How to Avoid Major Onboarding Mistakes
“Onboarding is the process by which new hires get adjusted to the social and performance aspects of their jobs quickly and smoothly, and learn the attitudes, knowledge, skills, and behaviors required to function effectively within an organization.” – Society for Human Resources Management Foundation
The first thing consultants might think when they hear the term “Onboarding” is the indoctrination they went through when entering their consulting firm. But what does it mean when you are the person onboarding to a new firm after leaving consulting?
Every onboarding experience is unique — not only among firms and hiring managers, but also among new hires. Therefore, there is no “one size fits all” onboarding process to rely on. And in reality, most companies don’t offer much by way of onboarding at all. In practice, attention to the thoughtful onboarding of a new hire is treated as “nice to have” by companies, often with disastrous consequences. So what does this mean? That as a new hire, you need to do the heavy lifting to guarantee a successful onboarding experience.
As an executive search firm, it pains us when we find ourselves on the receiving end of calls and emails from people in our network who have just joined companies and are concerned that they’ve made the wrong move just a few months into a new position. With that in mind, regardless of the specific environment, Raines International has boiled down four key tips to improve your onboarding experience.
1. Confirm what is expected
Hopefully, you’ve gotten an idea of clear benchmarks and expectations during the interview process so you know what you signed up for. But if that somehow wasn’t covered, before your first day or early on in your new role, ask your hiring manager questions like: What is my first month or year going to look like? What would constitute a successful quarter? What do you think will be major struggles? Has this company previously hired consultants and how has that worked?
Part of this is tied to the environment you are entering. Are you joining a start-up or an established business? Is the business going through a turnaround or a growth period?
Depending on those answers, you may want to find out if there are any issues you should avoid or skeletons in the closet. This also will shape your first weeks — do you have the luxury of taking time to intimately learn the business and identify areas for growth from the get go, or do you need to be more hands on in a turnaround and stop the bleeding.
2. Adapt to your new environment and culture
It seems obvious, but many consultants moving into new companies forget that they are no longer consultants. As a consultant, you know how to stand out, but now you need to fit in.
“Whereas in consulting, you almost have to prove to your client that you’re smarter than they are so they keep hiring you,” says Brian Slobodow, an Operating Executive with Golden Gate Capital, “you can alienate co-workers with that approach. Even if you have consulted for your new company or worked in that particular industry, you often know much less than you think you do.”
Onboarding is a time to understand the nuances of your business, which will give credibility to your solutions later on, Alison Levy, Group Vice President of Strategy with Ross Stores, points out. Acting as if you have all the answers because you’ve seen it all before will cripple, not enable, your ability to lead. True Value Chief Operating Officer Abhinav Shukla suggests that humbly building a common agenda will make people appreciate the analytics and knowledge of “best-in-class” practices that you bring from your consulting.
It’s not just your working style that may change. Be mindful of interpersonal reactions and the work environment. Observe how people dress and act in meetings, and be particularly sensitive to the pace of work — the round-the-clock schedule of consulting may be out of place. Drop the consulting jargon and don’t be a know-it-all. In a nutshell: Listen and learn.
3. Communicate and build a team
You aren’t an outsider anymore. Now you need to reduce the distance between yourself and the company and create relationships that will help you do your job successfully. If you have consulted for the company before, make sure you re-introduce yourself and make it clear that you are one of the team and not “the ex-consultant we just hired,” advises Golden Gate Capital’s Slobodow.
Onboarding is a time to ask lots of questions and position yourself as someone who wants to learn from the team. Consultants sometimes fail because they gravitate toward working with leaders and managers instead of recognizing they need to rely on their team as their resource.
Not only will you need the assistance from your team, you will also need the assistance of diverse sectors of the company to accomplish your goals. For instance, if you are entering product management, Symantec Vice President of Product Management, Alejandro Borgia, says, “You need to be very tight with your engineering lead and engineering team…get to know them. Work with them closely. Earn their trust. Make best friends with [them],” he advises.
If you have the time, shadow various members of your organization to learn the importance of their roles, no matter how big or small the position. You never know when you will need their expertise. If you make the effort to get down to the plant floor as your projects or position demand, forming these strong connections with operators and administrative staff will ensure your success, Brian Slobodow from Golden Gate Capital recommends.
Establishing relationships and building a “network of alliances” will be critical to your success as you enter your new company. “The idea is … to engage with each one on common values: respect, teamwork, integrity, and a drive to succeed,” Shukla of True Value says.
Lastly, from the Boston Consulting Group Career Services team, “It’s important to recognize some basic differences between consulting and working in industry. Consultants can be quite intellectual in how they focus on content, process and projects. They come into a client firm with a certain authority to produce solutions. However, as a new employee in industry, it helps to recognize the value of taking time to build internal relationships and learn the new culture. Most importantly, it takes time to understand the internal politics. Begin your new industry job by building internal relationships and a reputation of trust to enhance your success in initiating change.”
4. Identify areas for impact, and learn how to implement
Consultants are often used to devising great strategies for a client, but are not often tasked with implementing and seeing a project through. Consultants have to execute and take responsibility for the results. “The rigor and depth required in executing versus providing advice are totally different ball games,” Symantec’s Borgia explains.
Implementation may require skill sets you don’t possess. For example, Arjun Moorthy, HubSpot Vice President of Business Development, discovered that he was in a position that included a “sales element,” which he feels is often an element of an operational role, whether “you are directly selling the product, or you are selling candidates to join the team, or you are selling the management team on a new idea.” You have to be prepared to dig in and correct these deficiencies.
From the start, use your consultant mindset to analyze what the big issues or problem areas are and identify where you can deliver the most impact, Symantec’s Borgia advises. In a best case scenario, your hiring manager will structure an “easy project” that you likely will be able to hit out of the park. The project should only take a couple of months and it will allow you to learn some element of the business.
A well-defined smaller project can also provide an opportunity to gain input from your Manager about how to address projects and delineate expectations.
If that’s not available, create your own project, like Heather Lord, Senior Vice President of Strategy & Client Experience at Charles Schwab, who set up her own 90-day plan at Schwab to pinpoint goals and track her progress and development.