Egon Zehnder
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Onboarding: The First Step toward Inclusion (Part 4 of 4)

What CEOs Need to Know to Make Diversity and Inclusion Really Work

Inclusion – the full integration of an employee into the life of the organization – begins with onboarding.

Studies show that a new leader’s first 90 days are critical in the onboarding of a newly hired executive. This is especially true when the executive does not fit the dominant profile of the organization and is subject to all of the cognitive biases that diversity evokes.

Be prepared with rigorous national and local induction processes designed to bring diverse employees into the company culture over that crucial 90-day period. Enable feedback and “course corrections” thereafter. This onboarding shouldn’t simply be designed to accommodate transition generally for diverse employees. It should accommodate them according to the specifics of the transition – the induction, for example, of a Scandinavian executive into a German corporate culture, a middle-aged employee into a culture dominated by younger people, an academic into a commercial culture, and so on.

During the recruiting process, let candidates know that a careful onboarding process has been designed to set them up for success in their new surroundings. Begin the process by explaining honestly what they can expect in terms of hierarchy, decision-making, openness, and collegiality. Introduce them to key decision-makers as well as members of the team they will join. Arrange non-threatening settings in which they can ask without embarrassment very basic questions about how things are done in the company and about expectations regarding performance.

It’s a good idea to assign them a mentor as well. Make sure the mentor is someone who can not only help them through the obvious challenges of connecting successfully with superiors, peers, and subordinates but also guide them through the organization’s folkways and culture. The mentor should be widely respected in the organization, with high visibility and a real commitment to diversity. You might also consider assigning an “induction partner” who has successfully made the same transition to the organization that the new hire is expected to make.

In the absence of a proven, comprehensive onboarding process, the new hire may perform ineffectively during the first months or year on the job. New hires who feel themselves adrift, or facing a wall of bias, may grow frustrated and depart. The company not only loses its considerable investment in the executive and must redo the search, but also the departed executive’s area may lack direction until the position is filled.

Most importantly, the company misses out on the business benefits that might have been generated by that executive and earns a reputation as a place where inclusion is more illusion than reality.

Co-authored by Michel Deschapelles, formerly with Egon Zehnder (2007-2014).

Related Thinking

Small Mistakes with Big Consequences for Diversity and Inclusion (Part 1 of 4)
Diversity as a Leadership Competency at the Top (Part 2 of 4)
How CEOs Can Interview for Competency in Diversity (Part 3 of 4)

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