Smart executives know that an organization’s culture drives top-line growth, but it can be difficult and time-consuming for new hires to learn the ins and outs of the culture as they get up to speed. Companies are constantly searching for more innovative and effective ways for their new employees to learn the culture. For example, l’Oreal released its Fit Culture App for new hires last year, which uses “texts, videos, employee testimonials, … quizzes, games and real-life missions” to “give each and every employee, from the moment they arrive, the keys to succeed in full alignment with company values such as multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion.”
More recently, Quartz’s Leah Fessler profiled the onboarding program at the ethical clothing company Everlane, which sets the cultural tone from day one by making every new employee’s first day a “Passion Day”:
“It’s called a passion day,” says Michael Preysman, CEO of the direct-to-consumer clothing startup, which hit $100 million in revenue in 2016. Every Everlane employee starts their new job with a passion day, on which they’re given $100 to spend doing something they love. … There are no limits on what the cash can be spent on, so long as it’s outside of the office and legal. And while they’re not warned ahead of time, every employee has to share how they spent their cash upon being introduced to the entire company the following week. …
Passion days are an extension of an already hyper-individualized hiring process. Everyone who applies to Everlane has to complete a project, regardless of their seniority, to evaluate their skills. “One of our core values is to hire people who are entrepreneurial thinkers—people who are creative and passionate,” Preysman says.
Some of our expert researchers at CEB, now Gartner, had different points of view on whether Everlane’s Passion Day program is an idea worth emulating. Here’s what they had to say:
Andrea Kropp, Research Director: It’s great to see companies putting action and money behind their culture initiatives, especially when the culture they are striving for is very different from the norm. The vast majority of new hires have worked somewhere else before, even if just part-time or in a family business, so they’ve already been exposed to someone else’s culture. If you know your culture is dramatically different, you need something attention-grabbing to show new hires that you are serious and not just paying lip service to the idea of being different.
Effective onboarding often makes the difference between a successful hire and an early quit. To better understand the causes of attrition among recently hired employees, Microsoft created a survey that was given to new employees after their first week and again after 90 days to find out about their experiences and first impressions of the company. The tech giant’s workplace analytics team also compared anonymous calendar and email metadata with engagement survey data from around 3,000 new hires.
At the Harvard Business Review last week, Dawn Klinghoffer, Candice Young, and Xue Liu revealed what this investigation uncovered and how it shaped Microsoft’s decisions about how to improve new hires’ experience. One thing the survey revealed was that having a working computer and access to the building, email, and intranet on day one was important for new hires to be productive and engaged from the very beginning, making an important first impression that colored their overall experience. Their more complex analysis produced another insight: New employees who had a one-on-one meeting with their manager in week one were more successful than those who didn’t:
First, they tended to have a 12% larger internal network and double network centrality (the influence that people in an employee’s network have) within 90 days. This is important because employees who grow their internal network feel that they belong and may stay at the company longer. For example, employees who engage internally intend to stay at a rate that’s 8% higher on our intent-to-stay measure. They also report a stronger sense of belonging on their team while maintaining their authentic self.
Springtime is always a busy season for home improvement and gardening businesses, so the largest of these businesses in the US are embarking on massive hiring sprees to fill tens of thousands of seasonal positions, some of which will turn into permanent roles. The Home Depot, the largest home improvement retailer in the US, plans to hire 80,000 employees for the coming season, while its main competitor Lowe’s is looking for 53,000 workers.
To assist in this massive recruiting drive in the context of a historically tight labor market, Home Depot is launching a series of new technological tools to help it recruit and onboard tens of thousands of new employees as efficiently as possible. In a press release last week, the company described an app that allows candidates who have submitted applications to self-schedule their in-person interviews at their convenience. The press release adds that 80 percent of candidates have used Candidate Self-Service since Home Depot began piloting the app in November:
Candidate Self-Service is the latest in a series of enhancements The Home Depot has made to its application process. Last spring, the company saw a 50 percent increase in candidates after rolling out its 15-minute application, Mobile Apply and Text-to-Apply capabilities.
A the Wall Street Journal last month, Joann Lublin examined an emerging trend of boards using a buddy system that pairs new members with more experienced mentors to help them “figure out the boardroom’s cultural norms, power brokers—and even the right place to sit.” Companies using this technique include Cisco, Foot Locker, Nasdaq, and Applied Materials, and a 2016 survey by the National Association of Corporate Directors found that 33 out of 296 US Companies with orientation programs for new directors were assigning senior members to mentor them.
This buddy system, corporate governance experts told Lublin, was “virtually unheard of” five years ago but is growing increasingly common, with one expert predicting it could be in use at 50 Fortune 500 companies by 2020.
This may be in response to recent reports on board struggles, including a survey last year finding that many directors had negative perceptions of their boards. Some of the shortcomings identified in the survey include boards not bringing in relevant talent and directors not giving each other honest feedback. Based on our research at CEB, now Gartner, we have argued that the head of HR is perfectly positioned to step in and support the board with its current talent challenges.
