Organizations hire people for their knowledge, skills and abilities—matching those individuals to their business needs. Everyone involved assumes and expects that the newcomer’s knowledge and past performance will transfer to their new group and setting.
But even with the best talent management processes, things go wrong. But when a newcomer underperforms or a rising star falters, it is assumed to be a problem with the individual … a poor fit … the person was over-promoted … they didn’t have the right skills after all.
No one considers it a failure of network strategy.
But my research shows that networks are the invisible factor for success. Social capital—the advantage that is created based on the way people are connected to others—is the missing piece of the talent equation. It’s time to re-think onboarding and invest in new-role success well beyond the first 100 days.
Two Phases: From Striving to Thriving
By applying network analysis to the question of role transitions, we can be more precise about the kinds of relationships that matter and when they should be developed. In one phase of my research, we combined Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) with monthly attrition data in 15 large, well-known organizations.
We found that the most successful and committed long-term employees built a network with an initial focus on productivity and inclusion but then adjusted their network investments to create efficiency and purpose. Think of this as a shift from “striving” to “thriving.”
With this information, talent leaders can target specific factors that have a proven impact on employee performance and retention as they craft onboarding and engagement programs.
Year 1: Build networks for productivity and inclusion.
New employees have two overriding needs: to perform and prove themselves to others and to acculturate and feel accepted by the organization.
Both needs are primarily satisfied through the set of relationships new hires establish with managers, experts, peers, mentors and other newcomers throughout the company. Building these cross-functional relationships over the first 12 months in a role—and before they see a clear need for this network—sets newcomers up for later success.
Through onboarding and engagement practices, companies can help new hires build the set of connections that prompt early contribution and become integrated into the organization. This includes:
- Teaching behaviors that pull the newcomer into the network (vs. push).
- Creating mechanisms to engage with formal and informal opinion leaders.
- Developing experiences among cohorts and affinity groups.
Years 2 and Beyond: Build networks for efficiency and purpose.
After the initial push to establish themselves in the organization, group or team, employees face different pressures and need to adjust their network strategy accordingly.
The challenge is that networks designed for productivity and inclusion, which are critical for getting established, can undermine efficiency and purpose.
If the newcomer has been pulled into the organization and viewed as a highly valuable resource, they inevitably get over-utilized. They have many opportunities. Their views are respected and they are in demand. While these new top performers may feel successful and accepted, they are likely to become overloaded, exhausted and frustrated.
While any single request may be relatively small and reasonable, the demands add up and become overwhelming. High-priority and purposeful work gets crowded out by volume and diversity of work. After months or years of this experience, these now-indispensable employees have low engagement and satisfaction scores. They are likely to leave the organization, taking with them critical knowledge, disrupting workflows and lowering morale.
Companies can foster that shift through leadership, team and cultural practices, including:
- Promoting collaboratively efficient interactions.
- Leveraging cross-boundary ties.
- Creating contexts of purpose.
By understanding networks and ensuring that newcomers cultivate networks in specific ways, organizations can boost social capital broadly and accelerate role transitions on a larger scale.
Find out more about talent practices that foster effective employee networks in our white paper, Connect and Adapt: How Network Development and Transformation Improve Retention and Engagement in Employees’ First Five Years, or watch this video about onboarding at Workday. And explore our Accelerate Role Transitions courses, tools and videos, including new certification, workbooks and facilitator guides.Share!