Principles underpin the way an organisation works. Sometimes they are spoken directly, sometimes they are implicit and newcomers learn in short order ‘how we do things round here'. The formal and informal induction period ensures that newcomers learn how to relate to senior leaders, who the main influencers are, who they need to be careful of, how long they need to work each day, and whether it is acceptable to have a laugh and for how long. The list is endless, but integral to each and every group of people who spend time together.
Most organisations provide a written version of principles as part of the induction package, since it is so basic to the smooth running of the business. What is not always clear is whether this written list describes the actual principles that determine the environment or whether it is really a list of aspirations, while quite different principles reign supreme.
Principles are evoked by the heart and let us know what is acceptable, so we can sleep well at night. You can tell people how to behave and it will have some effect, but you will only have them truly onside when you connect at heart level.
This is where stories come in. The tales of life in your company will help people understand what is really important and why. Inviting long-term colleagues to induction sessions to tell their stories will do more to build a sense of belonging and understanding than any presentation. On his last visit to the UK, Mr Honda turned down a grand programme of events, preferring to shake hands with everyone who worked for him. How powerful is that, compared to the bald words that ‘Honda places great importance on the individual'?
Induction is the chance to instil company principles and the behaviour that underpins them. People then know ‘how we do things round here', how to approach problems and mistakes, and what to expect from success. If a good induction programme is one that leaves people inspired about work, can you afford it to be delayed or not to be the best use of time?
Talk with the newest recruits in your team and find out how useful the induction process was to them:
Did they go on the course soon enough?
How well did it prepare them for life in the company?
Did your behaviour match what they were led to expect?
What would they like to have known; what would they tell newcomers from their work experience?
Give this feedback to the people responsible for induction. Do this in a way that is supportive rather than critical. Have a discussion and share your thinking about what is effective and what might change. Find out how can you support them in making it more effective.
Consider what you can offer alongside the formal process:
At a team meeting talk about the team culture and what people need to know when they join. If you encourage people to be honest, this will be a really interesting conversation that will also bring the team together in a new way.
Make a list of the ‘things we do round here', both serious and fun - eg who makes the coffee in the morning through to how to deal with mistakes and how to approach the senior leaders.
Talk about how you would like to have been included when you first joined. Encourage everyone to take responsibility for including others.
Make a plan for your next recruit, remembering that they will be cautious and unsure - find the way to make them feel at home.
Allocate one person to look after the newcomer for the first week, and encourage that relationship to continue as a sounding-board in times of uncertainty.
Make a note in the diary for three months ahead to check how it went and if appropriate to make adjustments for the next person.
Consider your own behaviour:
Make sure your actions match the company/team words.
Ask for feedback from new recruits - do we do what we say?
In team meetings, using the original conversation as a base, encourage feedback about behaviour that fits well or does not fit at all - help to keep each other honest.
At Asda, new recruits are put on 100 days of induction, during which time they move around all the different departments in the company. This means that they understand the interconnections between departments, giving them a sound basis for the future. At the end of the process they are invited to lunch with senior leaders in their part of the company. One of the questions asked is ‘How well did we do? We told you at the outset about our company principles - are we as good as we said we are?' The answer is generally that they are better, which is heartening. It is really important to stay open to feedback in these areas. The status quo is incredibly tempting - after all, it probably works ‘well enough' - a phrase that is the death knell of excellence.
Richer Sounds send people for a three-day training intensive in their own facilities - a converted barn at the back of Julian Richer's home. Not only does this bring them up to scratch with the product, they bond together and begin to feel ‘part of the family'. It is a relaxed time: they learn about the work and make best use of the wonderful amenities - pool, cinema, snooker and badminton. Within a month they are taken on a tour of the main offices in London, and if they have not done so already, they meet Julian.
But this is not the end of it at Richer. Throughout these early days, managers are on the lookout for high-potential colleagues, and within three to four months, if they have the ambition, they will be on the management development programme. So induction not only provides colleagues with an excellent start to their new work, it enables the company to highlight their new leaders and pick up the baton as fast as possible.
This leads to a significant element of great companies - that they look to develop their own leaders in-house. Recruitment and induction must always have a eye for succession. Think about it. You are not looking for your new CEO when she is ready to take the job - you are trying to spot her when she is new and unformed in leadership terms.
It creates a dual pressure:
The first is to keep a flow of high-potential people interested in the company early in their careers. Because you are a great company this is really important, and as long as you are known to be a great company it is unlikely to be a problem. Good people want to make the best of themselves, and so will seek out great cultures.
Taking people primarily at entry level can lead to a lack of stimulation higher up the organisation. Looking for ways to inspire and excite people to develop and keep challenging is a vital weapon against atrophy. TD Industries got stuck about 15 years ago, and so had to seek out ways of stimulating creativity through outside contacts with the community.
All of which shows the need to keep honest and conscious about what is happening. A great company is only as great as the people involved, and if they become complacent, the culture is in danger. Some companies will address this by bringing in an external leader to shake it all up, but this may cost the culture. A strong ‘command-and-control' interim leader will create change in a stuck and unproductive business, but time may then be needed to repair the self-esteem of those who remain.
Staying in touch with a reality once you are in it is really hard - ‘You cannot see the picture when you are inside the frame.' Newcomers to the business are a perfect opportunity to look through fresh eyes - see yourselves as others see you and act on the feedback. It will help the culture stay great.