Workplace culture: Why great onboarding matters

May 27, 2016 Kim Schollick No Comments

If you read our last blog post, on documenting our internal culture here at Ento (and if you haven’t, you should!), you’ll know that we’ve been looking at ways to prevent the kind of cultural issues that can cause startups to fracture when they’re faced with sudden levels of growth.

One of the key things we noticed, while digging into the innermost workings of Ento, was that a significant amount of Ento’s knowledge base was not explicitly documented anywhere. We, like so many startups and small businesses, had been relying heavily on tacit knowledge to get things done.

What is tacit knowledge?

Tacit knowledge refers to knowledge that is primarily based on experience and observation. Take, for example, my oven. I know that when that whenever I’m baking, I need to reduce the cooking time by about 20%. I’m not sure why – it’s just something that I’ve observed after many an overcooked, dry cake.

Now, this is knowledge that I have gained by observation. Despite its usefulness, this piece of information is not documented anywhere, and can, currently, only be passed on to other users of my oven if I choose to share it.

When I move from this particular apartment and (and, thankfully, away from this oven and its idiosyncrasies), that knowledge will ostensibly be lost.

Tacit knowledge exists in every workplace, but it is more prevalent in smaller organisations. After all, when you start a business with just one or two people, writing down the procedures and information that you know seems a little redundant. But as you expand and add more and more people to your team, that decision to not explicitly document information and procedures can turn around to bite you.

The knowledge gap

In larger organisations, HR departments tend to rely heavily on comprehensive Policies and Procedures Manuals, which are (at least in my experience) dense tomes that almost no one reads.

While P&P manuals aren’t exactly a fun bedtime read, they are useful, as they help minimise confusion, inconsistencies and inefficiencies. The larger an organisation, the harder it is get the various moving parts working together harmoniously, and clearly defined procedures make that easier.

So while Ento is not exactly at the scale of, say, a multinational conglomerate, we’ve realised that getting some crucial information out of our heads and onto paper (or, rather, into a Google Doc) before taking on new staff is going to be imperative to success as we expand.

Good onboarding is the first piece of the puzzle

The first thing we wanted to look at was the way we onboard new staff members, and what might be notably absent from that process.

New staff are the best resource for this information, as anyone who’s been with the organisation for any notable length of time will have acquired their own tacit knowledge, which will skew the responses you get.

Fortuitously, our decision to look at our own documentation coincided with the hiring of the newest member of our team – Implementation & Analytics Lead, Scott.

Scott, ultimately, became our best resource in this process, as he was able to tell us what, exactly, he’d felt was missing from his own onboarding.

From his feedback, we were able to ascertain that our existing onboarding process was missing the following:

  • A comprehensive ‘starter kit’, outlining the crucial info all new Ento hires need to know in their first few weeks
  • An Ento ‘crash course’ program, to get new hires comfortable with all aspects of our software as soon as possible
  • General and role-specific objectives for the first few weeks, so new hires can feel confident they’re on the right track

The first 30 days in a new job are critical for new hires. The Society for Human Resource Management has found that as many as 4% of new hires resign after a disastrous first day. They also found that 1 in 25 people will leave a new job because of poor (or nonexistent) onboarding practices, and a significant percentage of new hires will leave in the first six months.

It’s clear that taking the time to create and implement great onboarding practices, is in everyone’s best interests. It helps new hires feel more connected to their peers and the business, and prevents management from having to invest time and money in endless rounds of recruitment.

At Ento, we want to make sure our new hires feel like they’re part of the team and the culture from day one. We never want to be the kind of company that hands a new hire a generic binder of policies and procedures on their first day with a vague direction to ‘have a read through’.

Our first step, in improving our own onboarding, has been to create our new onboarding kit, which we email to new hires a few days before they start. (If you’d like to view it, you can see it here.)

As with all things, perfecting our onboarding is going to be a process, and we’ve only really begun to scrape the surface. That said, we’re committed to developing and implementing an industry-leading onboarding process over the next few months. We’ll be documenting each step of the way on our blog – because we firmly believe that every business, regardless of size or industry, should have the knowledge and resources to onboard their staff successfully.

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