This is part of a two-month series on the importance of company culture. Find more posts about culture here.
So you’ve hired someone who is a good cultural fit. That means they’re predisposed to follow your cultural values, but it’s not a guarantee. How do you introduce new hires to your culture and ensure that they’ll dive into it wholeheartedly?
Ever shown up for your first day at a job, been given a desk, and then left to your own devices? It feels very lonely. It’s like the first day of school. Do you even want to be here? Maybe this was a mistake.
If you want a new hire to embrace your culture, you need to give them a warm welcome to it. That doesn’t just mean first-day desk decorations (though that doesn’t hurt)…it means spending significant time orienting them. One of the most important things? Sit down every new hire and walk through your company’s cultural values (if there are too many to walk through, then you need to pare them down anyway). Talk about why these values are so important to the company.
Yes, this sounds corny. It is a bit corny. I often break the tension by admitting it, but emphasizing why it’s important. Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, describes it in his quintessential culture book, Delivering Happiness:
“A customer e-mailed the other day. He said he loved our customer service…[and] we should one day start a Zappos Airlines.
We realized the biggest vision [for the company] would be to build the Zappos [culture] to be about the very best customer service. Maybe one day there really would be a Zappos Airlines that would just be about the very best customer service and customer experience.” Pgs. 120-121
So tell your new hire: companies with powerful visions and consistent behavior win. We can’t watch every employee all the time. We can’t MAKE people act how we want. So we have to focus on cementing a culture of people all trying to do the same thing, so when a curveball comes – good or bad – we know how to handle it (instead of all running in different directions).
I really like to use real-world examples when going through these values, especially if they involve the company or myself. Showing them the time that I was acting like a jerk brings home the message of empathy much more than just saying it.
I can’t print my @livenation tickets because their website is a POS. Seriously irritated right now. They basically have stolen my money.
— Evan Hamilton (@evanhamilton) January 21, 2011
(One of my visual aids. Turns out I was logged into the wrong account & freaking out unnecessarily. I’m not normally a jerk, but I seemed like one then. Lesson: have empathy and understand the person’s actual problem. They’re probably a decent person enduring stressful circumstances.)
Give them a real view of the organization
Telling new hires where you come from can not only help them feel more welcome, but help them do their job well. Talk about your history in depth: the good and the bad. Talk about who the founders are and why they’re here. Point them to some of your blog posts that exemplify what your company is about or highlight important parts of your history. Emphasize that they’re helping to write the next chapter.
More importantly, have them get to know your customers. No matter what department they’re joining, understanding your customers will be useful. When we started having new hires answer support tickets 2.5 years ago, it was fairly rare. Now at least 40% of companies I talk to have this built into their new hire processes.
(Depending on your values, you could easily extend this to other departments as well. Is your company extremely design-focused? Have new hires spend a day or two shadowing your designers and learning about how they think.)
Make sure they (really) get to know the whole team.
Human beings focus a lot on immediate connections within our companies: our relationship with our boss, our direct reports, etc. But having weak (or no) relationships with the rest of the staff can breed alienation and cause conflict down the line.
We invite the whole staff to a game night whenever someone joins the company. There’s free beer, a game (Apples to Apples is perfect for this, but darts works in a pinch), and a ridiculous sort of quiz we invented. It gives people who may never be in the same meeting room a chance to connect as human beings.
This includes remote employees. It’s easy to forget them, but they’re just as important as local employees and often feel disconnected (or even disenfranchised). Treat them right and schedule a Skype call for new hires to meet them. It’s not as good as a party, but it helps a lot.
A word of warning: don’t let these events slip. We have in the past. Having the new hire game two weeks after they join is less effective and a little awkward. At that point, people have their initial judgements and the excitement of meeting the new person is gone.
I hope this helps! Feel free to ask any questions you might have about our cultural orientation practices.
Of course, if your company doesn’t live your values then all of this goes to waste. Make sure to keep your eyes out for warning signs and consistently reinforce your values (more on that coming later this month)!