Organization & Leadership Consulting

Onboarding vs. Integration of New Hires

Integration of puzzle pieces with new hires

“Onboarding” might be the wrong term. It may be causing your organization to disorient new staff rather than helpfully align their expectations. The word ‘onboarding’ implies a quick, technical process involving just a few steps. Sure, knowing where one’s workstation is, who they report to, how to use the IT, and what the HR systems are is important. But none of that helps a person fully understand the essence of “this is how we do things around here.”

Unfortunately, some highly competent leaders and managers, leave a company because they never quite “get” the culture and learn to adapt to it (“Onboarding Isn’t Enough” Harvard Business Review, May-June, 2017*). The research cited in this Harvard Business Review article clearly indicates that most early-on “failures” are the result of poor understanding of the organization’s culture.

Even those whose technical competence proves effective and valuable will eventually (sooner than later) run into roadblocks resulting from misaligned values and expectations. Those roadblocks could be within 1:1 relationships, within their team, or across departments. The failure is in the fit, not the task performance.

A more helpful term for onboarding is “integration.”

Onboarding implies a Welcome aboard! Here’s your ‘stuff’ and what we expect you to do with it.”

Integration implies a We’re truly glad you’ve joined us! Here’s who we want you to build relationships with and what we believe you will need to learn about how things work around here so your best and our best combine well and produce a long-lasting, mutually beneficial collaboration resulting in margin and meaning for all concerned.”

Yes, onboarding is quicker and easier than integration, thus the longer, run-on sentence describing the latter. As the old adage goes, “You get what you pay for”. Onboarding is spending time and energy. Integration is investing time and energy. 

Here’s some data from the research of onboarding vs. integration:

  • An ‘integration’ approach decreases by 33% the amount of time it takes a new hire to begin making a significant contribution to the organization.
  • Of those interviewed, 70% said the reason for early failures was a lack of understanding the culture and politics of the organization. (Politics is not always a negative factor.)
  • Only 2% of the organizations studied practice a highly-developed, customized, integration approach.

Here are some proven ideas from integration approaches:

  • Each new hire collaborates with their supervisor on an ‘elevator speech’ that communicates how they specifically contribute to the culture and the outcomes of the organization. 
  • Offer a “Culture Comparison Assessment” that raises a new hire’s awareness of their basic assumptions as shaped by past experiences and how those may or may not align with the culture they just joined.

TurningWest offers a proven integration service for key leadership roles. Designed for succession-planning scenarios, it is easily customizable to varied leadership and management levels. Contact us and ask about the “Culture and Leadership Transition” service.

TurningWest – Your guide to a healthy culture and meaningful results.


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