The Great Onboarding

While people are leaving jobs in droves, we'll start welcoming new employees. How prepared are you?

Carlos Perez is an Alignment Strategist and Coach at Purple Sector Strategy. He helps product teams get aligned around a shared vision through facilitated workshops and coaching. Book a free consultation to learn more.

We have already started seeing signs of employee upheaval in our organizations. The "great resignation" has arrived. As the pandemic wears on (and hopefully winds down), waves of employees are taking a hard look at their lives and seeing how work fits into their new realities. Many are deciding to leave their roles in search of new challenges and opportunities. The attrition, while painful now, will lead to new opportunities and growth in our organizations. Leaders can't dwell on what was lost and need to prepare for the future. Will this exodus result in the Great Onboarding? If so, once we’ve attracted new talent how will we effectively onboard them so they can make meaningful impacts in our organizations?

While new employees can bring sparks of hope and optimism with fresh ideas and perspectives, it can be challenging to enable your organization to realize that potential. Inertia, scepticism towards new ideas and people, and lack of structure can easily derail best intentions. It's no wonder that onboarding can often go sideways. When it does, it's common for the prevailing organizational norms to suffocate the chance of new ideas from taking hold. More than just losing out on meaningful contributions that you need sooner rather than later, poor onboarding can cause that new hire to seek a different opportunity, leaving you to deal with significant costs.

A common pitfall is treating onboarding activities as a haphazard series of meetings. Typically, this looks like inviting new hires to existing meetings so they can learn hands-on and meet peers. While this isn't completely off-base, those meetings don't actually exist to onboard people. Sometimes this might be aided by a to-do checklist, often pieced together by HR, that focuses more on HR processes than it does on what matters most to the business. Through these laissez-faire attempts you can see how easy it is for the newcomer to get sucked into existing organizational norms, focusing on putting out the fires of the day, rather than bringing change that will extinguish the fires once and for all.

We want our new employees to succeed. We want to learn from them and we want them to learn from our existing teams. For a product team, there is a lot of information about customers, users, revenue models, roadmaps, team processes, let alone the product itself, that needs to be transferred to the new employee (and that's just scratching the surface!). The more effective we are in transferring this knowledge, the sooner we are allowing that newcomer to contribute in meaningful and impactful ways. This is too important to leave to chance.

As we build habits that drive alignment across our organizations, a natural side effect is being able to have meaningful conversations with new employees. You would be amazed at how much this can help to accelerate someone's onboarding. This gives them the chance to learn about the organization — the knowledge that exists, as well as the gaps. They also learn how their teammates speak about and react to the direction and goals of the business. As I've mentioned in previous posts, starting with the big picture is a great way to initiate these conversations. Moving from the landscape, to the business model, and a review of its customers and users are great areas to ground and structure these critical conversations.

At Purple Sector Strategy, we've seen the effects first hand of helping a new hire accelerate their onboarding as we align teams around a shared vision. They are able to absorb a lot of information in a structured way that helps them retain it. With a solid foundation of the critical components that drive the business it highlights where the newcomer can make the most impact and where they need to focus their efforts.

As we see turnover increase over the next months, know that it's an opportunity to find resets. With your investment in new people helping to drive your business forward, you will need to take the necessary care to ensure their success for their benefit and yours. Don't let the existing processes and norms dictate the outcomes of your onboarding. With intent and a little elbow grease you can make large strides in how you ensure the successful onboarding of newcomers, while levelling up your entire organization.