If your organization is "Teal" - or even working toward that goal - chances are you operate much differently from the norm. That's a great thing! However, working differently means you'll need to train people differently. You want your employees to understand how the organization operates, what it means to be self-managed and how that's achieved, and how things may be different for them than what they're used to at other companies.
Onboarding is a big job that takes a lot of time, energy, and practice to get right, but it's also the most important thing you'll do. What employees see upon first joining the company can color how they see things for years to come, so it's vital you do all you can to properly manage their first impressions and initial expectations.
While "onboarding" often entails the entire process (such as filling out paperwork, getting a work computer, and being introduced to your new team), in this article, we are approaching just the training aspect. We'll share a few tips on what to consider when it comes to your onboarding training and simple things you can do to make it more effective.
Common Onboarding Mistakes
- No training at all: While having no formal training is common for startups with a handful of employees, it's imperative to have for medium or larger organizations. Without having a dedicated process for bringing on new hires, you run the risk of causing or worsening the very problems you likely currently work so hard to solve or prevent.
- Not immediately required: While some organizations do their onboarding every quarter and have all employees who joined during that time join in, it's not something we recommend. Onboarding training is meant to set employees up for success, but is also there to make sure all new employees are aligned with the colleagues they will be joining. If an employee has already been working for months prior to receiving their training, it will seem more like a required class cutting into their busy work schedule and less like an opportunity to learn about the company they are heading into. They will have already learned what they need to know and will have already come up with their own conclusions for how the organization operates. One of the many benefits of onboarding training is setting the initial expectation - Don't miss out on that!
- Focusing on public image: Unfortunately, many companies (especially those famous for their brand/culture) focus so much on their public image that it diminishes the training. If an employee is experiencing your onboarding training, they have already joined the company, so you don't need to sell them on it. Once inside, they are going to see how things really work, so trying to control the truth is pointless. Don't use your training to try to convince the new hires how great the company is and don't tell them anything that isn't entirely true. Focus on teaching them what they need to know, answering their questions, and preparing them for what they are guaranteed to experience.
- Focusing on the "how" rather than the "why": How an organization operates is always important for employees to understand, especially if how you operate isn't the norm. However, it's far less important than why you operate in this way. It's easier for people to adapt to new changes if they feel that change is important and meaningful. Nobody wants to join a Teal organization because it's popular. They want to join one because it's more human-focused, it has a purpose more important than making money, it gives everyone a voice, or otherwise. Teach people why things are different and they'll be more attentive and bought-in when learning how to do it.
- Seek feedback: It may seem simple, but the best thing you can do is to seek feedback from those who have gone through the training. Ideally, you want feedback from all points of the employee life cycle.
Surveying attendees of the training immediately after it is over allows you to ask questions like, "Did you get all your questions answered?", "Do you feel set up for success?", and, "What do you wish had been done differently?"
Possibly even more important is to follow-up with attendees several months or a year after training, when they have now been working in the organization for long enough to experience its realities. This can give you invaluable insight, such as, "Was the organization talked about realistically during training?", "Are there things you now wish you would have been taught/told then?", and, "What advice would you give to new employees?"
- Be honest: This can be difficult and uncomfortable, but being honest, transparent, and straightforward is necessary if you want to create an effective, long-term training. Employees will always find out the truth eventually, and if they discover things are different than what they were told, it will create an environment of distrust and lead to a plethora of other problems. However, if they discover they have been told the truth from the very beginning, it will create more loyalty and respect.
Granted, this simple rule can become difficult and complicated when there is a large gap between how the company is supposed to be and how it actually is. If the company is supposed to be self-managed, but there is a lot of micromanagement that still happens, the trainers need to be honest and admit that. For that reason, the following point is mandatory ...
- Operate in a way that makes you proud of the truth: To the previous point, employees will see the truth about how things are. Some organizations have onboarding training that is fun, enjoyable, and inspiring, yet employees see something shockingly different after leaving training and going to their daily jobs. This makes them feel like they've been deceived and it's extremely difficult to undo that feeling of betrayal. Knowing your onboarding team has to be honest about what working in the company is like puts more accountability on the rest of the organization to operate in a way that prevents hypocrisy and lies.
Things you can do right now
- Establish feedback loops: Make sure you're asking employees for feedback often and that feedback is directed to those who can use it to make changes. There are plenty of websites and a plethora of software options available to help you out with this, but even a conversation or email can help.
- Have current employees go through the new hire training: Having tenured employees go through a training meant for new employees will give you insight unique to the employees who work in the organization every day. They will be quick to recognize misinformation, inaccuracies, or hypocrisies, and let you know where you need to change how you're presenting information or, even better, where the organization needs to improve in order to make those statements true. This is most beneficial when those going through the training do so voluntarily and know why it's valuable for them to be there.
- Make things simpler: The simpler your organizational processes, the easier and more effective training will be. Having a different disciplinary process for everything that could ever go wrong means you need to train everyone on all those different processes so they know what to expect. However, if you have a single process for all circumstances, training becomes easy, quick, and effective.
There is a lot that goes into bringing new employees into your organization, especially when you are focused on transitioning to a new, revolutionary way of working. However, getting people started off right means less problems down the road and a more capable, energized workforce from the very beginning.