Making Magic: Induction and first-line leadership development.

We had a call with a small but fast-growing media and entertainment company about aspects of their culture. They were struggling to put their finger on the problem, presenting issues from the smell of staff food in the microwave to failures in work allocation and supervision. 

Along with fast growth came employee churn, as few companies can retain 100% of their new hires. Fast growing companies hire quickly but struggle to retain even 50% of the new hires over 12 months. Compounding growth and low retention creates performance and culture issues. The list of issues for this small and growing firm was long. 

At the risk of oversimplification, we consider two issues with growth: (1) finding the customers to drive growth (2) organising yourself to serve and sustain the growth rate. How do you transform that growth experience? 

What the client was asking for was a quick course (4-6 hours) for all staff on ethics and conflict.  

We are a transformation firm – we strive for deep healing rather than bandaging broken limbs. As usual in transformation challenges, we first considered a shift in purpose (for the client to do something new and different in their business). That obviously was not a requirement, as they are well positioned for growth and attracting enough new business, and their growth trajectory was not the underlying issue. They are finding customers to drive growth. There is apparently nothing wrong with the direction they are taking.

If there is no need to change the overall direction of the organisation, then next in line is significant changes in core processes. Core processes drive core capabilities. Sustaining significant shifts in core capabilities drives organisational performance. Core processes are value and values drivers – and something about their people development process seemed off.

Organisations have more first-line supervisors and managers than they have executives. The bulk of an organisation’s workforce report to first-line managers. Transforming, or shaping the first line managers has a more immediate impact than transforming the executive, predicting the effectiveness and health of the entire organisation. 

We discovered that although they have a raft of human resource policies, they have no structured induction program and no structured first-line manager program. They believed that was unnecessary, choosing to solve people problems with ad-hoc point courses. We advised that they develop a foundational, repeatable induction program that runs twice a year and is compulsory for all new staff at all levels to attend (together), along with a core first-line leadership program that equips the evolving first-line supervisors to lead. These programs would need to run at least annually or bi-annually for 3-5 years and soak up some of the messiness of growth.

Gantz (2010) sets out five core practices of leadership. These practices can be developed in the first moments of an employee journey.

Firstly – building relationships around a common purpose. Having the founders or senior executives spend time with new employees to discuss that common purpose is a vital investment in growth. Secondly, telling values-based stories as a source of motivation creates an energy spring that infuses the growing workforce. Thirdly, co-creating strategies to deliver on the purpose unlocks employee agency. Fourth – focussing employees on work to be done as quickly as possible will reduce the time to productivity. Fifth, making sure that authority lines are clear and appropriate keeps things moving along.

We proposed that instead of ad-hoc “workshops”, the client invest in two programs. The first is an induction program (3-4 days, twice a year, competently facilitated and using the voices of the founders and senior executives). This program should draw employees toward the purpose, give them a sense of direction, infuse the values and desired behaviours. The second is a frontline leadership program, delivered annually, that very intentionally strengthens the authority and leadership roles of the frontline supervisors and managers. Those two programs are transformational in that they provide the solid foundation for growth. 

At WorldsView Academy we work to customise induction programs and train clients to deliver their program – using a hybrid approach that goes well beyond handing out HR policies that are seldom read and never remembered, in addition, our LeaderShift program for first line managers is inexpensive to run, and integrates beautifully with the Nine Conversations in Leadership for more senior managers and executives. 

If you are lucky enough to be growing but struggling to organise for that growth – look to your people development capability and create a couple of strong foundations. Those foundations support the largest of buildings. Have a chat to us about transforming the way you organise for growth – it will be a treat!