Inclusion and diversity are embedded in our core values and are vital to our firm’s ability to understand client issues and deliver differentiated solutions. As we’ve grown to nearly 1,000 people in 10 offices across the United States, fostering an inclusive environment becomes more challenging—but all the more important.
As part of a journey to strengthen our culture of inclusion, we began writing quarterly articles designed to stimulate conversation about relevant and sometimes challenging topics. The idea is that healthy and open dialogue is an essential prerequisite to breaking down the barriers to inclusion. In this paper, we look at the topic of onboarding experienced talent and easing their transition to the organization— and specifically, what we need to do better to ensure new hires feel included from their earliest days with the organization.
As a rapidly growing consultancy, we are continuously seeking, evaluating, hiring, and integrating talent. West Monroe’s mission is to develop the next generation of leaders, and we are proud of the number of “homegrown” leaders we have developed over the past decade and a half. However, we also understand the importance of continuing to grow with the addition of experienced hires who bring a valuable experience and expand our capability. It is critical that we reduce any barriers to collaboration for our new experienced hires, enable collaboration with partners across the firm, and listen to the wisdom they’ve accumulated throughout their career.
During 2018, more than 280 people joined our organization. These new team members represented all breadth of experience and roles—from new college graduates to senior directors with decades of experience. Transitioning into a consulting environment is challenging at any level, but it is particularly for more seasoned executives who join with established perspectives and philosophies for success—ideas that may not always seem welcome in an organization accustomed to doing things a particular way. As a result, many new hires struggle to make the leap from “outsider” to “insider.” As we invest in hiring employees with diverse experiences and backgrounds, we must ensure they feel included, so they stay.
This isn’t an issue unique to our firm or our profession. In a 2018 Jobvite survey, almost 30% of new hires said they have left a job within 90 days of starting; 43% of those said they did so because their day-to-day role wasn’t what they expected. In another survey by BambooHR, one-third of respondents said they quit a job within six months of starting it. Among the leading reasons cited: “receiving clear guidelines to what my responsibilities were” and “a friendly smile or helpful co-worker would have made all the difference.” By focusing on creating an inclusive culture where new experienced hires feel like their ideas are welcomed and they are able to build trusted relationships, we hope to allow people to have the right conversations on expectations, role, struggles, or successes.
We know it takes a while for people to feel comfortable in a new role and to hit their stride. We also believe there are things we can do to better facilitate a smoother integration. I’ve outlined four of those below.
It is critical that we reduce any barriers to collaboration for our new experienced hires, enable collaboration with partners across the firm, and listen to the wisdom they’ve accumulated throughout their career. ”
A welcome announcement—or lack thereof—sets an important tone for the transition. This can be as simple as an email from the new person’s manager to their team. For one thing, it makes it easier for a new hire to reach out to others for introductions. While doing this seems like a given, it is surprising how often such welcome announcements fall through the cracks altogether or don’t reach everyone they should.
Effective communication goes deeper than that, though. In addition to feeling welcome when they walk in the door, new hires should feel comfortable exploring the dynamics of the organization without repercussion. They should have the opportunity to communicate (e.g., ask probing questions or share ideas) in a “safe” environment without being concerned that they might not appear to be “fitting in.” Ostensibly, one of the roles of a manager (or as we refer to them at West Monroe, a career advisor) is to help people acclimate to the organization. But given that the career advisor’s role tied to the individual’s success, this may not always be the most comfortable place for such open communication.
We have found it useful to assign senior hires a transition coach—a West Monroe employee who is an outlet outside the sphere of one’s direct working relationships (supervisor or career advisor)—for the first 90 days. This enables open communication and a smoother cultural integration.
In our onboarding process, we also ask our new hires to share their journey to get to West Monroe. We follow that with sharing the journey of the firm from its beginnings to the present day—together, we then set a vision of how we will work together moving forward.
As the data shows above, expectations may not always be aligned when an employee is starting a new role. Despite that, we have an opportunity to realign quickly as long as both parties are willing to listen to each other. More specifically, we need to do a better job of working with new hires to set expectations when they first join—not wait for months, as is often the case, to provide clarity around how we evaluate contributions and how we hold individuals responsible for achieving success. Discussions about what the role looks like during the first three, six, and twelve months should include some tangible metrics and address how the role is adding value to the organization and clients. Focusing on value rather than a role description helps the individual decide which dials to turn.
In addition to setting expectations appropriately, we need to help our new hires quickly establish a plan for delivering on expectations. This must be a collaborative effort of the individual and the career advisor—with both taking ownership for the success of the transition. If one or the other is responsible for the plan, it is likely to miss the mark. Transition planning provides a meaningful way to collaborate early on, getting career advisor relationship off to a productive start and making it more “real.”
One key element of transition planning is mapping internal and client stakeholders who are critical to a successful transition. This exercise should, for example, identify the most important people to meet over the first 90 days, explain why they are important, and outline the approach for making introductions. The goal is to build credibility with key people more quickly to smooth communications and enable our new hires to build critical relationships.
New hires typically have a lot to absorb in a short time, from selling and familiarizing themselves with internal methodologies to meeting colleagues to learning how to submit their time and expenses. It can be easy to be consumed with “internal” activities, but there is no substitute for a client project to acclimate someone to the way we work. There is also no better way for someone to immediately feel productive and “part of the team” than by jumping in and helping deliver work with colleagues.
A person’s arrival in the firm doesn’t always coincide with the start of a new project, but this doesn’t have to be a barrier to engaging that individual in meaningful work. One way to do so is to establish a shadow role, where the new hire can observe and provide support to a team already on the ground. This offers a low-risk chance to see how we work, how we coach people, how we sell and go to market, and how we create value for clients. In the case of our internal business operations roles such as finance, talent, or marketing, it is similarly effective to have new hires join cross- functional initiatives so they can quickly learn how the business works and build relationships outside their immediate team.
