it still feels like you’re not walking the walk and becoming the ideal company you want to be.

This description could cause despair. Culture emerges naturally and we can observe and react to it. It gets defined by the sum of the actions of employees. We can define our values on pieces of paper and motivational posters, but that’s not actually creating culture. Big interventions and “resets” and statements that say “We do this now!” often fall on deaf ears.

Enter the employee onboarding program.

This is a moment when you have maximum leverage to proactively define and activate your culture. You have the opportunity to tell the story every single week and month to every new employee and onboarding class about who you are. New Employees are in listening mode and taking notes. Anything they observe in the first few months will be normal to them. Current employees/peers naturally want to be helpful and welcoming and are ready to put their best foot forward. Managers (the good ones) are ready to implement the best methods possible to improve their craft and grow as leaders and are open to help. In the HR world, you are closest and at the easiest point of measuring ROI on a culture program. Feedback qualitatively reported to management, onboarding experience scores, or general engagement scores by cohort – while all still lagging indicators – come WAY faster than attrition rates.

It gives you a canary in the coal mine.

Hopefully, I have convinced you that this is a point of maximum leverage to move your company’s culture forward. So, what could you do in an onboarding program that is simply harder to do with the entire company at once?

  • Expect a repeated behavior or ritual for new hires: your leadership team believes in retrospectives and wants that to be a cultural practice that is widespread throughout the company, yet it’s happening inconsistently. Pair that edict for retrospectives as something that every manager needs to ensure every new employee experiences within their first month of joining. The org is buying in to do this for new employees alone. New employees will learn about it, understand the expectation, and drive retros for their own processes faster. In short order, you’ve built enough momentum and it’s easier to do a retro rather than skip it.
  • Recognize and share gratitude: you want folks to recognize each other – shamelessly – when great work is done. Ensure every new employee does this in their first month for someone else – for example, through Clearly Shoutouts. Show the behavior is expected in the beginning and watch it stick!
  • Meet people you don’t work with: besides meeting your manager and direct colleagues, ensure every new employee is meeting people across the organization and others in their own cohort who they might not be meeting with on a regular basis. Repeat this and you are proactively creating bonds and opportunities for collaboration across silos.

Now, let’s do some math: if your attrition rate is 20 percent, you would be about average (depending on the industry). Assuming the company isn’t even growing that much, you’ll have a whole new company within five years.

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that looking at your programs and policies for new employees is the best way to impact company culture. You could focus on the whole company, slice it to individual departments, individual offices, or managers only. Focusing on departments or offices ends up being parochial by nature – and often what you’re trying to solve for is for the entire company.

Focusing on managers/leadership would be the natural point of leverage if the company is in layoff mode – since new employees aren’t coming in fast enough to be the change. But in most instances, for healthy companies, an onboarding program creates maximum leverage – and in the process creates a baseline that leadership and managers all agree to.

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