As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. That’s why onboarding is so critical to your efforts to foster an inclusive workplace for diverse employees.
Onboarding is the process during which the diverse candidates you’ve worked hard to recruit and hire will first intersect with the inclusive culture you’ve promised them. If there’s a disconnect between their expectations and the reality of your firm’s cross-cultural diversity, it will be almost impossible to regain their trust. New hires may leave right away, feeling they’ve made a mistake in joining your team. Even if they stay, they’ll be wary and more likely to look for further evidence that your diversity and inclusion are illusory than to fully invest themselves in their work. Neither outcome will give your efforts to be diverse and inclusive the energy they need.
For the record, inclusivedescribes a culture in which all employees are comfortable being themselves and contributing fully. In other words, it’s about unleashing the diverse perspectives and ideas borne of experience shaped by age, gender, race, culture, sexual orientation, aptitudes, abilities, economic status and other factors that shape who we are. Making a sincere effort to recognize the value of those factors is key to an effective onboarding process.
Here are five steps to help make certain your onboarding process fosters diversity and inclusion:
1. Put Diversity and Inclusion Front and Center
If your organization is actively working to foster an inclusive culture, don’t be shy about that during onboarding. Instead, make it clear that you value inclusion and invite new hires to participate in that process.
· Define inclusion. Don’t assume that everyone will interpret inclusion the same way. Define what it means in your organization. Provide specific examples of what it looks like.
· Explain why it matters. Help new hires to understand the value of inclusion. How will the organization be stronger, more effective or more profitable if it’s more diverse and inclusive?
· Open a dialogue. It’s important to include a session on inclusion in your onboarding process, but focus less on information and education (such as statistics about the workforce or the latest research on the value of inclusion) and more on getting people talking. Inclusion is an ongoing effort, and now is the time to help diverse people become comfortable sharing their own experiences and listening to those of others.
2. Focus on Settling In, Not Getting to Work
If you were preparing to send an employee on an expat assignment to Mumbai or Buenos Aires, would it really make sense to begin by explaining the parking regulations in the new city? And yet that’s precisely the way many employers go about onboarding. After all, there’s work to be done. And so the focus is on getting new hires productive as quickly as possible. They learn key software programs and the attendance policy and deadlines for current projects. What they generally don’t learn is how to succeed in the organization. New hires remain outsiders because they don’t understand the context for what they’re learning, especially when many come in from diverse cultural backgrounds. To avoid that, help new hires settle in:
· Share your strategy. Every employee can make a more effective contribution when they know what the goal is. Don’t keep it a secret.
· Share the org chart. New hires inevitably hear a lot of names; don’t keep them wondering who those people are or what role they play. Sharing the org chart also helps employees visualize where they fit in and how they contribute.
· Share the history. Help new hires understand how (and why) your organization started and how it got where it is.
· Teach the lingo. Every company relies on its own acronyms, buzzwords and slang. Be sure new hires understand what everyone else is talking about.
3. Explain How the Team Works
New hires work forthe organization, but they work ona team. Therefore, it’s crucial that they understand how the team works. Specifically, focus on:
· How decisions are made. Decision-making is shaped by culture, so help new hires understand whether decisions are made quickly or slowly, whether decisions can be changed after they’re made, and who makes decisions (are they made by a leader or is it a consensus culture?). New hires should also be crystal clear about how they are expected to contribute to cross-culturally diverse teams.
· How information is communicated. Is communication formal or informal? Is it frequent or infrequent? Is it egalitarian or does it follow a hierarchy?
· How to collaborate. What are the expectations for cross-functional collaboration? How will individual contributions be evaluated?
For cross-culturally diverse organizations, you can get a lot of value for how to think about those three points (and many similar ones) by reviewing the eight Dimensions of the CultureWizard Intercultural Model®, an overview of which can be found here.
4. Assign a Mentor
New hires are more likely to succeed when they work with a more experienced mentor. Assign new hires to someone who can help them navigate the culture and coach them in behaviors that will help them stand out and succeed.
Because the true value of inclusion is a diversity of viewpoints, avoid matching new hires with similar people. Yes, new hires will want to see that the organization values people like them, and to see that all people can succeed. But a good mentorship program rests on helping new hires get perspectives that are unfamiliar and even challenging. And keep in mind that this relationship should not be one-sided: If you pair people effectively, the mentors will learn as much as the new hires.
5. Don’t Neglect Your Existing Employees
The goal of diversity and inclusion initiatives is not to assimilate new hires into the culture. Instead, it’s to keep the culture evolving and growing to incorporate new perspectives and leverage new ideas. Therefore, no onboarding process should focus only on new hires. Your existing employees deserve support, too. Help them:
· Understand who the new hires are. Who’s joining the organization? What skills, experience and perspectives are they bringing to the table? How will the organization be stronger with them here?
· Include everyone in the dialogue. You’ll never get full inclusion unless everyone participates fully, so be sure that existing employees can share their perspectives, too. And don’t censor them. If employees are uncomfortable – or have critical things to say about your diversity and inclusion efforts – you need to hear those thoughts, too.
· Help managers manage. Many employers wrongly assume that anyone can manage. In fact, managing takes very specific skills – and that’s especially true when managing a diverse team. Be sure that your leaders understand the dimensions of culture and have the skills to effectively communicate with people very different from themselves.
· Set expectations. Don’t assume that anyone knows what successful inclusion looks like or how they should behave. You don’t want to get into a situation in which employees genuinely believe they are being inclusive and then tell them they’re falling short. Make it clear from the outset what you expect. And make it measurable, not vague and subjective.
Effective onboarding won’t, all by itself, result in an inclusive environment. But managing the transition between outsider and employee is vital, and done well it lays the groundwork for the next stage: fully engaging your diverse workforce.