Reimagine Onboarding: Improve Cultural Fit with Enterprise Social

June 27, 2013 Michael George

onboarding

In our last Reimagine HR post we began to discuss how employee onboarding today is moving beyond “orientation” to help assimilate new employees into the company and culture using innovative social and mobile technologies. In this post, we are going to dig into how enterprise collaboration can “teach” newcomers your organization’s cultural norms in ways individual employees can’t.

HR leaders have always believed that providing new hires with a “work buddy” (a current employee who knows the ropes) is a great way to improve early success by giving new employees a go-to resource for questions on how things (really) work.

Now imagine each and every new hire with an army of work buddies, all dedicated to answering questions about how the business operates, pointing out the best resources to get things done, offering advice on how to navigate the organization, and acting as cultural role models available anytime, and from anywhere.

This is what cloud, mobile and social technologies can bring to onboarding. Many in HR are finding the ability to instantly (and continuously) connect new employee to individuals, groups and teams that can answer questions and model corporate behavior/culture is far more effective in the socialization process than simply introducing newcomers to the employee handbook, an online resource library, wiki, etc.

Cultural Misfits

Typically employees who don’t meet the organization’s expectations with regard to level of skill or competency are transitioned out of their jobs fairly quickly, and without much consternation. Underperformers are easy to identify and often easier to justify letting go of. Likewise, if an employee steals, lies, or mistreats a customer there isn’t much time and effort spent ruminating on what actions to take. However, when there is a cultural misalignment between the employee and the organization, that’s often quite a different story.

The misfit employee may not be underperforming, but he or she may be annoying to co-workers and difficult to work with, constantly commiserating about management’s “follies,” or working against the values of the organization in subtle ways. Managers and co-workers will put up with this kind of behavior for a time, but eventually either the employee or the company will concede there is a mismatch, at which point separation isn’t far behind.

Was it a bad hire? Should you have asked more behavioral-based interview questions? Should you have asked about the candidate’s favorite movie, or dream job, or their definition of a ‘team player?’ Perhaps, but just like the skills needed to successfully perform the job can be learned and developed, so too can cultural behaviors and attitudes be honed through socialization.

You Must Teach New Employees Your Culture

Socialization is a process by which new employees learn the expected values, norms and behaviors of the company they work for. New employees don’t come to the job understanding your culture any more than they understand your business processes, regardless of how many times they nodded during the interview.

Over and over studies have shown that cultural fit is ranked among the most important criteria for both job seekers and employers and often plays a greater role in the organization’s hiring decision than the candidate’s skills or experience. Yet all too often, organizations limit their investment in new hire socialization to a nicely printed copy of the organization’s mission, vision and values in hopes that those principles are in alignment with the sensibilities of the newly hired worker. Of course they are!

No respectable organization has as their mission to build shoddy products, or as a vision to increase pain and suffering in the world, or a set of values that promotes screwing over the customer. Likewise, few candidates make it through the screening and interviewing process with a track record of dishonest or reckless behavior.

The problem with this level of communication about the organization’s culture is that employees don’t really learn HOW the current (successful) employees are living those values in the context of their daily work. And, while mission, vision and value statements are necessary to hold the organization accountable to its aspirations, they hardly ever reflect the true culture of the organization.

New employees don’t learn things like how to gain influence with key stakeholders in the organization, what level of risk is acceptable in decision-making, who to include in project collaboration, or if copying everyone on email is cool by reading the corporate vision statement, they learn these behaviors by watching and working with existing employees.

Using enterprise social (including mobile) tools to enable meaningful collaboration offers a unique experience to new employees that cannot be replicated in the physical workplace. That experience is that each online interaction is governed by the acceptable norms of the company culture because it happens with complete transparency and provides an opportunity for instant feedback from the tribe.

In other words, if someone takes a cultural misstep (inappropriate comment, doesn’t deliver on time, forgets to include key stakeholders, isn’t living up to the company values, skips a meeting, speaks negatively about a customer or coworker, and on and on) dozens of collaborators will point out the behavior and remediate the issue out in the open. Not only does this keep your current employees aligned with the company values (as there will always be watchdogs), it instantly teaches new employees what’s in and out of bounds. So newcomers aren’t just exposed to a limited number of experiences they might have early on when they are testing the cultural bounds of the organization, they see dozens if not hundreds of interactions where citizens of the company are holding one another accountable to cultural expectations.

And HR isn’t excluded from the collaboration and interaction. Does this mean you should monitor or approve employee’s online postings and comments? The old fears of inappropriate speech, bullying, confidentiality, security and so on from the corporate intranet days have been proven to be much ado about nothing. Today, HR can play a positive supporting role while allowing authentic interaction to play out with the trust that a much more effective policing function will be taken up by the employees themselves who will always provide a compass back to the organization’s cultural true north.

One of the most effective ways to enable social collaboration in your organization is through the use of a social intranet (corporate intranet + employee portal + enterprise social). Right now Appirio is working with IHRIM (International Association for Human Resources Information Management) to collect information on how emerging cloud, mobile and social technologies are influencing organizational attitudes and investment in a new generation of social intranets. If you’re interested in participating, you can take the survey here: 2013 Appirio Employee Portal/Social Intranet Survey.

We will be publishing a free survey report, as well as presenting a webinar with the results in September so look for your opportunity to sign up for those resources at the end of the survey.

The topic of social intranets is heating up and sure to be on the minds of HR and IT leaders for the remainder of this year and heading into next. We will be covering the topic extensively so be sure to subscribe here to keep up to date on the latest thinking on how the social intranet movement will play out in HR, IT and across the business.

In the meantime, let us know how you socialize new employees and/or ensure cultural fit with newcomers in your organization by adding your comments below.

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