I remember when I first joined a large organisation, I felt alone and isolated. I was given a computer and materials to read. HR told me to fill in some forms, then left me to my devices. This was not an isolated incident as I experienced the same at four other companies I joined in years to come.
Turns out it’s a way for most newbies (new hires) joining a company.
COVID-19 has made distancing even more acute in organisations as staff are unable to meet in person outside of the context of business discussions. Is productivity worth the price of camaraderie?
Onboarding programs have missed the mark for years in making new hires feel connected to their organisation. Gartner says the COVID-19 pandemic gives HR leaders the opportunity to update and improve these initiatives to set up new hires for success, according to Gartner.
“In a virtual world, it is harder, and more critical, to connect new hires to organisational culture. Functional leaders must build this bond through an onboarding program that shows empathy for those experiencing it, demonstrates values in action and plants the seeds for peer relationships,” said Lauren Smith, vice president in the Gartner HR practice.
To connect new hires to the culture through onboarding, HR leaders should do the following:
- Redesign onboarding to centre on connection, not just productivity
- Link organisational values to on-the-job decisions
- Support development of a cross-functional network
Prioritise connection over productivity
The shift to virtual onboarding during the pandemic has often created an isolating experience for new hires as live training with peers was replaced by pre-recorded virtual sessions, and Q&A conversations became FAQ pamphlets and “how-to” guides.
This focus on productivity led to new employees without connections to colleagues or the organisation’s mission and values.
Smith suggests building trust with new hires and reaffirm their decision to join the organisation. Leading HR functions are re-examining their onboarding experiences and adapting their programs with empathy in mind.
“Rather than merely acknowledging the difficulties of remote onboarding, organisations should create opportunities to integrate the new hire into the existing community and make the process simple and seamless."
"Some organizations are also mapping the new hire journey and offering personalized support at emotional junctures,” Smith added.
Gartner research noted when employees understand and feel connected to the organization’s culture their performance improves up to 22%.
Translating values to on-the-job decisions
Employers often communicate around their mission and values via several channels, including organisation-wide communications from HR and senior leadership, corporate messaging and co-workers demonstrating how their values play out in day-to-day work.
Yet, most employees do not know how to translate cultural values into what they should do in their day-to-day jobs. This problem is more acute for remote new hires who do not “see” the organisation’s values play out day-to-day in their colleagues’ behaviours and interactions.
Functional leaders must explicitly demonstrate what the values look like in action and how they translate to behaviour.
In today’s virtual environment, progressive organizations are utilizing simulations that provide new hires with the opportunity to apply company values to critical business decisions.
In these simulations, new hires team up to work through real-life business scenarios, discuss their responses and receive constructive feedback on how the responses aligned with business values and ideal behaviours.
Providing a cross-functional network
Employees are more likely to stay with an employer when they feel connected to their colleagues. The abrupt shift to a fully remote or hybrid work environment has made building relationships with co-workers more challenging.
A September 2020 Gartner survey of more than 3,000 employees revealed that 46% said they were interacting with co-workers less often since shifting to remote work; 53% of employees reported that their interactions with colleagues were more transactional rather than meaningful.
Smith suggests that managers and functional leaders can facilitate connections for new hires by creating visibility into employee profiles and offering communication tips and conversation starters.
“Some organisations pair new hires with a peer mentor at the same level from a different department or business unit. The mentors can offer a different perspective on organisational culture and provide guidance on how different teams operate and interact with each other, building positive relationships with multiple stakeholders and how to interpret the broader organisational culture,” she concluded.