After reading a great article about increasing engagement by giving your staff the opportunity to grow and develop using their job with you to help them reach their NEXT job, I was reminded of a practice we had at a prior company which was similar, and also very successful in surprising, long-term ways.
We were not a tech company, but rather a scientific consultancy that started over 20 years ago. However, we broke a lot of rules and common practices when setting up and running our organisation. When we hired junior staff to come work with us, our clear expectation was that they would spend 2 or 3 years with us, and then most likely head back to graduate school or on to something else entirely. While working with us, we would expose them to many different disciplines and work activities, giving them the opportunity to learn broad skills as well as the unique specialities that came with each subject area. Usually people found their passion or niche within that 2-3 year time and if deciding graduate school was their next step, we would help them with reference letters, contacts at various programs, and send them off with a rousing farewell.
Of course we always hoped the best and the brightest would return to work with us after their graduate programs; we made it clear we always hoped they would check back with us first, and many did.
This strategy worked really well for us in so many ways. In addition to our talented junior staff, we welcomed back great higher-level staff we already knew and loved, and who were able to hit the ground running when they came returned. Because our work required and benefitted from working closely with academic researchers, those former staff who stayed in academia and didn’t return to work for us ended up many times collaborating with us on projects, as well as funding opportunities, research papers, and conference presentations. And also unexpectedly, these new professors also sent us their best students to begin their work lives before graduate school, and the cycle continued.
We have an active unofficial alumni group (of which I am now a member) which is impressive in scope and loyalty. I recently met with a small group of former and current coworkers 20 years on from when when we started, to catch up with our work and family lives. Needless to say, it was delightful, and these ties continue to link our lives and work opportunities, with new possible collaborations forming yet again at this meeting.
By expecting and planning for the long-term goals of our staff, not only did we create a network of talented scientists who continue to collaborate together, but also continue to help each other professionally and personally long after their working lives crossed.
When you help your staff grow and succeed beyond the bounds of your organisation, not only will they likely stay longer with you and contribute more when they are there, but they may also contribute in the future to your organisation and your life in delightfully unexpected ways.
Here is the great article I mentioned above:
Autumn is the time for new beginnings...
Since many of us grew up starting a new school year each September, the increasingly shorter days and crisper air are reminders of the time of year for new pens and colourful folders, fresh starts, and the sense of the possible. Remember how welcome your teachers made you feel? It is good to remember that feeling of anticipation for the possible future when your newest employees join your organisation. They too have that excitement and eagerness to do the best they can, and to get involved and be contributing as soon as possible. How can you help make sure that happens?
Onboarding can capture the magic of new beginnings
Except for my first retail job, one of the things I have rarely experienced, or practiced for that matter, is a really effective onboarding experience, (onboarding is the new way to say employee orientation, in case that term is unfamiliar). In my first job working for a small retail business selling hundreds of cheeses, I was flooded with a lot of information my first few days, but that was OK. I was obviously not going to be able to learn it all at once, and it was clear I was expected to ask questions. My training was really good, in measured doses, with supervision when needed, and I was able to contribute even a little from the first day. During a lull some days, the owner would teach us all something new, like how to cut a whole, unopened stilton (using an amazing wire cutter), or how to sharpen the different knives. And of course we had to taste everything in order to learn! (yes, I still love cheese, and for awhile I could identify over 200 cheeses by sight, smell and texture alone).
But after that, during a career of office-based jobs from small non-profits to large corporations, none of them provided what I would call an exemplary training and orientation process. From having busy or absent managers, to reams of dull paperwork to read through for 'background', to being thrown into projects with no explanation, it was always something to get through rather than a process of systematically learning the values and ways to do things in the new organisation.
In perhaps the worst of my onboarding experiences, my first 3 days of work in a large company were spent in an HR office filling out new employee paperwork (before computerised files), receiving and being told to read through several three-ring binders of corporate manuals, and then given long technical reports to help me 'get up to speed' on what would be my first project. I was in a large 3 person office by myself, and the main person I talked to each day was the guy bringing around the mail once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
In those pre-email days, our in-house communication memos and outside mail were delivered by a guy pushing a cart around the hallway. Instead of looking at a computer, imagine all your emails being printed out individually and delivered twice a day in stacks for you to read! I asked the mail guy loads of questions every time he came around, about how things really got done, and what some of the words meant that I was reading; that was how I learned he was a great source for understanding actual company practices as well as useful personnel gossip.
Not having any experience with good orientation processes, I didn't know there were better ways to become assimilated into a new job, only that mine had been fairly ineffective. Now of course there are numerous articles, books, courses and of course software packages to help you set up more systematic and successful onboarding practices. Since we know so much more about the effect of onboarding on long-term employee satisfaction, most organisations pay a lot more attention to the whole lifecycle of employee experience, including the very important first few days and weeks for a new employee.
Setting up a productive and effective onboarding process can enable your new staff to feel welcome, comfortable, able to understand your organisation values and practice norms, as well as to begin contributing from that very first day. Just like at primary school!
