The Onboarding Process

Once a bank in Denmark had to fire a lot of people due to the financial crisis, and I tried to open a dialogue with a person in charge of the process.  An “onboarding” process is very much like a change process and specializing in change management, I believed I could offer important tools. The response I got was: “This is not opportune” –  meaning “We don’t want to put focus on this issue”. But whether positive or negative – a change process requires much focus and attention to be successful.

At the moment the news is filled with stories of cutting organizations to a suitable size for a new situation and therefore letting people go.  Novo Nordisk is firing a thousand – 500 of them here in Denmark and PostNord is letting 700 employees go due to a decrease in the number of letters being sent.  A terrible situation for the people being fired. For some, it might be very dramatic and life-changing. For others, it can be a positive change and an opportunity to do something new. But no matter what, the change affects people in a profound way.
How to Create a Successful Onboarding Process
Is it possible to create the ‘perfect’ onboarding process? I believe it is, and it is something that I hope to get the opportunity to work more in-depth with.
There is much knowledge about ‘onboarding’ and we have worked a lot with scaling up organizations, onboarding whole departments, companies or a high number of people.

But when moving the opposite way, we are left a little alone and have very few process descriptions and process knowledge on how to overcome this very stress full situation, for all affected by the layoffs.

If I focus on the leaders left behind, I think there is three important phases they need to go through. The more time they use on understanding people and focusing on the right assignments, the faster the organization can reach a “normal” production level and harvest the results of the change imposed on them. This is our way of looking at an onboarding situation.

Phase One: Understand
This is where the announcement is being made, and the organization is disturbed and will heavily be in the dark. Very similar to a disrupted market, just with a focus on the internal processes.

This calls for braveness and focuses on the tasks in front of everyone, and the leader needs to put attention on creating an environment with room for frustration and a lot of emotions – both for the people leaving and the people staying. At the end of this period, the mental focus for all needs to shift to the people staying and the new situation emerging.

Phase Two: Act

This is a period of handing over tasks and negotiation of who have room for improvement, both related to tasks and workload. This will need to include a strong overview of who is going to be the key stakeholders in the new setup. It also includes looking out for further partnership with key stakeholders of the affected groups. In this phase courage from the leaders will be important, because they will have to be transparent about the lack of knowledge and experience, in order to create fellowship. There will be extensive communication on the “new normal” and a lot of unforeseen practical difficulties will arise. Since you want fellowship, it is important that you are visible, accessible, and address the frustrations.

Phase Three: Deliver
Here you will be pushing everyone even harder on deliveries. Leaving the old ways and the “new normal” really becoming the “NEW normal”, means there will be more pressure on reaching the business goals. No one wants to go through this period again. This means that now you NEED to deliver.  The amount of effort you put into your previous work on trust and transparency will now make this period either harder or easier for you. If there is a strong trust in you, your people will understand why it is time to create results. They understand the situation and want to create results with you. If you don’t have the necessary base of trust, you will not be able to reach your targets unless you can create them yourself and turn up your working hours. If this is the situation, you need to prepare for a new “onboarding” situation and return to phase one!

This process is of course much more complex, but the point is to start talking openly about the situation and how to handle a very normal thing in business. You might be provoked by this, but just ask yourself how many times you have been participating in a development program and count how many times you have been working on driving your organization back on track after a layoff.

Are your company facing layoffs, and do you need help to handle the process? Please do not hesitate to contact us.