Onboarding for organizational culture

When a new employee is hired, most organizations start onboarding programs designed to introduce new hires to their day-to-day operations and values. Familiarizing new employees with specific processes and workflows is just the beginning. Onboarding process steps that include cultural focus are also important.

Human Resources (or HR) personnel play a pivotal role in helping organizations successfully onboard new team members. According to Professor Robbie Field of the Eastern Institute of Technology School of Business and Professor Alan Coetzer of the College of Business at Massey University, one of the objectives of any HR department is to transform newcomers into valued, active participants in an organization’s business processes. This is true whether we’re talking about a small company, large government agency, or any organization in between.

To foster this transition, HR professionals in both the public and private sector are introducing organizational socialization (OS) into their strategic onboarding practices. 

What is organizational socialization (OS)? 

OS is the practice of quickly familiarizing new employees with an organization’s practices, culture and values in order to help them become effective, recognized members of a particular community. Over the years — and accelerated by the pandemic — this definition has expanded in academic and HR circles.

Alan Saks of the University of Toronto Scarborough and Jamie Gruman of the University of Guelph identify OS as a key part of strategic human resource management. They argued that OS is a series of instances during which employees get a sense of where they’ll fit in within an organization.

Onboarding experiences that new hires want to have 

Field and Coetzer noted that OS tactics are implemented to relieve many pressures new hires face. Within a short amount of time, they are expected to adjust to new situations. If this transition is too complicated or hard, newcomers may seek other opportunities. Especially in today’s employee market. But there are some best practices that can help. Think of these as additional onboarding process steps. 

According to a survey of 1,000 new hires by Bamboo HR, respondents expressed a desire for extensive onboarding programs that quickly turn them into key contributors. Study participants also reported that their direct managers had the largest impact the effectiveness of an organization’s new-hire orientation process.

In fact, if an employee deems an onboarding program ineffective, that may be reasons enough to leave the organization. The study revealed the following:

  • Lackluster new-hire orientation processes were one of the reasons respondents left previous positions.
  • More than half (52 percent) of study participants said that receiving applicable, organized content is the most important part of onboarding.
  •  Fifty-three percent of employees who quit jobs within the first six months asserted it was due to a lack of “review and feedback of early contributions.”

New hires want to know how they’re performing. As soon as they can. They also desire input and guidance on how they can improve.

Theories for organizational application 

All of these concerns point to poorly developed OS practices. To better understand why OS strategies are important components of the onboarding experience, it helps to know some of the key theories behind them. This helps develop better onboarding process steps.  

There are a number of theories associated with OS. The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Psychology maintains that the need to belong, social exchange theory, uncertainty reduction theory and social identity theory serve as the foundations of OS strategies.

  •  Social exchange theory describes how people feel about their relationships, specifically the contributions they make toward maintaining specific human connections.
  • The need to belong focuses on wanting to develop and sustain robust interpersonal relationships.
  •  Social identity theory refers to a person’s perception of who they are within a specific group or community.
  • Uncertainty reduction theory supposes that people have the need to decrease unfamiliarity regarding a person or situation by learning about it.

Thoughtlfully building organizational socialization processes into your onboarding steps can help new employees understand and integrate into your culture.