We invest a tremendous amount of time and money up front in finding the right people for our team, but often not enough time after they arrive. Often, we make the mistake of thinking the more experienced someone is, the less support they need when onboarding—but that is not true. While we’ve seen success with the tactics outlined above, the implementation, and ultimately the results may not be consistent. By standardizing these practices, our leaders will feel more accountability for success of their new team members. We have a keen interest in making sure they can get down to business applying their talents right away to make us better and create value for our clients. In large part, that can depend on how well and how quickly they feel included.
By committing time up front to their onboarding and transition, by partnering on a plan, and by getting them embedded quickly with our teams, we can not only help them contribute more quickly, but reduce the expense and churn associated with experienced leader turnover.
Strengthening our culture of inclusion is a team effort, and we want to share additional perspectives from across our team and community. This quarter’s contribution comes from Nancy Tseng, a director and leader of our Mergers & Acquisitions practice in Los Angeles. Nancy joined West Monroe to grow the West Coast market with her extensive experience working with Fortune 500 companies in the context of mergers, separations, and business transformation.
Successful onboarding begins during the interview process. The process is an opportunity not only for the firm to interview you, but for you do to the proper due diligence on the firm. Aside from business health, strategy, and market position, you need to understand the firm’s values, culture, and success measures, because these are hard things to change if they are not fundamentally in alignment with your own.
Additionally, fit with your team is paramount. Especially at senior levels, it is assumed that you have the skills to do the work; instead, what matters is whether you and others at the firm enjoy doing the work together. All of this research should happen before you sign your offer letter. My interview process lasted six months. During that time, I met with directors and practitioners across the country to get to know them personally and their expectations before I agreed to join. Once I was here, I already understood my role, had an internal network of colleagues, and was excited to get started and achieve set goals.
That said, the only constant is change—it’s important to be flexible. As part of West Monroe’s continued aggressive growth, operating model changes were frequent, so I had to be prepared to adapt. As a result, the qualitative factors in deciding on a company to join is all the more important, since the core mission and values of a company typically remain constant.
Every company has its own way of getting work done, and West Monroe is no different. Getting to know who the decision makers are, the unsaid rules and processes, and individual priorities (and further understanding how and where priorities may conflict between individuals) were challenges that took the most of my non-client facing time. These factors play a huge part in the success and failure of getting new ideas and changes adopted.
Additionally, West Monroe is a flat organization, and titles don’t help you understand expertise. I invested a significant amount of time understanding what and where differentiating expertise resides across the firm. For practitioners earlier in a consulting career, who are more typically pulled onto projects, it is important to get to know the people who sell the types of projects on which they want to work. Conversely, as a senior leader, you are the one who has to find the right talent within the firm to sell and deliver your projects. For example, if I receive an analytics expert candidate for a project, I need to ascertain whether she is a technologist who deploys analytics software or a data scientist who can interpret complicated sets of data—same title, completely different skillset.
For people moving from a company with more hierarchy, joining West Monroe can be a culture shock, since working norms in our collaborative environment are different. Here, our practitioners juggle multiple bosses, (both internally and with clients), shorter-term projects with much shorter cycles of storming and norming among team members, and multiple roles in our ambition to sell engagements, deliver products, recruit candidates, market the firm, mentor and grow practitioners, and build practices. Learning to prioritize and execute all of that in tandem is an art. It’s important to understand your team, how they make decisions, and where to seek input.
These are “soft” lessons that are hard to assimilate in a week of onboarding and nearly impossible to document in an employee manual. This takes deliberate curiosity through one-on-one meetings and learning through working together in an environment that you enjoy.
A senior director with whom I interviewed served as my onboarding coach. He arranged for me to spend my first few weeks at our Chicago headquarters and booked one-on-one meetings with most of the senior leaders there. Within the first week, I already had a dozen new colleagues on whom I could call to go to market. That set a positive tone and made me feel that I could step into my role. This is a best practice that I have since carried forward as I hire and integrate practitioners onto my team.
Additionally, my onboarding coach arranged for me to participate in a shadow role on both my first sales pitch and first project at the firm. I was able to observe how West Monroe works, and how it delivers value to its clients. It was a low-risk environment for learning about team management expectations, operations, and methodologies. This was critical to accelerating my transition into the firm.
Informally, the number of invitations to lunches, emails, and calls from my colleagues to welcome me to the West Monroe family was positively overwhelming. For example, on my first evening away from friends and family, one of my fellow directors invited me for drinks, knowing I had the evening alone. Her warmth and authentic interest to see me succeed helped solidify that I had made the right move. First impressions matter to new employees.
After a few months on board, the CEO followed up with me over lunch to check in and see if the impressions I had during the interview process held true. High-touch executive leadership was not something I grew up with in my career at larger firms, so his thoughtfulness of engagement further set West Monroe apart and credentialed the firm as truly people-first.
The first 90 days are critical to any new role, and as an experienced hire you want people to understand the value you bring to the organization. Make a solid game plan for making an impact during that period. Ideally, both parties will take accountability for developing that game plan, but don’t expect others to have that fully fleshed out for you. Be prepared to put forward a point of view, get input from key stakeholders, and execute your plan.
Lastly, be considerate of what others bring to the table and the legacy norms: ask questions, and listen more than talk. Equally, do not assume that others know the wealth of knowledge you bring, overcommunicate, market, and recruit advocates. Most importantly, be present and enjoy the start of a new chapter in your career.