Boost retention by making your onboarding program strategic

A cultural audit can help HR make onboarding more meaningful and effective, says Lilith Christiansen of software developer SilkRoad.
By: | July 22, 2019


Few HR leaders or employees believe their employer does a good job bringing new talent into the organisation.

Today’s onboarding approaches should provide new hires with clear expectations in terms of their behavior and interaction with management, customers and other employees.

All too often, however, onboarding consists of little more than paperwork and maybe a brief summary of the organisation’s mission.

Strategic onboarding seeks to solve that issue by moving beyond automating paperwork. Instead, it delivers a personalized journey that transforms new hires into fully functioning, integrated members of the team.

Strategic onboarding is made up of four pillars: cultural mastery, interpersonal network development, early career support, and strategy immersion and direction.

Cultural mastery is a critical component, but one that often gets overlooked. By providing employees with a sense of formal and informal norms and how to thrive within them, HR will enable new hires to fit in quickly.

They need to understand the ins and outs of company culture in honest and authentic ways, or else the organisation risks losing them—and in a time of near-zero unemployment, that’s a big risk to take these days.

The challenge for many organisations is defining their culture. There are a few questions that can help start the process: What’s the “real and true” story? What’s changing as the organisation grows and evolves? Are there any hidden perceptions that need to be unearthed? Are there any old traditions that need to be carried forward? Is the organisation aspiring to build a different culture than what exists today?

To find out the answers to these questions, HR can conduct a cultural audit. At its core, a cultural audit is a simple, three-step process that includes asking, documenting and analysing.

Each of these three steps plays a critical role in understanding and establishing an organisation’s culture.

1. Ask. Conduct business leader interviews and use employee surveys and focus groups to get a sense of what all individuals across the entire organisation feel are the core tenets of the company culture. Each level in the organisation likely has a different take, based on their day-to-day experiences.

2. Document. Take the results of the surveys, focus groups, and interviews and document the corporate values, unconscious expectations, daily behaviors and practices, perceptions (even myths!), and anything of potential value that helps paint a picture of the culture.

3. Analyse. Once the data has been collected and documented, examine it carefully to identify factors that are consistent as well as differences between sources. See if the data aligns with current strategies. Look closely to see if perceived, actual, stated or desired cultures emerge. In particular, take note of areas where there’s a disconnect between the aspirational culture and the way the organisation currently functions.

By completing a cultural audit, organisations will get a firm sense of their culture—both where it excels and where it needs improvement.


Bringing the culture to life

By defining their organisation’s culture, HR will be taking the first step toward integrating cultural mastery into a strategic onboarding program. To bring that culture to life, HR must demonstrate to new hires how it supports business strategy to positively impact outcomes. Here are some suggested approaches:

  • Short videos from current employees are a great way for new hires to get a real sense of the culture in an authentic way.
  • Assigning a new-hire buddy at the peer level gives the new employee an opportunity to learn the culture from a peer in an easy, low pressure way.
  • Hosting a recent new hire panel discussion by bringing in two or three recent hires who’ve been with the organisation for between six and nine months is a good way to communicate actual experience.
  • Provide managers with discussion prompts to talk about culture and even compare and contrast the company culture with the new hire’s former employer.
  • Social events are also a good way to encourage opportunities for new hires and existing employees to get to know each other and share personal experiences that illustrate culture and the “unwritten rules” of the organisation.

By knowing and communicating an authentic cultural story, HR can help new hires plug into the organisation’s true culture. This will help them succeed and increase the likelihood they’ll stay with the organisation.

This story was originally published on, HRM Magazine Asia’s sister publication in the USThe author is Lilith Christiansen, vice president of onboarding solutions for SilkRoad.