7 December 2022
This post describes how organizations shape their ONBOARDING, the integration process of new employees. Is it the intention to fit the new employee into the dominant culture within the organization, or, on the contrary, is it about emancipating the new employees and allowing them to reinvent the organizational culture?
We want to trigger your reflection around these four questions :
Current Practices ?
If you make a list of all the actions and initiatives that organizations are taking today to integrate new employees into the organization, then this is the tentative ‘top 10’:
A few things that stand out :
Dominant Ideas on HR websites ?
Do you expect that your new hires will leave within 12 months? (…) The cost for replacing an employee is over 25 percent of their annual salary, so it is very costly when you don’t get it right. (www.peopleadmin.com)
Onboarding is the initial process of assimilating new employees into an organization. www.icims.com
Many of the most successful organizations have automated their onboarding programs to streamline their talent acquisition initiatives and increase their return on-investment. www.icims.com
You have put a lot of time and energy into recruiting new employees.
Of course you want to keep the talents you bring in. (…) With an onboarding program you ensure that new employees learn everything from your organization.(www.buroheron.nl)
In the course of this phase, discuss the job and competence profile with the newcomer: for example tasks, result areas, competences, induction period, evaluation criteria …(www.talentontwikkelaar.be)
What is the theory in use ?
Many of the above Onboarding activities are in themselves, perfectly OK: painless and preferably paperless administration, appoint a mentor, a buddy, your computer and passwords up and running before you even step in the door, … who could be against that .
But if you look under the surface and dig a little deeper, you notice a number of ‘underlying assumptions and values’ that are very much in line with the ‘contain & control paradigm’:
Tout le monde savait que c’était impossible. Il est venu un imbécile qui ne le savait pas et qui l’a fait. (Everybody knew it was impossible. Than this nutcase came by who didn’t understand that, and he did it.) Marcel Pagnol
In real live, as well as in the ‘onboarding guides’ or infographic about onboarding on the internet, it is very difficult to detect an onboarding process that shows a clear ‘generative’ character. Actually, there are two ‘variations’: either one sees it mainly as an administrative, informative process, or one goes further and provides for networking, training and induction in culture. But even in the latter case, it is still about ‘we will tell you what we expect from you and what you should do’. The new employee is not himself an ‘actor’ in determining what his contribution to the organization and organizational culture can and will be.
New Employees: Assimilate or Emancipate?
You rarely perceive the idea that ‘new people’ can be a trigger for organizational change and that the organization can also learn to embrace ‘diversity of ideas, approach, passion and expertise’ and allow itself to be ‘changed’.
A lot of research has been done into onboarding and it regularly shows that even the ‘basics’ are not ok (contracts, the equipment of the workplace, etc …). But research results are sometimes also interpreted unilaterally ‘from’ the perspective of ‘manageability and simplification’. A study by Vlerick and Talmundo was interpreted as follows on the MT website (www.mt.nl):
“As many as 66 percent of the respondents say they have too little information about specific tasks, expectations and desired results. 64 percent complain about the lack of clarity of their role”
You can see that as a problem. But, from a generative point of view, that is not necessarily bad news … The problem here is not that there is role ambiguity, that is normal if you still have to create that clarity for yourself. The main problem is that the organizations involved have raised the expectation that this clarity is possible and will come from them. They fail to teach people how to deal with this lack of clarity and the unpredictability of what they will be doing in the organization in a few months’ time. Nor do they prepare them for a situation where they will be ‘looking for their place’ probably the rest of their career (in a fast changing and unpredictable environment)
What are the consequences ?
Broadly speaking, that all means you are offering a very little degree of freedom for the newcomer (and actually everyone else too) to think expansively and divergently. It has a lot of consequences that do not benefit the organization’s ability to change.
What to do differently?
To develop a generative onboarding process, you can either use existing and commonly used methods ‘differently’ or you can devise specific methodologies that are generative. You flip into ‘contain-control’ when you start from the idea that the ‘individual’ must be assimilated to the existing culture. To ‘unlock talent and innovation” you have to assume that the individual who enters the community will change and enrich that community and that culture. If you want to further develop diversity, creativity, capacity for change, etc. in the organization, ‘assimilation’ is not a good idea.
If you recruit a ‘peacock’ to bring diversity and new blood to the land of the ‘penguins’, you should not require the peacock to act like a penguin from now on.
A far from exhaustive list with some ideas:From Experience
In fact, the approach for ‘new employees’ should be, like for everyone else, focused on ‘autonomous motivation’. How can we create such a culture (job, processes) that people become self-starters and develop autonomous initiatives and projects according to their talent, energy, passion and expertise (and involve other people from the organization) that for them are the best possible contribution to the ‘shared ambition’ of all stakeholders and amazing learning opportunities.
When developing activities for your onboarding process, you can consider these three ‘properties’ as essential for a generative approach:
This is a selection of documents from HR consultants in which organizations are advised about onboarding. It is noticeable that almost all of them start from the control paradigm. Almost never, you come across the idea that onboarding can also be intended to help new employees enrich and change the organizational culture. People start from the status quo and not from the need to reinvent the organization. We have not yet found any articles that explicitly use the ‘corona experience’ to think generatively about onboarding. It is still about ‘how can you assimilate people remotely’.
- Virtual onboarding: How to welcome new hires while fully remote. LINK
- Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success. SHRM Foundation’s Effective Practice Guidelines Series LINK
- Integrating New Employees to the Workplace. LINK