Onboarding: One Way Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast

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In his book, Work Rules!: Insights From Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead, Laszlo Bock (Google’s former SVP of People) describes a ground-breaking project that set out to determine the best way to increase Noogler (new Googlers) effectiveness. His research found that the onboarding process, that period when new hires come up to speed within the organization, was critical to the success of the employee and the team. He suggests that small changes in behavior can make a big difference, particularly at the front end of a project or career.

As part of his project, Laszlo and his team created ways to use “nudges” to make people happier and more effective.  The experiment included an email that was sent to managers the Sunday before their new employee’s first day, which included the following checklist:

  • Have a role-and-responsibilities discussion.
  • Match your Noogler with a peer buddy.
  • Help your Noogler build a social network.
  • Set up onboarding check-ins once a month for your Noogler’s first six months.
  • Encourage open dialogue.

For USV students, this checklist lines up with how counselors and faculty prepare for each semester. Each class has its own objectives and measures. Initial class meetings are designed to share those. Just like at organizations like Google, students who know what is expected of them have a better chance of success.

For instance, while formative courses focus on skill development in which students are required to follow specific instructions, advanced project courses ask students to define and accept their roles on teams in which processes and outcomes vary. In each case, success comes from finding ways to help the class achieve its goals. Helping others succeed leads to very creative outcomes.

Being a buddy and being part of a network supporting other students in class creates a collaborative culture in which roles and responsibilities can be figured out early on. How students discover their own methods for engaging others has been highlighted by graduates as key to their own improvement, as described by Stanford Hospital’s Erich Schmidt and Workday’s Aaron Cohn. Open communication between peers and mentors in classes, clubs and on campus is what sets USV apart.

As graduation approaches and preparations for job interviews take center stage, many students are thinking through the first days at work for a new employer from an applicant’s perspective. Increasingly, employers hire recent grads for a 90-day period in order to validate their decision. This onboarding period serves as a time for both the organization and the new hire to adapt to each other and develop a relationship that goes beyond just the function of the job. It is also an opportunity to extend the USV culture into new organizations. Our graduates can be instrumental in improving onboarding practices at the organizations that hire them.

As mentioned by Michael Schneider, a human capital specialist who concentrates on talent management, specifically employer branding, recruiting, onboarding, and talent development, “Not only did implementing onboarding best practices help my candidates outlast their probationary periods, they flourished. Many are still with the same employer until this day and have made significant impacts. When done correctly, onboarding can reduce new hire stress, increase engagement, and boost productivity.”


Image from Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock, available on Amazon

While at Google, Lazlo Bock added a 15-minute segment to new employee orientation that encouraged pro-activity. The results amounted to an immediate 2% increase in productivity by new hires. This one attribute applies to students as well. It’s a practice that can be put in place early on and refined while in college so that during a probationary 90-day onboarding process, it is second-nature. Building a culture of learning within a team environment might be one of the most valuable attributes a graduate takes with them into their career.

Google has invested in the research and development of methods to maintain a culture that enables them to continue to lead one of the most dynamic industries ever. Their new hires are now told they will find what they need and will fit in with Google’s entrepreneurial culture when they:

  • Ask questions, lots of questions!
  • Schedule regular 1:1s with their manager.
  • Get to know their team.
  • Actively solicit feedback- don’t wait for it!
  • Accept the challenge (i.e., take risks and don’t be afraid to fail… other Googlers will support you).

Two weeks after orientation, new Google hires receive a follow-up email reminding them of these five action steps that make such a difference. Successful USV graduates regularly comment on how they developed similar practices while in college, and how these practices have subsequently contributed to their own career success.


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