Why onboarding is the first step towards a thriving culture

| October 26, 2022

How do companies inadvertently create bad cultures? Many of today’s thinkers and writers discuss how to identify if you have a bad culture and what to do about it. But few, if any, ask how bad cultures occur. It’s like there’s a disease, and all the experts are talking about how to identify if you have the disease and what to do if you have it, but no one asks how one catches the disease in the first place.

This problem is so pervasive that a search for “what creates a bad culture” produced only two results on Google in 2022. But searching Google for signs of a bad culture without quotation marks produced 378 million results. I had to use quotation marks to be specific in the first search because all the results I could find without quotation marks only discussed the signs of a bad culture, not what causes it.

Imagine you assembled a group of ten random people into a team. However, you provided no instruction, guidance, or training about the culture, technical and process expectations, and leader’s expectations. What would be the resulting culture of the team in a few months or a few years? At best, it would be a roll of the dice.  Maybe you could get lucky, and it would be okay.  But more than likely, people would do what they think is right. They would try to do the right thing. But every one of the ten people’s interpretations of the right thing, in any situation, could be different.

Those different perspectives can lead to misunderstandings and differences of opinion, and over time, those minor issues can compound and create a dysfunctional culture.

Now consider the opposite—a team of ten random people you provide with a detailed onboarding plan. Over 90 days, you help them understand, learn, apply, and then embed the cultural, technical, and process expectations and the leader’s expectations to help them become a successful fit. Equally, those who are an unsuccessful fit depart after that 90-day onboarding.  The result is that the team who participated in the onboarding will understand what is right. There will be fewer misunderstandings and differences of opinion. There will be better communication about what the team agrees on and a much lower chance of a dysfunctional culture.

In my global survey of over 1100 CEOs and hiring managers about onboarding, 49 percent of respondents had a 7-day or less onboarding process, and 83 percent had 14-days or less of onboarding. The vast majority of onboarding processes are one or two weeks. That’s five or ten working days to maximise a new hire’s understanding.

When considering how onboarding contributes to culture, 50 percent of respondents with a one-day onboarding process agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement that ‘our onboarding process positively contributes to our culture’. Yet, for those with a 90-day onboarding process this increased to 85 percent.  People with a longer onboarding process are more likely to agree that it positively contributes to their culture.

Of course, an effective onboarding process shouldn’t only help new hires to understandthe cultural, technical and process expectations, and leader’s expectations. In order to be effective, an onboarding process must also exit those who are not a successful fit with your firm. Once 90-days have passed, an effective process will clearly categorise a new hire as either a successful fit, or an unsuccessful fit. And if they are an unsuccessful fit, and need to exit, the process should give you the confidence that you’ve prevented someone who is perhaps toxic to your culture from permanently joining your team. After your hiring process, it’s the last filter to protect your culture.

Whether you’re helping new hires to understand your culture before permanently joining your team or protecting your existing culture by exiting those who aren’t a successful fit, an effective onboarding process is first step toward a thriving culture


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