On-boarding: Critical to every leaders success with Ralf Neuser

LS International

This episode of the career success podcast we are joined by Ralf Neuser to discuss the on-boarding process for new hires. The onboarding process is a key factor to the success of every new hire and according to the SHRM Foundation which is a nonprofit affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management, half of all senior-level outside hires fail within the first 18 months. Ralf will  give some tips on how to make sure all new hires into your team are successful.

Lauren: Hi, I’m Lauren Stiebing and welcome to this episode of the Career Success Podcast. Today we will be discussing the onboarding process. All of us have started a new job at least once, so you can all relate to how you felt that day. I’m sure you can immediately have a great or not so great feeling. The onboarding process is a key factor to the success of every new hire, and according to the SHRM Foundation, which is a nonprofit affiliate of the Society of Human Resources Management, half of all senior-level hires fail within the first 18 months. I’ll be joined today by Ralf Neuser to discuss this topic and to give you some tips on how to make sure all new hires into your team are successful. Welcome Ralf!

Ralf: Welcome Lauren! Thank you for having me.

Lauren: I’d like to start off by getting a bit of background on yourself, if you can tell us so the listeners will understand who we’re speaking with today.

Ralf: Okay, great. My name is Ralf Neuser, I’m 50 years old, and I’ve acquired a lot of work experience. I started my career in one of the “Big 5s” consultancy firms, Accenture as a change management consultant. And after 8 years with them, I joined different companies to gain some “real” industry experience, not only experience as a consultant. So, I worked for companies like Krones, and for companies like a big German retailor called Tchibo. I have worked for the FMCG company Danone in different HR and leadership positions. I also worked abroad around Europe, in the US, and in the UK. Right now, since 2006, for over 12 years now, I’m self-employed and own my own business in managing senior leadership development. It’s a leadership development program, assessments and onboarding. And on the other side I do organizational development, strategy and corporate identity. Which, I would say is more related to hard facts, whereas the leadership development is more on the soft part.

Lauren: Well, thank you for that introduction. And I was mentioning in the introduction, from the SHRM foundation, that they wrote up a report that stated half of all senior-level outside hires fail within 18 months. From our experience in headhunting, that’s definitely a crucial period. And I think if we look at the onboarding process and how it’s conducted, I would love to get your insight on that and how that can be improved. So, why is onboarding failing in your opinion? Or what’s missing in the onboarding process?

Ralf: From my experience I would say there are 4 major reasons. The first one is the job was not as expected by the new hire. So, when you are a new hire, you have a certain understanding of the new job. A certain budget, a certain team, certain competences in your team, and you may expect certain support lines that are in the processes that are key to access information and so on. And when you’re actually starting them on the job, you may find something totally different from what you have expected. And for different reasons. I’ll give you an example. One of my clients who signed the contract. Between signing the contract and starting the position, there were around 3 months. Within these 3 months, the CEO changed of the new company. With this CEO, the budget and the direction of everything changed. So, when he started the job, he faced a situation with almost no budget, with half of the team cut, and a totally other situation when the job actually started. So this is one reason. Another reason is a cultural misfit or cultural shock. It’s especially valid for senior hires. When you are a senior hire, you have lots of experience with certain company cultures and are used to certain ways of working. And then when you are joining a company, you find a different, totally contrary culture, and find totally different other ways of working, then you may think about leaving this company very soon. I’ll give you an example. If you are used to strong standard processes, clear responsibility, quick decisions and so on, and then you join a culture with lots of discussions, with no standard processes at all and long-lasting decisions processes, even floating responsibility. And you say well this is not my company. I’m thinking about leaving. The third reason, for me is weak or missing leadership or to no onboarding at all. I think we will talk about that a little bit later. But to onboard new hires is crucial leadership task. If a leader is not taking this task, he is not doing his job. If he is delegating it to HR or to one of his team members, he is not doing his job. So, this is in my opinion the most common reason why onboarding is failing. And the fourth one is low trust in top management. Again, this is especially valid for very senior candidates. As a senior candidate, when you come to a new company and you start and expect something like a direction, a strategy. Especially for companies in very competitive markets. And if you start and then find out that they have no idea how to lead this company, and the top management has no clue what to do or what is the strategy. And then you are thinking about maybe going back to your old company especially when they are trying to rehire you, it causes a bit of trouble and you leave the company. So, these are my four reasons.

Lauren: And I know you mentioned both HR and hiring managers or the leadership in the business, but let’s start off with HR as most people will ultimately think when you bring up this topic: Okay this is an HR topic. But let’s start with HR. What can they do to improve this?

Ralf: For me, the role of HR is the facilitator of the onboarding process. HR is not responsible for the onboarding process. He’s not the owner. HR has to ensure that all of the transactional administrative topics like personal data, access to information, company car… even IT equipment, Data and drive accesses and so on. And they have to be done as efficient and convenient as possible for the new hire. Perfect onboarding is on the day you are starting your job, everything is ready and works 100%. I have had this experience only once. I think that most companies cannot promise this 100%. Besides that, HR should have the clear picture or plan or onboarding program of how it should look like the onboarding process. HR should support the hiring manager and fully plan the role of the leader in the onboarding process. And they should define how a great onboarding experience of a new hire should look like. When HR is not responsible for the onboarding process, I would say HR is the designer, and the hiring manager, he’s the one who owns the process.

