The 4 foundational elements of onboarding successfully in a new role

Although it might seem more people are losing their jobs these days, when wearing my outplacement coaching hat, I have coached a number of people who have started new roles, all the way from senior C-Suite executives to early stage graduates. If you are in between jobs, have hope that this will be your destiny too.

When ultimately you do start a new role, I encourage you to think about the following so that you survive your probation period.

According to Andrew O’Keeffe, author of Hardwired Humans, we can learn much about maintaining organizational harmony by observing chimp communities.

For example, when a newly introduced chimp lacks the necessary social skills to be mindful of group dynamics, it is at risk of being attacked or even killed. Strangers are not easily welcomed into chimp communities, lest they upset the social hierarchy.

It’s been said that joining a new company is akin to a chimp being introduced into a new community. And much like an introduced chimp, if you are not thoughtful in adapting to your new situation, you could end up being the subject of hostility and rejected. 

With that picture in mind, consider what HR practitioners believe: if you are a new employee recruited from outside the organisation you will face more challenges than someone who received a promotion from within. 

As an outside hire, you are more at risk of failure because: 

  • Clarity around your role is likely to become murkier before it becomes clearer.
  • You are facing a corporate culture different from the one you experienced previously.
  • You are unknown, so face developing entirely new relationships and overcoming a perceived lack of credibility.
  • You do not understand the organisation’s flow of communication, money or information, both internally and externally.
  • But, you can take action on all of these fronts to minimise risk and give yourself the best chance of thriving in your new role.

The 4 foundational elements of onboarding successfully 

1. Contextual

When you start a new job, understandings you formed in those early, heady days of being recruited are often discovered to be less accurate. 

You see, the context of your employment often moulds your employer’s expectations of your performance in your new role. But, when you are initially employed, you are often unaware of exactly what this context is and how it translates into the reality of working in your new role. This means that once you start employment and the context becomes more evident, you must take into account what or who has come before you.

According to CEB’s study of High-Impact Leadership Transitions, you may be employed under one of five contexts: 

Smooth Sailing — The leader moves into a position according to a previously arranged transition plan under normal business conditions (3 percent of leadership transitions).
 
Replacing an Icon — The leader’s predecessor was very successful in the job (18 percent). 

Following a Train Wreck — The leader’s predecessor was not successful in the job (27 percent). 

Jump Start — A static environment where the performance of the leader’s predecessor wasn’t particularly strong or weak, but the organization needs to quickly move in a different direction (19 percent). 

Breaking Ground — The leader assumes a newly created position (31 percent). 

Using this lens, it’s clear that there are few easy transitions: less than 3 percent of transitioning leaders can look forward to a high degree of role clarity and modest pressure for results in their new roles. 

It’s critical you face up to the reality of the situation that greets you as you begin your new role. Adjust your expectations to meet those of the position and your employer accordingly.

2. Cultural 

You can think about the business culture as its “personality”. This makes it harder to grasp when you enter a new workplace as it is less tangible than formal business structures. 

Workplace culture is sometimes allowed to develop naturally. However, research by Deloitte3 shows that companies with strong, defined workplace cultures are believed to be more successful, and have happier and more satisfied employees. With this in mind, you can see how vital a strong workplace culture can be to an organisation overall, but also to you, as you progress through your career with this new employer. 

Much like your own professional development, you should expect the organisation’s culture to be a work-in-progress. And remember that it may differ between departments and divisions. 

To adapt successfully, there are a few best practices to follow:

  • Follow the lead of your colleagues in the early days.
  • Be open-minded to suggestions and approaches made by your colleagues and managers. 
  • Share your knowledge, while being mindful not to force it on others. 
  • Take note of things that are challenging for the team, and then take time to understand why they are that way before you suggest changes to the relevant processes. 

When you are secure in your position, with a good understanding of the business culture, you will be able to create more flexibility around making changes to the way things are done. 

3. Socio-political 

You must develop the right relationships as soon as possible to position you for success not only during the critical onboarding period but throughout your tenure with the organisation and beyond. It might not be the people most obvious to you who you need to build working relationships with. 

Indeed, you can never predict who will be instrumental to your success now, or further into your career. In five or even ten years, someone you work with now could be the person who hires you, recommends you, or builds an entirely new business with you. Peers and those in supporting roles can be just as influential when it comes to your day-to-day life at work, as your superiors. 

Relationship-building requires a significant time investment on your part, but an organisation is a team environment, so it’s essential you do so. After all, it’s impossible to “go it alone.” 

You should connect with co-workers in both formal and informal settings. If you’re looking for ways to make introductions, mention this to your colleagues so they can help to facilitate those new connections. You can also offer to sit in on some additional meetings. You might not be in a position to contribute directly, but it’s an ideal way to both show your interest in other aspects of the business while getting exposure to those outside your routine interactions.

4. Situational 

This element of onboarding should be the easiest to master during your probation period. The situational aspects of your new employer relate to their offerings, how they communicate internally and externally, their position in the industry and their operational structure. You must understand not only where you fit as a single employee, but where your department fits and where the company sits in the market, locally and globally. 

To demonstrate this further, let’s look at a specific example. Imagine you are a newly-hired marketing department manager. You focus solely on running your department well but fail to consider the context of where your department sits within the business. You start pursuing a new marketing strategy without informing the sales team. Communication channels between departments break down and a rift forms. The sales and marketing strategies are now misaligned. As a result, the performance of both departments suffer, and sales projections begin to plummet. 

This rift has arisen purely from a lack of context of where your department is situated in the business and how it is meant to communicate with other departments. I’d like you to consider whether you have the following understanding of your employer’s organisation. Remember to think across all levels, from customers to teams, departments to the entire company and at an industry level. For instance:

  • Where does your employer sit in the market? 
  • Who are their competitors? 
  • What is their USP and in what way does this differentiate them? 
  • How do they communicate internally with each other, and externally with customers? 

Want to find out more?

Email enquiries@career365.com.au to register to buy my latest book “Career Success. How to succeed in your new job” by Greg Weiss.

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