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Coaching for Values as an Onboarding Learning Experience

It may never be possible to iron out every scoundrel with wayward principles, but using values as the basis for learning and development could ultimately count for much more than a few thousand quid on swindled expenses.

"The best reason for clarifying who we are is to prepare us to consider what we might become." Joseph E. Saliba.

A few days ago former Speaker of the House of Commons Betty Boothroyd accused Cabinet Minister Maria Miller of bringing the House into disrepute over her expenses claims and subsequent lack of contrition. Miller's resignation ought, said Boothroyd, have been a question of honour.

Clearly Boothroyd and Miller do not share a common interpretation of the values of Parliament. You would be forgiven for wondering about the content and quality of induction that MPs receive on taking their seats for the first time, because clarity of organisational norms and cultural integration figure prominently in lists of good practice induction objectives.

Just as I was reflecting on this a colleague forwarded me the CIPD's most recent podcast entitled "Rethinking Staff Inductions." Paul Turner, a contributor to the podcast breaks induction down into 3 stages:

  1. The operational element - dealing with desk space, logins, payroll etc.
  2. What the organisation looks like - its values and beliefs
  3. Onboarding - a longer process lasting up to 3 months, comprising
  4. "regular reviews, regular dialogue" and which "has to be two-way if we're going to

    engage as a community rather than an audience."

I was interested to see stages 2 and 3 separated out. Surely in the current climate of distrust and scepticism if anything warrants extended interrogation it is values and beliefs. It's one thing to tell people about the values and beliefs of the organisation they are joining, quite another to explore the implications in relation to day-to-day decision-making and behaviour. And another again to achieve buy in.

In a paper published last year Cable, Gino and Staats found that even where organisations invest in onboarding "the processes have a common theme: indoctrinating new employees into the organizational culture." And Cable et al argue that this transmissive approach fails in two important respects. Firstly, as we might suspect, while new hires tend to give an outward appearance of compliance with transmitted values, they frequently don't internalise them. Their enactment of the values is therefore suspect in moments of crisis or - in some instances - of opportunity. Secondly, the psychological impact on employees who do subordinate their own identity and worldview to those of the organisation is destructive and harmful to the individuals. And ultimately damaging to the organisation too because of reduced productivity and retention.

The authors argue instead for an approach they term Personal Identity-Socialization. This enables new hires to articulate and share their authentic personal identities with colleagues, and consider how best to apply these and their specific strengths to the workplace. This is highly significant for the engagement, motivation and retention of millennials and their Gen Z juniors now appearing on the horizon. Moreover Cable et al refer to the added agility organisations can discover if they free themselves from the constraints of a fixed set of values and norms. It's a point well expressed elsewhere by Joseph E. Saliba. Too often organisations:

"regard the process of examining mission and identity as little more than an exercise in proclaiming, 'This is who we are and what we stand for.' But such a limited view leaves out the most important part of the discussion, which is a consideration of mission and identity as creative forces and resources for shaping (the organisation's) future"

The Personal Identity-Socialization model is exciting, yet the two-wayness urged by Paul Turner remains underdeveloped, for while the learning is no longer transmissive, it remains concentrated on the new hires. The likelihood of the whole organisation benefiting in the fashion described by Saliba is remote.

A recent BambooHR survey reports the highest number of respondents (33%) saying engagement with their manager made the most important contribution to their onboarding. Connect this to evidence cited in my previous blog that millennials across the globe crave coaching from their managers, and an opportunity begins to take shape. How about if as part of onboarding managers coached new hires on precisely the topic of company values, culture and behaviours? And how about if those managers were also actively learning - learning how to become more effective coaches, as well as learning to learn from their coachees' insights, concerns and -yes- resistances to existing values and norms? A programme such as this would open the door for organisational learning and simultaneously model genuine commitment to engage, develop and move forward as an organisational community.

Daniel Goleman presses the professional value of cross-cultural social sensitivity when working on overseas assignments. The advent of the 4Generation workplace is set to import this imperative to every workplace. Developing this sensitivity by bringing new hires and managers together to work around the theme of behaviours and values through coaching would be a good place to start, helping:

  • new hires and managers to accustomise themselves to one another's modes of communication and being
  • new hires to satisfy their appetite for manager coaching
  • managers to develop much needed coaching skills
  • the organisation to give context, meaning and life to its beliefs and values
  • the organisation and its people to understand what they might become.

It may never be possible to iron out every scoundrel with wayward principles, but using values as the basis for learning and development could ultimately count for much more than a few thousand quid on swindled expenses.

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