Lauren: Okay, and we look at then the hiring managers. I think some of our listening, probably some of them will become a bit nervous because they’ll see that they haven’t been doing it or the ones that have. But what can these hiring managers take away that they can be doing in this onboarding process?

Ralf: Well Lauren, I think it’s quite easy. The hiring manager as the owner of the onboarding process is to ensure that it’s a great experience for the new hire. It depends a little bit on what kind of new hire you have. But, it starts directly after signing the contract. The hiring manager is the one that you contact to their new hire. He stays in close contact and if the new hire has any questions before he actually starts on the new job, he can turn around and find the answers and give him the answers. It’s a great opportunity for the hiring manager to build trust from the beginning. And it’s a good idea to involve the new hire in relevant topics before he actually starts on the job. But all prior start date activities have to be balanced carefully because the new hire is still in his old job and has to deal with the job and to finish it. From that, I would be very careful with that part. But from Day 1 in the company, it’s crucial, I really mean it, that the hiring manager is taking a lot of time to take care of the onboarding candidate. And he should onboard him on topics like vision and strategy. About culture, about the team, about the ways of working, about the do’s and the don’ts, networks, and main stakeholders, which are important for the new hire and the team and future career. The hiring manager takes care that the new hire can adapt to the new culture. As said before, one of the reasons that onboarding is failing is because of clash of culture or misfit of culture. For a new hire, it’s, also a great opportunity to have a fresh view on the company and the great resource for new ideas. The business of the hiring manager should use this resource. Therefore, the hiring manager should ask the new hire in any opportunity he has about his impression, about his views, what can be done better. Or you can say stop, start and continue. It’s very very useful to do it.

Lauren: Yeah, I think it’s always a great opportunity as you were saying to continuously be improving and making it better and not always just doing the same thing. The process can always be improved, and new things can always be added. In your experience, how does the perfect onboarding program look?

Ralf: Well I think, as I said before, the perfect onboarding program should always be flexible and fit to the company culture. So, the answer would be there is not one perfect onboarding program, but I can give you some ideas. When I’m defining onboarding programs for my clients, before we start, we already talk about a little bit about how it’s very important that the administrative and transactional tasks have to be done 100% and ready for Day 1. It’s good to have these kinds of tasks before the new hire is actually starting. There are some apps in the market that you can use for those transactional processes. It’s all to get to involve him before, but before it has to balanced so that he can rest a bit from his old job and he can finish his old job before he starts his new job. And of course, maybe a no-brainer, all required equipment tools have to be 100% working for when the new hire is ready to work. Including things are there like a desk chair, a laptop, everything so that the candidate or new hire really feels welcome. Feeling welcome is a good word and can include things like a small gift, or maybe a little party, or little dinner or lunch or whatever. Something that will make the candidate feel really good. And it’s really good to think about this, or to say in another way, you have to be interested in the candidate, and what he really likes. If you know something he likes, maybe he likes sports, then you can give him as a gift some tickets for a football game or whatever. So that would be great. And a hiring manager should spend lots of time on new hires to explain the strategy, the direction of the company, of the organization and its team. The purpose if you have that, the values of the company and the organization. You should give them the big picture and the real DNA of his new employer. You explain culture, like politics and formal and informal networks, and you should give background information on team members and agree on a “get to know” plan for the most important stakeholders. What I mean is what are the most important stakeholders for the new hire. You should discuss this with the new hire and perfect would be if you already had scheduled some meetings especially with the top management so that he can get to know these people. Another good idea for the onboarding program is a mentoring program and you should always do a little expectation track in the beginning. So, the first time you see the new hire in the company, ask him what are your expectations in the onboarding program are and what are my expectations when you are starting here. And external onboarding support for very senior hires. Because if you are a senior hire, you will have doubts. You will definitely have doubts about the job, about everything that’s going on, and you’ll have questions. Maybe if you have questions or challenges, you will not go to your boss or your peers or whatever. You need somebody you can reflect with. And this is where the onboarding coach can do a perfect job. With team building, you have to get to know your team, and maybe you do a “get to know” workshop. You should also have a frontline experience. I’ll give you an example. When I worked for the German retailor Tchibo, the first thing that they did with me, they sent me for 2 days in their shop and I worked as a shop assistant. It was quite interesting for me to have the frontline experience and have a better understanding of the whole retail processes in the business. And well, these are some of the ideas I have.

Lauren: Well Ralf, thank you for all of your input. I’m sure the listeners will have some great takeaways. And even if they implement just one or two of these ideas, every improvement is great.

Ralf: Thank you, thank you. Thank you for having me on your podcast. It was a pleasure.

Lauren: Yeah, and for the listeners, I will link Ralf’s LinkedIn profile in the summary, so if you have any questions for him you can contact him directly. Or as well feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for joining us!