The art of rolling out the welcome mat

31 Jan 2017

The art of rolling out the welcome mat

Recruitment success doesn’t end with simply hiring the best candidate, says Andrew Bulloss of Odgers Berndtson executive search, it’s just as important to properly integrate them into their new organisation.

Onboarding. I hate the term. It sounds so clinical. Yet, that is what many firms call the process of integrating a new employee into a business. If you have lived and worked in the US then you may have heard of “organisational socialisation”, which is even worse.

Regardless of the terminology or geography, most people would recognise onboarding as the induction or welcoming process for new employees, but it’s more than that. What I’m really interested in is how new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills and behaviours to become effective members of an organisation. Businesses expect new employees to get up to speed quickly but often don’t give the information, knowledge or access to relationships to make this happen.

So why am I writing about this? Over the last 15 years in recruitment and then moving into executive search I have seen my fair share of placed candidates. Our success as a firm is intrinsically linked not just to hiring the right person for the right role, but more long term, what happens next to that individual and the quality of their performance over years, not months, is what matters. For this reason, it’s important that we support the organisations we work with and the individuals they hire through us during the ‘honeymoon’ period and beyond. If we can provide insight to give every new senior hire the best possible chance of succeeding then that’s in our interests too.

Why do organisations invest considerable time, effort and money in finding the right person for a position, make them feel wanted and needed throughout the interview and selection process, but then fail to give them the time, resource and knowledge required for them to succeed from day one? Fortune magazine suggests that 40% of executives who change roles fail in the first 18 months. That seems alarmingly high and perhaps avoidable.

This is even more unforgivable at a senior level where the time spent ‘courting’ directors and senior executives is even more demanding, time-consuming and often with multiple stakeholders involved in the business. Additionally, a quick senior departure has significant implications internally on both the culture and the immediate team and then also externally due to the inevitable press fallout that comes with the unexpected resignation of a senior executive. In a public business, the implications on share price are obvious.

Of course, many organisations have very effective induction programmes and not all departures in the first six months of someone’s tenure with a business can be blamed on a poor induction process. Companies do just sometimes make bad hires that don’t work out.

“Businesses expect new employees to get up to speed quickly but often don’t give the information, knowledge or access to relationships to make this happen.”

We did a quick straw poll of 30 senior executives and HR professionals to get their views. Every single person we spoke to agreed that a good induction and onboarding programme seriously motivates staff into feeling like the company has invested in them and helps them to achieve success sooner. Many people would say that a senior executive shouldn’t need too much hand-holding to succeed and to an extent, I would agree with this. That being said, there are a number of basic onboarding principles that can be implemented by employers which could reduce the risk of a quick and painful senior departure. Much of this is common sense, but how many of these do you adhere to as an employer?

  • During the interview process, be honest in your appraisal of your firm, the expectations you put on people, the ambition of the company and the culture. Don’t sell it as something it is not. It will soon become clear when your new employee starts and this sets the wrong tone from the start.
  • Don’t be tempted to add in an extra remit to the new employee’s role among them signing the contract and starting the job. The view of “they are new and won’t kick up a fuss” is not acceptable.
  • Find time for the hiring manager and new employee to meet prior to the start date. The new employee will be keen to impress and may want to share knowledge, networks and referrals of talent (providing this does not break any non-solicitation clauses) that could prove useful. It will also show that you value their opinion and knowledge.
  • Reiterate on day one why the individual has been hired into the business, especially if they bring a new skill set to the organisation that is likely to have a big impact. Don’t overdo it though; their ego might get the better of them. This is also a good time to set clear expectations on what they personally need to deliver, which strangely, is often overlooked and was commented on by many of the people we spoke to: “No-one actually told me what I had to deliver!”
  • Do the basics well. Make sure they have all the necessary ‘tech kit’ available from day one and access to people who can help them with early teething issues. Get all the process stuff out of the way early (payroll, annual leave, etc.). A welcome gift is a nice touch.
  • Hiring managers should commit to at least weekly one-to-ones in the first month. Support, advise, reiterate expectations and clear blockages.
  • Provide dedicated time with a variety of people around the business, not just HR, to get to grips with culture, values, company style and ambition/strategy. The culture piece is best done with people who the new employee may not be working with directly.
  • Facilitate meetings (ideally pre-start-date) with all critical stakeholders of their role (especially internal) – don’t let the new employee find out too late that they missed engaging someone crucial. Prioritise this if you know there are going to be certain challenging individuals internally who might not have bought into the hire of this new employee – this process of forging critical relationships should not be seen as a rite of passage.
  • Identify the need for internal sponsors, mentors and coaches as well as external mentors.
  • What is important for the new employee to get their heads round quickly? How are decisions made? What is the ‘need-to-know’ information? Is there a handover file from their predecessor? How do you help them interpret data that they might not be used to, especially commercial data and key performance indicators? How can they identify the signals from the noise?
  • Give them at least the first month to “find their feet”, even if they are someone who “hits the ground running”. That is not to say you can’t set clear and stretching objectives – just make sure these can be achieved with the resources available so they feel like they get off to a winning start. When they do win, celebrate this publicly.
  • If the candidate comes from another industry then find ways for them to engage with other people in your sector quickly, either from within your company or across external industry groups.
  • If possible, consider using all the information gathered about a candidate from the interview process (personal motivations and drivers, character traits, strengths and weaknesses, results of psychometric evaluations and personal details) to develop a tailored onboarding plan. In addition, feed this information into their personal development plan and appraisal process (which in itself should be aligned to key business pillars). The interview process for senior execs is likely to be lengthy, in-depth and informative, don’t waste the opportunity to use this information to you and your new employee’s advantage.

Finally, induction and onboarding does not stop after 30 days and is not the responsibility of a select few. The more people who make them feel welcome the better.

Inevitably, individuals will either be successful or not. A large part of that success will come down to a new employee’s drive, determination and ambition (which of course, will all have been revealed through an in-depth selection process, right?).

However, making a new employee’s first few weeks painless, removing obvious blockages and helping them to feel special (just like you did during the interview process when you wanted to hire them) takes very little time and could be the difference between a happy partnership or another external search – and didn’t you just hire the best person available?

Originally published on iGamingBusiness | Issue 101 | November/December 2016