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How to Manage the Unlearning Curve for New Hires

When a new hire joins, there’s always a learning curve. What about an unlearning curve, though?

New hires come with experience, processes, and habits picked up from their old workplace. They may or may not align with your company culture, goals, or processes. In this case, a degree of unlearning must happen for a new hire to settle into their role.

This is what Matthew Brown, Schoox’s VP of Learning and Brand Success, discusses in this episode of The Learning Xchange. 

To learn more, keep reading or hit play on the podcast player below. 

Listen to the podcast below or keep reading.

When welcoming any new hire on board, it’s critical to set very clear expectations so they can successfully merge with your company culture. We often welcome new hires intending to do so with open arms to help them get immersed in the organization. However, sometimes we fall short in one area or another. 

We may think we’re communicating a lot, but what are we not saying when we welcome a new hire?

Think back to the last time you were a new hire. Did you experience that as purely an employee soaking up the experience? Or did you put your learning and development hat on to analyze the process as you were experiencing it?

Sometimes it’s difficult to take a step back as an L&D professional, but in this case, the analysis that you do can lead to some really important feedback. A lot of new hires may have feedback to give but not know where to leave it.

What a typical onboarding process looks like

When companies welcome new hires, there are a few things they typically do. Everyone does the paperwork, which is usually done on day one. 

Then there’s orientation or onboarding, which allows covers a few things about the company as a whole. At this stage, we might talk about company history, who we are as a company, how we got started/where we are now. Maybe we’ll want to give some details about business strategy or plans for the future.

Then there’s the mission and values side. This part is all about articulating what we stand for, what our goals are, and the overall mission. There might be an organization chart and details about how we work together to give the new hires a feel for the place.

This process tends to last between one and four hours before the new hire is handed over to the managers to begin training for the job itself.

Where companies go wrong is rushing this process. It becomes a race to get the new hire up to speed as fast as possible so they can become productive.

What we forget along the way is to consider the potential challenges that new hires might experience in their first week, month, or even year. 

How is your company culture different?

It’s easy to focus on our own company culture and assume that new hires are always on the same page. However, your company culture may not be the same as your new hire’s last job. 

Even if they’re similar, everything about the experience is different. There’s a different mix of people, experiences, personalities, processes, and other elements of culture that may not be the same as other companies. 

If we’re not clear with employees and don’t take the time to define what our culture really is and what it’s not, we’ll end up with a lot of new hires working under assumptions that may or may not be accurate. 

Skipping this part can lead to new hires making assumptions about the company and its culture. They may never totally feel comfortable or settle into a place because they feel like they haven’t integrated properly. 

This can be a big problem that chips away at the spirit of innovation and of creativity. It causes uncertain new hires to settle into a place of active indifference where they’re always waiting to be told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. 

So, how are you going to influence that new hire journey to make it more successful?

It all starts with taking some time to look at the information that’s being communicated to new hires. Make sure that you’re taking the time to express what your company culture is, and more importantly, what it isn’t. Do this at the division, department, and team level to help your new hires understand the reality early on.

By doing this, you improve the time taken to get them fully integrated and productive. 

Creating a good first impression

All companies want to reduce the turnover of new hires in the first year, so you need to re-evaluate what you’re doing in those early days. What are you doing to create a good lasting impression?

A great way to do this is to gather feedback from employees and understand how to make improvements. This also makes employees realize that their voices are both heard and valued. 

Allow employees to connect to their prior experiences

Another thing that most companies overlook is the need to connect to prior experiences. By looking back at earlier workplaces, new hires can reflect and understand more about their current role. 

If new hires aren’t willing to give feedback due to a lack of trust, it’s important to understand why that is. By knowing why that is, you can then articulate that the issues faced in the past don’t apply to your organization. Or, if they do, you can take steps to rectify it. 

By doing so, you can really empower your new hires and make them feel part of the team as a member, not just another faceless new hire.

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