Linked below are a few examples of articles providing ways to ensure successful and productive onboarding. Have you had good or bad onboarding experiences? I'd love to hear about some of the good ones, and why it worked well. Share with us in the comments below!
Some links to check out
Plan for your new employee
This article focuses on developing a plan before your new staff arrives at your front door. Broken into three time periods: before the new staff arrives, the first week, and within 30-90 days, the suggestions for what should be covered during each time period provide a roadmap for organisations to consider. Some tasks may not make sense for your organisation; your orientation should always be consistent with your organisation's values and style. This is a useful place to get started.
What do new hires want? Infographic
This infographic provides a great summary of what new hires want when they start their job, and how you can help them believe they have joined the right organisation as soon as possible. "They want to learn how to do their job and the inner workings of your company. In short, they want to start doing meaningful work and contribute fast!"
Talk to your people
This article is about improving engagement in your organisation, and there is no better place to start than at the beginning: "Organizations can better engage their people by having a strong sense of values that people can align with. People accept jobs based on these values, and by the same coin, become disengaged when they feel they no longer align with or are unable to influence them. If you want to drive engagement, understand the reasons people join your company. Then, continue to keep a finger on the pulse."
Fun friday workplaces
Today's workplace photo features a cozy meeting room that softens a square, potentially bleak white room. Looks like a great space to work on your own, to collaborate with coworkers, and would be a great place to bring your newest employee to meet some of their colleagues. (photo from onoffice magazine)
Hope you've had a great week and make sure to take deep breaths this weekend! If you are in the US, happy Labor Day weekend!
As always, let me know if you have any questions, or post your comments below!
Start at home....
This week's post focuses on recruiting, and ways to bring the best possible potential candidates to your organisation. Recruiting can be a bit of a minefield, and if you are growing quickly, can create lots of growing pains for your staff, and numerous unintended consequences. I hope the information and articles linked here give you some useful food for thought, and ideas for you to implement in your organisation.
5 Suggestions for finding and keeping your talented staff
Finding and keeping talent is a common issue with growing companies – and can take a lot of time and energy away from getting your paying work done. In an increasingly global market for talent, where people can work from anywhere, you may need to be more creative about how you attract top talent to your organisation, and keep those exceptional staff you already have. If the way you have been finding your staff isn’t working as well as you would like, here are 5 suggestions for finding the best quality staff you need to grow your organisation.
1. Does your website and other communication appeal to your target staff?
If the way you communicate to your customers isn’t relevant or it doesn’t show a commitment to values that resonate with your potential staff, it will be a lot harder to convince them to work for you. Make sure your website reflects the personality of your organisation, and the values behind the products or services you provide. Check out http://careers.socrata.com/ to see an example of an inspiring careers page (disclaimer: my daughter works there.)
2. Does your current staff know you are looking for more talent?
Are there incentives for them to refer people they know to your company? Reminding staff that you would love to have more great people just like them working at your company is always a great place to start. Small hiring bonuses can go a long way as well to encourage referrals. Bonuses can be cash, vouchers for nice restaurants, or other benefits that make sense for your business and staff interests.
3. Do you have a presence where your target hires are?
If you hire University graduates, do you attend career fairs on campus? In addition, developing relationships with professors in the disciplines relevant to your skill needs may lead to interesting collaborations and projects, as well as give you an inside track with soon to be graduating staff. If you hire computer engineers, do you go to Meetups and conferences where your potential staff spend time?
4. Is your workplace appealing to your target employees?
Does your staff have flexibility in where they work based on the type of work they are doing (e.g., small conference rooms for meetings versus quiet space for heads-down concentration)? Can they work from home? In general, the more autonomy and flexibility your staff enjoys, the more likely you will be able to attract and keep top quality employees.
5. Do you offer industry-leading perks for your current staff?
Perks don’t have to be extravagant – we can’t all provide Google-level benefits. The more benefits you offer that are tuned to the needs of your staff and reflect the character and brand of your organisation, the more unique and personal your offer to all staff will be. Free healthy snacks, event tickets, periodic free lunches, outside or inside game breaks, continuing education opportunities…use your imagination, and better yet, ask your staff! At one company I worked for, staff were given 20 hours paid time each year to work on journal publications, as this was an important professional achievement in our industry, and of course benefited the organisation as well.
Some additional resources & reading for you
Who do you need on your staff?
This article from IDEO offers up some types of talent you many want to consider including in your suite of on-staff expertise. As mentioned in the article, the brilliance of these roles is that they can be embodied by anyone in the organisation.
This article looks at some of the factors that lead to employee satisfaction as a method for creating better, more motivating and satisfying jobs for current and your future staff.
If you hire university graduates
This Harvard Business Review Article provides some surprising strategies for how to reach the university graduates you want to recruit. (note: I wrote the article above listing my 5 strategies before I read this!)
Fun Friday Workplaces