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Using the Experience + Customer, Company, Culture (E + 3 Cs) Orientation Framework to Improve Your Onboarding Program

In one of my previous roles, I was taught my company’s contracting and legal process on Day 1. It was important stuff, but a skill I wouldn’t actually utilize for another three months, by which time I had completely forgotten all the juicy details that would allow me to do the task effectively.

This isn’t unusual. In truth, many of us struggle to work out what’s really relevant to share with new hires during their orientation session. Yes, there are always some non-negotiables regarding safety and compliance (I’ve seen as many as 70 compliance modules for new hires at one financial organization – yikes!), but outside of that, what do we actually need to cover in Day 1?

Day 1 Matters

Let’s start with what we’re trying to achieve on Day 1. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and, in most cases, you can’t expect new hires to get fully up to speed on Day 1, either. It’s best to stay focused on what you can achieve. In all likelihood, your new hires are starting their new roles both excited and apprehensive, with thoughts like:

  • “I can’t wait to start!”
  • “Have I made the right decision (for me and my family)?”
  • “I hope I fit in.”

On Day 1, make every effort to do two simple things – and these things only. Anything else beyond the following may be a waste of your valuable time and resources:

  1. Re-affirm new hires’ decision to join your company
  2. Amplify new hire excitement

The way you achieve both of the above is by engaging your newest employee class in the compelling story of your business. To do that, I want to offer a proven framework that has helped many organizations to create a great first impression and energize tomorrow’s talent: the E + 3 Cs framework.

Dissecting the E + 3 Cs Framework

Step 1: E = Experience.

This is the underlying foundation of the framework and isn’t exactly rocket science, but it’s amazing how many companies lose sight of the experience when engaging new hires. You have to remember that on Day 1, it isn’t just about the information you are sharing, but the experience you are delivering. The adage “you only get one chance to make a first impression” is around for a reason!

I met with a well-known creative agency that employs some of the brightest creative talent in the world. The agency’s orientation session was a 3- to 4-hour slog through the business via a number of PowerPoints, with leaders of the business didactically taking turns to address the group (with varying skill) from the front of the room. Hardly reflective of the culture they were looking to foster, right?

This highlights a common mistake: The belief that access to senior executives trumps all. In reality, this can be a significant drain on important senior resources, isn’t very scalable and offers an inconsistent experience for new hires.

By all means, introduce new hires to senior talent. But, informalize that interaction either through Q&A forums or social events. The one rule of thumb to make your content more engaging (and scalable, to boot) is to design learning to be experienced around the participant table, as opposed to from the front of the room. Instead of leader-led, make the experience facilitator-led. There’s a significant difference for the participant. Ultimately, it requires the participant to “switch on” and drives intellectual and emotional engagement.

Step 2: C1 = Customer.

As Simon Sinek, British-American author, motivational speaker and organizational consultant, would say, “Start with why.” It doesn’t matter if you are a B2B or B2C organization, we all have a customer of some sort, and that customer forms the compelling reason your business exists. What is the problem you help your customer solve? What would life look like for your customer without the services/products you provide? If you can get the voice of your customer in the room (done very well via film as a medium), even better. For many people who won’t have direct access to the end customer, being able to see the impact of your company’s services can be very compelling.

Step 3: C2 = Company.

It can be extremely overwhelming to join a new organization. True assimilation can be greatly accelerated by generating an understanding of the “whole” – how all the different pieces of the puzzle work together to collectively serve customers and achieve the organization’s vision.

Start by engaging your participants in the history of the organization. This is hardly new. In fact, traditionally, this is the most boring part of orientation – a timeline of dates on a slide no one will ever remember. Done right, participants should gain an appreciation for the relevance and importance of the milestones and can match those key dates with memorable cultural references (interactivity here is key!).

Next, explore the organization’s vision and high-level goals. Some organizations shy away from strategy conversations stating it’s “too soon” or that “new hires won’t get it,” etc. Yes, the heavy details can wait, but a holistic lens can help people understand how they connect and contribute to strategic goals.

Finally, help orientation participants understand how the organization structure supports the goals. Please don’t use an org chart, no one will ever remember it – you need to make it stickier than that! By sharing the holistic picture, you’ll give your new hires an advanced ability to network and collaborate across silos toward shared goals.

Step 4: C3 = Culture.

Leaving the most important to last, culture immersion can often mean the difference between a happy and engaged employee, and someone who checks out early. Unfortunately for most new hires, navigating a new company’s culture can feel like trying to learn a bunch of new secret handshakes. If we don’t feel part of it, we start to resent it and sometimes even actively work against it. Additionally, we often see organizations struggle to maintain a purposeful cultural direction when new leaders enter the business with a conflicting cultural mindset. If recruited leaders aren’t on board with their new company’s culture, it can have a snowball effect – dismantling years of careful culture crafting in a few months, as people follow and replicate the actions and behaviors of their new leaders.

You need to immerse all hires – at every level – in your desired culture, and demonstrate how that culture supports strategy (always ask the question, “Culture in support of what?”). Explore the actions and behaviors you reward and admire, and conversely those that aren’t acceptable.

Finally, culture is something that can’t be mandated. If you are thinking of standing at the front of a room and telling an audience about your culture, you can forget about any behavior change. Take your participants on a journey of self-discovery that allows them to “connect the dots” to their own value systems.

Yes, Creating an Effective Day 1 IS Possible!

Organizations who follow the E + 3 Cs orientation framework can expect to see an improvement in metrics, including new hire engagement, speed to competency, collaboration and retention. In my experience the E + 3 Cs framework will improve your onboarding program, and represents approximately three hours of content. Three hours is all it takes to set up new hires for success on Day 1.