Cerah Associates is active in the areas of Consultancy and Learning. In this blog we would like to write about quite a specific subject i.e. the “onboarding” of new staff.

Why the subject of onboarding? The main reason is that we believe that there is a huge discrepancy between how onboarding, generally, is done, versus how onboarding could be done and be successful. In other words, how onboarding can better serve not only direct operational needs, but also longer term managerial requirements. There are a few aspects to point out before we start; 1) We are talking about relatively young newcomers aged 21-27, probably taking on their first job, and 2) we are talking about relatively highly educated young new staff.    

There are two extremes of how onboarding can be done, i.e.

Operational (short-term) focus    <———————>        Managerial (long-term) focus

In our experience, onboarding generally is done with an operational focus, i.e. get the new person as quickly as possible familiarised with his/her new environment, in order to get the new hire as effectively employed as soon as possible. We would like to challenge this thought and plea for including longer term managerial components in the onboarding process. The ideal mixture of a well developed onboarding program may well be touching on both operational – and managerial strategic dimensions.          

How is it currently often done?

Applying an operational lens, it tends to go like this “Hello newcomer, here is your desk, this is your computer, your boss is … and sits overthere, he/she will go through your job specifics, tasks and targets ….. and here is the key of your locker, by the way. The office hours are from 9am to 5pm, lunch break is between 12 noon and 1 pm. A colleague will show you around on the floor and introduce you to those around you. We do have a dress code for Mondays to Thursdays, on Friday we like to be a bit more free spirited and you can show up the way you want. You can find more specific info on our internal company website, and familiarise yourself with what we are all about, please read about our values, mission statement of the company etc. If you have further  questions, I suggest that you approach HR. We are happy to have you on board, good luck!’’.

How it could be done alternatively?

Applying a more manageriaI lens, our onboarding program design has 1 important key feature: It is all about truly welcoming the new hire and engaging them into the culture and future of the company from day one. In other words: onboarding to us does not simply mean, ‘’the company introduces itself to you, we hope you will fit in and off you go’’. For us onboarding means ‘please feel welcome and since you joined us – please get involved shaping the culture and future success of the company ….’’.

Having witnessed many onboarding programmes in different organisations, main building blocks of our onboarding program are: 

  1. We create a community and therefore a support network for those who are new (outside their current direct reporting lines).
  2. Ideally some 30 – 40 newcomers are onboarded together in one go.
  3. Initially we suggest that an onboarding initiative will be for 5 days, and after 6 months there will be a 2 day reconnect (can be a mixture online / in person).
  4. The main objective of onboarding is that newcomers ‘start thinking and acting like a CEO’. There you go, begin with the end in mind! The onboarding program triggers new hires to think about themselves as a leader of the company, meaning that it offers a journey of discovering their own potential, and maybe even start aiming to go beyond. There will be an operational part as well covering their first job, policies, performance management and working in teams, but the main focus will be on managerial long term issues. For now, let´s cover these.

Thinking like a CEO, will need to cover 4 basic principles that will drive the immediate engagement of your new hires:

  1. World dynamics. Pay attention to what’s happening around them. So world political – and economic mega-trends need to be on their radar screen. What happens in the world? For example, where is friction, unstability, havoc for that matter. Where is harmony, stability, predictability on the other hand? What are the big trends happening in the industry of the company they have just joined? Further to political and economic dimensions, what happens in Social, Cultural, Health, Technological, Religious aspects? They have to learn how to think big.
  2. Integrated company. Newcomers will take on one particular new job. Where does this job sit in the department he/she has joined? How is the department structured? And why is it structured the way it is? What about other departments? What is the total value chain of what the company is all about? Manaufacturing, Operations, Marketing, Sales, Finance, HR, Branding, Communications etc? What is it that the company actually produces and/or offers? Actual exposure to the Operational side of the business should be an integral part of any onboarding program. It is important that newcomers don´t ´´feel´´ they just took on a new job, but that they experience their new work commitment as becoming part of a total integrated company. They need to start to understand how the company they have joined, loosely said, ‘’hangs together’’. Internal (vision, mission, identity, values etc) – and external (brand, customers etc) dimensions will need to be addresses as well.
  3. Leadership. They need to start thinking about what kind of leader they want to be and develop their own leadership values, thoughts and philosophy. Once young people embark on their work life, they will most likely work with others throughout their careers. So how to work with others? How to work in teams? How to execute tasks? How to lead self and others? So leadership development should be an integral part of any onboarding program.
  4. Change agents. We inspire them to look at themselves as active shapers of the desired future culture, not just be passive onlookers or consumers of that culture. In the beginning it is understood that newcomers mainly focus on what is expected of them. Get that over and done with. However when they have mastered that, they can´t just sit back and cruise, be a “tourist” in the company. As a company you will want them to start looking around and look for things they want to change for the better. Shaping the environment of which you are part, being pro-active and moving forward, at times taking risks and wanting to implement new thoughts and ideas. That´s the mindset that makes newcomers, newcomers, and why they can be of such great value to your business.  

We are not saying that an onboarding program should focus on managerial dimensions only. We are saying however that onboarding is not just making sure a person can start and needs to fit into the environment he/she has just joined. We suggest to also include longer term managerial components in an onboarding program. As said earlier, the ideal mixture of a well-developed onboarding program, should be touching on both operational – and managerial dimensions.

We also may hand over the keys of their lockers and tell them where the canteen is, by the way ……       


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