Building a Culture Before Day 1
Today is the day. You are arriving for your first day at your new job. What emotions do you have? Are you excited? Nervous? Ready? But, also, where do you park? What do you wear? Do you arrive at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m.? Is there anything you were supposed to do prior to showing up? Did someone contact you about policies and procedures? Where is your desk or office located?
As a new employee on day 1, all of these things are swimming around in your head. You want to make a great impression. And ideally, your new place of business wants to make a great impression on you. How do companies do that? Simple. They do it through organized culture.
Organizational culture is “the behavioral patterns, concepts, values, ceremonies, and rituals that take place in an organization” (Daft, 1983). It incorporates shared philosophy and ideology while providing a set of expectations to guide behavior.
As employees, supervisors, and hiring managers, we communicate culture through our work processes and our resources. Our work processes include things like philosophies, environments, networks, integrating structures, and our reward systems. Resources include the actual materials we provide to people to help them be successful in their work. Why is this important to know? Knowing what culture is helps us define it. And if we don’t define it and shape it, someone else will.
So, now that we know what organizational culture is – we also need to make sure we communicate it through our processes when bringing on new employees. Just like a good lead funnel, there’s different stages for this process and the messaging and cadence a bit different for each. To make it simple, we’ve divided the process into 3 steps.
A Good Cultural Impression Starts Before the Interview
Potential employees do their research about companies before they even apply. They investigate websites, reviews, and talk with current/former employees. They review a company’s printed materials, culture books, handbooks, and photos they see online. Your company culture should be communicated through these vehicles – they are great ways to showcase company values before someone even applies.
But, that’s not all. The job description can speak volumes about culture: everything from where the job posting is advertised to how it is structured. Is it a formal or informal posting? Does it describe the work environment? Does it go beyond position responsibilities in the “what we are looking for” section? And equally important, what are the benefits? Yes, there is almost an expectation of offering health benefits, but what are the others? Gym memberships and vacation time communicate company values.
Ok, so the potential employee has researched the company, read the job description, and presumably is impressed enough to willingly spend a majority of their waking hours working towards a unified goal. Great! Culture can go take lunch now, right? Wrong. The next step is the interview and hiring process, which is a make it or break it opportunity for communicating company culture.
Does someone at the company communicate with an applicant along the way? Is there feedback for candidates, particularly for those not selected? What about a central point of contact? Are the questions asked during the interview only about knowledge and skills or is there an opportunity to flesh out a cultural fit for both parties? To address the latter, companies and interviewers who care about creating and maintaining a great culture will ask questions like: “Describe your ideal work environment?” and “Do you prefer to work on projects in an individual or team environment?” Scenario questions are also great because you can describe specific situations at your workplace and get a sense for how he/she will respond. The bottom line is that everything asked or shared during an interview shows the candidate what your company stands for and where its priorities lie.
You Like Them, They Like You, Now’s the Time to Keep the Excitement Going
Once you have found that perfect match for the position and the team, the communication of culture moves faster than the speed of light. Everything you say and do at this point is an opportunity to communicate who you are as a company. Some examples:
- Who reaches out to the new employee sends a message. Is it the new supervisor? The Director of HR who he/she may have not met? Do colleagues send out welcome messages via email?
- If the new person is moving from out of town/state, you have the opportunity to kick culture into high gear. Do you help in the process – not just a moving stipend, but actual relocation assistance? This may include sending materials about the local area to help them find a place to live and/or the right schools if they have children.
- Administrative paperwork is a given. But it can also communicate culture, both in the words used and the process taken. Is it formalized so the new hire knows the process? Is it sent ahead of time to better prepare the new hire (not to mention keep them excited for their first day)? And, for goodness sake – tell them where to park on the first day and make sure they know the address of their new office. These are things we take for granted but help a new person feel at ease. It also shows that your company is organized and ready for his/her arrival.
- Do you send training materials in advance or wait until they arrive? Giving new hires a glimpse of what they will be doing on day 1 helps settle their nerves and communicates your organization’s attention to the details. It also means that the new hire can talk the talk and walk the walk on day 1.
It’s Here: Day 1 Has Entered the Building
There is nothing more solidifying to a new hire than their arrival on their first day. You can communicate company culture by every move you make that day. Make sure their office and equipment is ready. Have a welcoming routine that is done by the supervisor and/or their new team. Know what they will do on day 1 even if it is simply filling out paperwork, reviewing SOPs, or shadowing a veteran employee to get the lay of the land and learn the “who’s who” of the organization.
All of this communicates culture and what is important to the company. The single most important thing is to be ready for your new hire to arrive. Have their schedule ready. Welcome them in the door. Don’t just sit them at their desk, show them a stack of papers, say “go”, and then walk away. And most importantly, take them (and their team) to lunch on the first day. The new hire doesn’t know the area and nothing is worse than eating alone at your desk on your first day. Lunch is an informal way of showing the new person you care and are excited he/she is a part of the team.
Culture is communicated in everything we do, we say, we print, and we market. Moreover, it is communicated in everything we don’t do, don’t say, don’t print, and don’t market. Potential employees and new hires pick up on everything during this timeframe. If you have done it right, your new hire will pick up on the formal and informal things. Hopefully, everyone at your company communicates similar messages – and that happens when you have intentionally planned how to welcome new people. It’s also how you sustain excitement for your company.