When is the last time you were a new hire? For me, it was two weeks ago when I joined Amazon as an executive development principal. On my first day, I attended orientation, had lunch with my manager, met the team and started my checklist. Diving in has taught me some valuable lessons I had long forgotten.
To develop as learning leaders, we need to regularly walk in our customers’ shoes. Our customers include the employees who work in the organization, and we need to do this to truly understand their needs at all levels. You don’t have to be a new hire to take yourself through the new hire process.
If your new hire process is strong one, it should focus on an overview of the organization including the market and external customers’ needs. It should also focus on how to succeed in the culture. In this regard, there are two dimensions: the conscious culture and the accidental culture.
Every organization develops a culture with both conscious and accidental components. Its conscious culture unfolds from the written and spoken goals, values, behaviors and practices that are taught, measured and reinforced in the organization. Participating in the new hire process again is a great way to reinforce your understanding of this component. What’s written and what’s spoken is a new hire’s first influence within your organization.
However, think about your organization: Are particular and even peculiar behaviors and norms that are not in writing passed on from one generation to the next, from one employee to the next? I call this the accidental culture. It emerges from the sometimes spoken and mostly unwritten and unspoken — observed actions speak louder than words — values, behaviors and practices that most employees seem to know.
When asked about this cultural component, no one can articulate where it is written; they just recognize it, as if by symbiosis. It is revealed randomly over the course of the organization’s history. Collectively, the conscious culture and accidental components of culture permeate every nook of every organization. And in both forms, the organizational culture has the power to positively and negatively influence leaders’ actions and employees’ performance.
As tenured leaders, we tend to blur the lines between the conscious and accidental components in our cultures. So, if you really and truly want to model the way, then go back to the beginning and start from there. That means walking in the new hire’s shoes.
You don’t have to leave your organization to do this. Simply sign up and put yourself through the new hire process the same as anyone else would. If you want to make it extra fun, pretend you are on your own episode of “Undercover Boss.” Come up with a pseudonym, change your look, go on in and have some fun while learning a tremendous amount and being reminded of what’s important in your organization. Along the way, you might even uncover some gaps in the process and be able to influence improvements.