Organizational values can direct behavior and streamline decision making, but all too often, they’re approached as a feel-good, one-off exercise. They’re written out on Post-it notes or in a deck during a team retreat and then poof, they vanish into the ether. If you’re lucky, they may end up as a poster on a wall, or painted above an entryway, but even that’s a stretch. According to a Gallup, only 23% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they can apply their organization’s values to their work every day.
The key to taking values from words on a page to ingrained behaviors and meaningful norms? Rituals. They’re what bind values and people together, helping everyone move forward towards a shared purpose. Bringing values to life through ritual can enable you to work smarter, while creating meaning for your team members: if we ritualize something, people actually begin to care more about it. Not only that, but teams become more motivated, have a greater ability to regulate emotions collectively, and are faster to build trust and psychological safety.
One of the biggest opportunities for people to adopt values and shift their behaviors is when they first join a new company—they’ll naturally be looking for the “right” way of doing things. It’s simply easier to change behaviors, and have those behaviors stick, when going through a major life transition like taking on a new job. And as an organization, if you obsess over onboarding, you’re more likely to also obsess over the end-to-end employee experience.
Creating Onboarding Rituals
In the pre-COVID era, rituals were often dependent on physical proximity: company offsites, taking all new hires to the same restaurant for lunch on their first day, or ringing a bell every time you make a sale. But as we’ve learned to adapt to working from home, our rituals must evolve to work virtually too. This is especially true when it comes to onboarding: the natural socializing that a new hire would experience during their first week in the office needs to be replaced.
To start, look at your onboarding process and think about how to integrate rituals that convey your values. Keep in mind that while rituals are meant to serve a social function and be repeated, they are not the same as habits or routines. Kursat Ozenc, of Stanford d.school’s Ritual Design Lab, defines an impactful ritual based on three main components: a clear intention, a contextual motivator, and a ritual flow (beginning, middle and end). If designing your own onboarding rituals feels intimidating, don’t reinvent the wheel. Here’s some great examples to get you started:
- Think about how you welcome people. One of Percolate’s values is “be thoughtful by design,” so they’ve developed a very specific onboarding process, starting with a welcome email and package within 48 hours of signing an offer letter.
- Give people agency to help design their own onboarding. At Parabol, one of their key values is transparency and experimentation, so they ask candidates to build their own onboarding plan in collaboration with leadership.
- Invest in building relationships. Getting to know team members through a screen can be hard. While you can’t take a new hire out to lunch, you can hold virtual coffees. Or, take a cue from Miro and design your onboarding experience in cohorts. This practice emphasizes the importance of community and helps new hires build connections from day one.
- Send a physical welcome package. At Dropbox, one of their core values is “delight.” The team has ritualized that value by sending each new hire an unmarked box with a picture of a cupcake, and ingredients to make their own. It may seem silly, but employees ultimately recognize the connection between the sweet gesture and the way the company operates.
- Dedicate time to non-work activities. At Atleto, a social sports network, new employees pick their favorite sport and play a game with teammates and leaders. Can’t play in person? Replicate the experience with a multiplayer video game, or a virtual game night.
- Let employees introduce themselves boldly. Presentation software company Beautiful.ai welcomes new staff members by asking them to give an introductory “About Me” presentation highlighting their unique interests, personal background and professional goals.
Contact us if you’re looking for a partner as you redesign your employee onboarding experience.