What is Onboarding Debt?, Is Your Leadership Team Too Big & Rock, Pebbles Sand
25 September 2022 Newsletter
“When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.” — Viktor Frankl
Hope you’re Thriving!
I was talking with an entrepreneur this past week who was looking to join our Growth Program, and he explained how he had grown from $1m to $19m in revenue in the past two years.
Now that’s impressive in anyone’s language, but it comes at a cost. He had found a sense of meaning but didn’t have a sense of certainty about the path forward. He’d seen some of the strategic planning and business plans we’d built with another CEO and suddenly realised what he was missing – clarity of purpose and direction for the firm and leadership team – beyond just more sales.
Needless to say, he’s pretty excited to be working with us.
Continuing excerpts from my new book Onboarded in preparation for the launch on the first of November.
Here’s a snippet about a concept I call Onboarding Debt:
On the day your new hire joins your team, they don’t understand what is expected of them. They don’t know that much about the culture. They don’t understand the processes you use, and they may not be adept at some of the technical aspects of their role.
Most of all, they don’t know your expectations as their manager. And because they don’t understand these things, they will solve problems on their own. They will do things the way they think is right, or they will do things they shouldn’t, or they will neglect to do the things they should.
It’s not your new hire’s job to magically understand what’s expected of them; it’s your job to help them understand.
In my book Made to Thrive, I give leaders three key questions to assess an employee’s potential to succeed in a role:
1. Are they capable of succeeding in the role?
2. Do they understand what it takes to succeed in the role?
3. Do they want to succeed in the role?
Whether they are capable and whether they want to succeed is on them. But whether new hires understand how to succeed is on you. According to Gallup, only 12 percent of employees believe their company did a good job onboarding them. And from my research, they could be right. My research tells a similar story.
Managers are failing woefully in their job of helping new hires understand how to succeed, leading to out-of-control onboarding debt.
Onboarding debt is much like sleep debt. If you don’t have enough sleep for a few nights, it’s probably okay, but if you don’t get enough sleep over weeks, months, and years, you accumulate a sleep debt, which can create serious health issues. Onboarding debt works in a similar way. The first moment of the first day a person joins your team, they carry the maximum amount of onboarding debt.
Your job is to oversee a system that reduces that onboarding debt as effectively as possible. You must help them understand the culture, the technical and process expectations, and your expectations. If they don’t understand and continue to work in your organisation into the future, there will be a difference between what they should know and what they know.
This difference, this liability, is carried around like an invisible sack of stones on the back of every employee. It affects three main areas: productivity, retention, and the business’s culture.
To what degree does onboarding affect these three areas? We’ll look at culture in a moment, but first, the employee review website Glassdoor found that organisations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82 percent and productivity by over 70 percent.
In my research, I asked about attrition, which measures the number of people who exit organisations. The data I gathered provided a similar conclusion to Glassdoor. The longer an onboarding process, the more likely people are to know that it impacts the attrition rate, as shown below:
Rock, Pebbles, Sand
You’ve probably heard the story about Rocks, Pebbles and Sand from Stephen Covey.
In that story, a professor stands at the front of the class and places some large rocks into an empty jar. Then he puts the lid on and asks the students, “Is the jar full?” He then receives responses and progresses to take off the lid and pour in smaller pebbles, then putting the cap back on and asking, “Is this jar now full?” And then, finally, he removes the lid and pours in some sand, asking the class again, “Is the jar full now?”
Part of the point of the lesson is that you may not be able to put the rocks in after you have placed the sand or the pebbles in the jar. The metaphor for your life is that you must prioritise the big things first, then the medium-sized stuff and then the more minor things. In reality, what people tend to do is to put the little things first or the sand, and then once the sand is used, I would put in the pebbles and then finally look to do work on the large things or the rocks.
A common mistake is to think that this only applies to the size of the work or the task that needs to be done. People assume that rocks mean stuff that takes perhaps a full quarter; pebbles might take a week, and sand might take only a few hours. This misses the most important point of arranging your priorities; it’s about maximising the impact by not allowing easy or even urgent things to crowd out the strategic things that take years to unfold but are more important than everything else combined. One thousand quick wins don’t add up to creating durable advantages or fulfilling a long-term vision.
This week I came across an interesting article from the software world that analyses the Rock Pebbles Sand model in depth and how it can be misused. Whilst it is written in the language and perspective of software, it is easily adaptable to all of us involved in leadership and making decisions with impact.
From the article:
“A Rock must deliver dramatic, measurable impact, not merely “incremental improvement.” It must be strategic, meaning that it must attack the most important challenges you face, materially advancing the company down its unique path for winning its corner of the market, leveraging existing advantages to reduce risk and to forge a path that others cannot easily follow, and build new durable advantages. This is where teams most often fall short: Not delivering enough impact to justify their investment of time.”
Read the article here: The practical application of “Rocks, Pebbles, Sand”
There’s a real challenge that comes with having too many people in a meeting or in a team. Some leaders want to be all-inclusive and can end up with too many people in the room, or others can end up with too few people.
Each of these can come with a set of second-order consequences that can negatively affect the effectiveness of the team. And then the performance of the business.
The challenge here is that the leadership team naturally expands in most companies for deeper insights into the business, more expertise, buy-in and their own development. Unfortunately, it is hard to un-invite and these larger teams can become ineffective.
In this episode, we discuss definitions of executive teams, and leadership teams, talking about the guides you should use for maximum effectiveness, and what you should watch out for.
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