How to Teach Company Culture During Executive Onboarding

November 8, 2018

How to Teach Company Culture During Executive Onboarding

Your culture is something other companies can try to replicate, but will always be uniquely yours. It was formed over time and has hopefully grown into a strategic advantage. When you bring on a new leader, it’s important they understand not only where you’re headed, but also how your culture will help you get there. 

In his book, Organizational Culture and Leadership, Edgar Schein explains how a leader's impact on allocating resources, choosing promotions, and generally whatever they think is important, make up the primary embedding mechanisms of organizational culture.

An executive’s day-to-day decisions will inevitably influence your culture. For this reason (not to mention the fact that recruiting the right executive is expensive in time, effort, and money spent), helping your new executive acculturate and understand who you are—at your core—is of the utmost importance.

Here are three ways you need immerse new executives in your company culture. 

1. Intentionally Give New Executives Space to Learn Your Culture

It takes time for culture to develop. It also takes time to understand. 

Most business schools and management researchers will say you shouldn’t make any big decisions or changes during the first few months of taking a leadership role. A new executive needs time to understand how the full system works end-to-end or why you do things the way you do. 

Give your new executives time to experience life in your organization without the pressure to deliver right away. This can save them from potential missteps driven by the need to prove their value, relieves unnecessary pressure, and drives home how important understanding your culture is to the company. 

2. Show New Executives Your Values in Action

Sure, you did a great job selling your company and its awesome culture during the recruiting process. But it’s one thing to hear about it, it’s quite another to experience it.  

New leaders should experience your values in action to connect to your company’s “why” or higher purpose, who your organization is at its best, and the impact you want to have on your employees, customers, and the world.

During the executive onboarding process, allow new leaders to experience your traditions and attend celebrations. Company award ceremonies, holiday parties, monthly celebrations, and community volunteering efforts are great opportunities to show, rather than tell, what’s important in your culture. 

At first, new executives can simply attend and observe your culture. Around six months to one year in, it’s appropriate that they start to participate in more of a leadership role. 

3. Teach New Executives How Decisions Are Made

Every executive comes to your organization with previous experiences and thoughts on what they think works. Some of these ideas may take your organization in the direction you want it to go, but not if they’re done out of sync with your culture. Teach new executives your organizations rubric for making decisions to help them avoid cultural missteps that could damage their effectiveness in the long run. 

Exposure to C-suite meetings where decisions are made is integral to understanding the motivations and concerns of the company’s top leaders and helps new leaders understand the organizations hierarchy. In addition to observing, having a peer to coach them through the decision-making process is important for their success. 

Assuming you’ve done a good job hiring for culture fit, giving your new leader the space and experience to acculturate will set them up for long-term success and keep your company culture on track. 

The Authors: 

Dr. Harold Hardaway serves as Principal Consultant for Cardigan Communications Group.

Shannon Hernandez is Principal Consultant for Cardigan Communications Group.