On-Boarding and New Talent Integration

Of particular challenge to any organization is effective on boarding and integration of mid career outside talent into their organization and particularly culture. Research has shown that successful talent in one organization often can’t make the transition to the new organization because of poor cultural fit. Cultural fit has been determined by research conducted by Spencer Stuart and other search firms to account for a 42% failure rate of new hires in the first 12 to18 months. This can be a very costly proposition for any company that does not factor cultural adaptation into their new talent integration process. A solid integration process that assists new hires in adjusting to cultural differences is essential to insure retention and ultimately enabling the new individual to deliver the expected value.

Many organizations hire talent to help them change the culture and bring in new values and behavior. Research has shown however, that hiring talent to change culture can be a laudable endeavor but often rarely works. With out some kind of conscious effort on the part of the new employer to help the new hire assimilate they will do one of two things:

  • Adapt to the existing culture because this is the only way they can succeed or;
  • Leave in 12 to 18 months due to frustration with the existing culture.

In both scenarios they are not the change agents you had hoped for.

What does all this mean to insure new hires are successful? It means companies need to pay much more attention to how they on-board talent. Organizations need to go beyond the typical orientation offered and “New Manager Assimilations”. Organizations must create a method that supports new talent for at least 6 months into their role (Sullivan ’06). If culture change is expected they must give the new hires “air cover” and support when they bump up against cultural norms that need to change. What are companies to do?

Ten Steps to provide a “safe haven” for outside talent and ensure their success

1. Ideally, you would take cultural factors into consideration in the hiring process by exploring cultural norms and conditions when assessing the prospective candidate. While few companies do this well, where it is done well it exponentially increases the success rate of the new hire (Sharkey & Eccher, 2010). In the absence of doing this step during the hiring process, cultural understanding should be step one of the on-boarding and integration process. Ideally, you have a clear picture of what your company’s current culture is. Do this in a systematic way using researched, valid and reliable instruments. I recommend using the Organization Culture Inventory (OCI) to determine the current actual operating culture. Many people think they know the culture and describe it in anecdotal terms, often not correct or rosier then the true culture. Having the undisputable facts is essential. Using a valid and reliable instrument measures the culture in a concrete way. The OCI culture profile can than be used as part of the discussion with the new hires.

2. Review the current culture in light of your values and highlight the “disconnects”. Most organizations are striving to achieve their values so it is common that there will be disconnects between what is espoused and what is reality. Be clear on this point if there are “disconnects”. A disconnect is not bad it is just reality. A gap, if you will that the organization is trying to close. Make this explicit to the new hire so that there is not a sense of disappointment when they don’t see the value in action.

3. Assign a coach who will have a dialogue with the new hire on how to navigate the culture. Discuss the culture that the new employee likes and elements that may be difficult.

4. Use this discussion as the basis for personal action plans for each new hire. These plans will guide the employee through out the on-boarding and integration phase.

5. Ensure the new hire selects several organization stakeholders that they can check in with periodically to measure how they are doing. These stakeholders can be other peers, subordinates and always their boss. Stakeholders are essential partners in supporting success and also in measuring impact of the new hire integration process. Stakeholders should be included in the action plan and actively enrolled for support.

6. Enlist the hiring manager so that they can support the assimilation and be aware of any challenges. Involve the manager as a stakeholder in the personal develop plan. Hiring managers can provide a great deal of “air cover” if they are aware of the plans. They can be a principle source of advice in navigating the cultural landmines.

7. Form coaching circles of new employees for discussion and support. Circles should be no more than 4 to 5 individuals to share their development plans, experiences and strategies. Circles should meet at least every 2 weeks for no more than 1 hour to not waste time and go for duration of 4 to 6 months. Discussions should focus on the personal action plans, progress made in assimilation, observations, challenges and strategies for success.

8. Assign a master coach to the circles. The coach helps facilitate the dialogue so that the group does not get bogged down. Each coach should use a process to keep the discussion moving and provide suggestions and insights into actions to be successful. Master coaches can be either internal or external or a combination until internal staff is ready to take the task on independently. Master coaches help to drive accountability to the process and show organization commitment and support.

9. Measure progress periodically and formally at the end of the 4 to 6 month period. Look at the performance of the new hires who participated in this process against those that did not. What are their performance ratings at the end of the year? What is the retention rate over the next 12 to 18 months? Collect data from the hiring manager, the new hire and of course stakeholders.

10. Communicate success and review the process to fine tune it for the next round of new hires. Use former members of this process as stakeholders to the next wave of new hires. Also consider them for master coaching roles. I have seen work with great success.

Following these steps will guarantee strong loyalty and retention of the talent that you bring in from the outside. They will more quickly feel part of your organization. A process such as this is much less expensive than having a new hire “flame out”. Once someone “flames out” you have to go back to the drawing board, spend more money on search and risk the demoralizing of existing staff. Worst yet they may poach some of you existing talent when they leave. It is worth spending time creating a world-class on-boarding and integration process that ultimately saves you time and money. Plus your company will be branded as a great place to join!