Company culture decoded:
The 3 Teachable Moments

by on May 13, 2013 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Cafe

By now you’re probably familiar with the statistic saying 46% of newly hired executives fail in the first 18 months. But knowing the data isn’t enough; leaders need to know why so many people fail.

The answer: inability to adapt to a new organizational culture.

We all attempt to explain our company culture to new hires. We put code words in recruiting ads such as “high-energy,” and “fast-paced.” We repeat them in interviews and at new-hire orientations.

The ‘secret sauce’
But culture is intangible. It’s hard to convey the values, unwritten rules and behavioral norms that

  • give a company its unique personality; and that
  • new hires MUST assimilate in order to succeed.


Fact is, your initial effort to explain your company’s “secret sauce” to new hires is just the first step in a long-term coaching process. Even in the best cases it takes months for new hires to adequately experience the nuances of a new culture and align their behavior with its values.

Now, “learning by experience” doesn’t mean throwing new hires into the deep end and letting them figure it out. Even the most talented new hires have a hard time decoding a complex organizational culture on their own. They need help from colleagues, mentors, and most of all, they need coaching from the person who hired them and who’s the key to their current and future success – their boss.

Easy as 1, 2, 3
Good bosses expect new hires to struggle with a new culture, and prepare accordingly using what we call “Onboarding Teachable Moments.”

Teachable Moment #1: the Crisis Intervention. This Moment is triggered when the new hire becomes engaged in a conflict with another employee. Usually this happens when a new hire encounters a practice or policy incompatible with what they’re used to. In these moments, managers need to clearly explain the company’s practice and its relationship to the company’s culture.

Teachable Moment #2: the Opportunistic Coaching Session. These can happen at any time. Opportunistic Coaching Sessions highlight something that the new hire did well, and why that action or behavior illustrated an understanding of your company’s culture. These work so well because they rises organically from the workday and is often seamless. Sometimes, the employee might not even know she’s being coached.

Teachable Moment #3: the Routine Check In. This is the most structured of the three Moments and includes a scheduled weekly meeting with the new hire – a “listening session”- in which you ask basic questions. How’s it going? What are you struggling with? How are things with your colleagues? Are your expectations of the job being met? After hearing the employee’s responses, it’s essential that you again relate your answers to the company’s culture and how your new hire can best adapt to it.

When using any of the Three Onboarding Teachable Moments, it’s important to be encouraging (“Don’t worry. In time you’ll figure it all out”), and above all, patient. Most successful onboarding efforts take six months to a year.

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