Change is hard for any individual. It’s even more difficult for companies. In changing company culture, you aren’t just trying to get people to work differently, you are trying to shift the way a collective group sees the world and how they choose to navigate it based on that perception. Organizations that recognize the need for changes and successfully implement them are able to easily navigate the challenges they face. Those that don’t change are doomed to fail.
When it comes to changing company culture, most of us tend to first focus on current employees. We give them new values, new processes, and sometimes even new leaders in order to help them see and live the new culture we want. While a focus on current employees is essential, it can cause you to overlook one of the most important groups of change agents you have – future employees.
Future employees aren’t yet acclimated to the current company culture and therefore won’t be resistant to the changes you want to introduce. On the contrary, they can become your champions, active supporters of the new culture who will help build, strengthen, and share it – but this can only happen if you onboard them correctly.
Onboarding is one of the most effective ways to support change efforts because it creates a system dedicated to preparing new employees to enter your organization and actively execute your transformations.
For example, back in my early days in HR I was recruiting for a team that had isolated itself from the rest of the organization and was underperforming. To address this we focused on hiring and onboarding people who could help change the culture from within. Within six months the team had changed dramatically. They were more engaged, more open, and more productive. Onboarding was more effective in initiating change than anything we’d previously tried.
It Starts with Recruiting
In using onboarding to facilitate culture change you should start by looking at your recruiting processes. Every aspect of recruiting, from your website to interviews communicates your culture. People will apply only if they are aligned with it. If you immediately present prospective candidates with the new culture they will automatically apply (or not) based on how well they are aligned with your vision. This is a great way of filtering people out who don’t believe in the culture you are trying to create while simultaneously filtering potential change agents in.
During the recruiting process don’t hesitate to tell candidates you are in the process of engineering a culture change. Feel free to ask them if they’ve been through that before and/or if they are comfortable dealing with opposition and working to sell the new culture to fellow employees. Doing so allows you to prime your new hires and better prepare them to join the organization. If you are clear about the kind of people you need, as well as the fact that they are entering a company that is shifting its culture they will be well prepared to support your change efforts.
Dedicate Part of Employee Onboarding to Culture
George Bradt, in writing for Forbes, shared how JAMF Software has made culture integral to its onboarding process. New hires spend a full week of their three week onboarding learning about JAMFs culture and history. The result has been a 90% retention rate of employees and 95% retention of customers.
What JAMF is doing is all about strengthening an existing culture, but fostering culture change works similarly. If you focus a significant portion of onboarding on culture, but highlight where the culture currently is and where you want to take it new hires will have an easier time navigating the new company while also supporting the new culture you need. One of the biggest causes of early employee turnover is a mismatch between expectations and reality. If your onboarding adequately prepares them for the challenges associated with organizational change they will be more likely to stay.
Train New Hires to Be Change Agents
Simply educating new hires about your new culture won’t be enough. You will also need to train them on how to spread the new culture to the teams they will be joining. They will invariably face resistance, but a proper training will ensure they know how to deal with it.
In training new hires to be change agents focus on helping them to understand that many of their new colleagues will be uncomfortable with or even opposed to the shifts that are taking place. This will mean that they must be patient with setbacks and accept that not everyone is yet ready to adopt the new way of working.
At the same time, they will also need to know how to sell the new culture to sceptics. They’ll need examples from other companies, data and research, as well as clear illustrations of how the changes will help all the employees enjoy their work more as well. By arming them with this information and training them on how to share it they will be able to help changes move more rapidly and easily throughout the organization.
Remember to Track the Data
If you are going to use an onboarding program to facilitate change be sure to track it. Send surveys out to new hires to see what their experience is and track metrics related to the changes you want. You may also want to survey managers to see if they are seeing changes as well. This will help you to assess the effectiveness of your efforts and use the data to improve.
Onboarding isn’t the only part of a successful culture change, but it is key. If you are able to effectively prepare new hires to enter your company and assist you in creating a new culture the changes you strive to create will be deeper, more effective, and more lasting.