Think back to your first day at your current job. Were you greeted at the door with fanfare and taken for lunch? Or, were you shown to your workstation and given an employee handbook? How did the way people treated you make you feel about your new workplace? How did this affect your subsequent behaviour at work?
If you’re like most employees, the messages you received during your onboarding period have affected how you feel about your workplace today. Employees draw conclusions about an organization from their first impressions of it, which are often correct. They can see if and how the company’s values are demonstrated, as well as it’s perceived mission and purpose. New employees also ingest important information about how everyone relates with each other. In short, they get a decent read on the workplace culture by watching what is happening around them.
A few years ago, I joined a new a training organization. I remember the first interaction with my new supervisor. Our conversation was ostensibly about my first assignment, during which the following became obvious:
- My supervisor expected me to work hard.
- She was going to be affirming.
- We were going to have fun.
After some time working with this training company, I realized that these principles were not at all random – they were a direct result of the culture, which was intentionally fostered by the organization. I did my very best to meet their expectations – burning my candle at both ends, yet showing up as energized as I could so I could perform for the team. I did not want to let these cheerful, affirming, fun, and hard-working people down.
This experience and others have taught me that we all quickly absorb our workplace’s culture. As leaders, the culture we build matters, because it has a profound effect on everyone’s behaviour – even our own.
Leaders are always shaping culture. In our book, The Culture Question, my fellow writers, Randy Grieser, Eric Stutzman, Wendy Loewen, and I discuss what we’ve learned from our consulting practices, our 2,400-response survey, and our own experiences at ACHIEVE. While things like onboarding and hiring practices matter, you can only onboard employees correctly if you also have supervisors who model the culture you desire and speak about. If you want to take your organization’s culture seriously, you have to start with the employees who are already working for you. You need to communicate about the role employees have, model how they ought to work together, and discuss and live out the values and mission of the organization – and you must do so all day long. That way, when a new employee joins your team, your on boarding practices will have the power to bring them into your culture quickly because your words and your actions will be congruent.