Dissecting the goal of the buddy system, which is to acclimate new board members, we find further reason to advocate for heads of HR to increase their involvement with the integration of new board members. In their role, CHROs are responsible for talent and culture, critical areas for a new board member who needs to become familiar with an organization quickly. And this is not going unnoticed by organizations, as nearly 30 percent of CHROs tell us they are more responsible for onboarding board members now than they were three years ago. (CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can see the full results of our 2017 CHRO survey here.)
The US workforce includes roughly 9.8 million veterans, roughly 32 percent of whom served in the armed forces after 2001. These veterans and their spouses have become a focal point for progressive employers seeking to hire from a diverse and often highly qualified pool of talent that is often underutilized. Thanks in part to these efforts, as well as the work of many organizations dedicated to connecting vets with job opportunities, the number of unemployed veterans in the US has declined substantially over the past four years.
Organizations that make veteran hiring a priority do so not only out of respect for their service and sacrifice, but also because they recognize the value veterans can bring to their organization as employees. Our analysis at CEB, now Gartner, finds that veterans are slightly more productive than non-veterans and have lower turnover, by 2-3 percentage points. In fact, the average veteran employee contributes an additional $7,500 to an organization’s overall performance.
Yet despite the extra value veterans have to offer, many employers still shy away from hiring them due to misconceptions about their characteristics, abilities, and needs. At CEB’s ReimagineHR event in Washington, DC, on Thursday, Chris Ford, founder & CEO of the National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations (NAVSO), led a panel discussion on strategies for recruiting and retaining veterans with Mark Erwin, Special Assistant to the Secretary at the US Department of Veterans Affairs, Ret. Major General Paulette Risher, Chief Programs Officer at Still Serving Veterans, and Dan Goldenberg, executive director of the Call of Duty Endowment. The panelists shared a number of important and in some cases surprising facts about veterans in the American workforce:
1) Veterans Can Be Hard to Find and Don’t Always Self-Identify
The first thing an organization needs to do if it wants to hire veterans is find them. Veterans can come into the hiring process through three different pipelines: While some may come straight out of the military, Erwin explained that fully half of the 250,000 veterans who transition to civilian life each year use their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to attend college, and so will be found through campus recruiting. Countless others, meanwhile, are already in the workforce, but they are not always easy to spot.
Most of the conversation around self-driving cars has focused on how companies like Uber plan to use them to further disrupt the taxi market, as well as on the competition between legacy automakers and tech companies for AI and machine learning talent. Perhaps the most significant opportunity promised by autonomous vehicle technology, however, is the potential for automation in trucking—not to mention the most disruptive, as there are approximately 3.5 million truckers currently working in the US, according to the American Trucking Association. Automation would fundamentally change the nature of these truckers’ jobs, in some ways for the better, but could also put many of them out of work.
One San Francisco-based startup, Starsky Robotics, is currently working on developing a driverless truck, with the ultimate goal of enabling a single “driver” to manage several trucks remotely. In the meantime, however, the company’s trucks are in beta testing and earning revenue by carrying goods around the country with two employees in the cab: A trucker at the wheel and a software engineer riding shotgun to monitor the truck’s automated components.
These two sets of employees come from dramatically different cultures and differ greatly in their education, politics, life experiences, interests, and opinions, so getting them to work together effectively is naturally a challenge. In a recent profile of the startup, Starsky’s co-founder and CEO Stefan Seltz-Axmacher told Bloomberg Businessweek’s Max Chafkin and Josh Eidelson how he prepares them both for the inevitable culture shock:
This is a company that employs truck drivers, is how the talk begins. The coders are sometimes taken aback—this differs from the usual change-the-world spiel deployed in hiring meetings. Truckers have very different ideas and different experiences from people like you, Seltz-Axmacher continues. Statistically speaking, many of them are Trump voters. They will say things that you may find startling. Not in a malicious way, but because people from, say, rural West Virginia talk differently than people from San Francisco. Can you handle that?
In the December issue of the Harvard Business Review, former CEO and leadership expert Dan Ciampa offers his take on the right way to bring a new CEO on board at a company. He emphasizes the importance of a structured and extended CEO transition process to mitigate transition risks:
Most new leaders fail not because their financial or operational abilities are inadequate, but because their style or political skills render them unprepared to manage the organization’s culture. Helping new leaders understand that culture and improve their ‘soft skills’ to successfully navigate it may be the best way to increase their chances of success.
Ciampa goes on to explain the role of chief HR officers in the daily activities of the onboarding and transition process:
CHROs should aim not only to coordinate a new leader’s transition into the company, but also to become her primary counsel on people, politics, and culture. In this regard they should think of themselves as communicators, interpreters, and sounding boards. The new CEO will find it easy to obtain strategic, operational, and financial data while getting up to speed, but will need someone to explain other executives’ personal backstories and interrelationships and why and how some of the company’s more idiosyncratic practices evolved.
Indeed, a head of HR’s insight into company culture, the board of directors, and C-suite relationships offers tremendous value in this process. Candid feedback and information from the CHRO about the broader organizational context can help a new CEO cut through the formal company structures and get a sense of what’s really going on. I would go a step further than Ciampa does, however, and emphasize the strategic talent and business insights that an HR executive can and should provide during this time.