Onboarding and new in the job: observe unwritten rules


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Text comes from: Kommen, um zu bleiben - Systemisches Handgepäck für erfolgreiches Onboarding (2020) by Helga Brüggemann, published by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Reprints by friendly permission of the publisher.
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How does onboarding work? In the hiring process, a lot is discussed and everything is regulated. Unfortunately, a lot can go wrong if you don't follow the rules.

Onboarding and new in the job: observe unwritten rules


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Helga Brüggemann is head of systemic consulting in Düsseldorf.

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New job: Also observe unwritten rules

A change from one Company to move to another is usually associated with an energy-intensive phase transition. To accept the uncertainty about future developments presupposes that the expected benefits are far higher

The former employer had a great deal of flexibility. The motto was to use common sense when there were things to be decided for which there were no guidelines. In the first few weeks after entering the company, it could feel like being thrown into cold water. Learning to do, try and experiment was the unspoken currency with which you were rewarded for your progress. If this employee changes to an unconventionally managed company of small to medium size, there is a high probability that he will not have to do too much adjustment work, as the control systems are expected to have a high degree of agreement. The starting point is completely different if the change is made to a large corporation.

A question of expectations

If this employee chooses a multinational company with a matrix structure, it doesn't take much imagination to imagine what expectations he will take on his new position. He is an experienced problem solver and has a lot of knowledge and skills. He would like to contribute all of this. The expectation in the room to receive recognition for this is unspoken. The new person may find the way processes are designed to be cumbersome, but they often do not seem to be debatable. The new one advocates, for example, the increased internal use of social media so that decisions are accelerated. If he suggests this, it is not unlikely that he will be faced with strict requirements for the use of Facetime, Googlezoom, Webex and the like. The new manager experiences similarly contradictory experiences again and again when she does what she is understood to do. It should bring a new impetus to the organization with a fresh outside view.

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In the first few weeks, she explored the processes and structures and identified a need for optimization with a high degree of probability. The self-initiated questioning as to why something is regulated in this way can already lead to resentment among superiors and employees. The new employee wants to meet the suspected, often unspoken, expectation of being able to question the control system as a lateral thinker. Often he is not aware of the fact that he is scratching the identity of the employees who identify with the company, as it has grown over the years, or he does not consider it relevant.

What are the rules in the contract?

There is a written contract. Depending on the mindset and premises of the company founders and the degree of organizational maturity, this contract is rather lavish or economical. The level of detail of the employment contract is revealing in relation to the expected control system. The more regulated in writing, the greater the need for control.

Pronounced and unspoken rules of the hiring company In a large company with a long tradition, it is likely that a sophisticated set of rules has developed over the years and that structures have developed. Many details are regulated, such as the travel expenses application, time recording, the bonus system, use and restrictions of use of the new media, promotion criteria, the interpretation of the data protection regulation, etc.

Rules create security when onboarding

These regulations provide orientation and create security when dealing with one another. They reduce complexity by restricting behavioral options and making them more predictable. A sophisticated set of rules is the company's answer to the challenge of giving employees orientation in an environment with changing requirements.

Example of conventional companies Dealing with data is a clear example. Once data has been published, it can no longer be retrieved. Which data is subject to special protection is often a matter of discretion. The top management task is to precisely determine which information is communicated to the outside world.

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The limits of social systems

Limits in social systems, such as restrictions on access or use, are what filters are for a lens. Filters can be fine-tuned according to the lighting conditions. They dose the incidence of light onto the lens. This regulatory function is found in social systems in the system boundaries. These are permeable in the sense that they filter which and how much information is passed and which is not.

Matthias Varga from Kibéd and Insa Sparrer describe the give and take principle as a systemic metaprinciple. It “ensures elasticity of the system's binding forces at every system level. In this way, it promotes the stability and adaptability of the system. (Too little exchange would freeze systems [...], too much would lead to diffusion of the system.) ”

What information is made available when?

Deciding which information is made available to whom and at what time is challenging and requires a lot of experience and tact. It is in the interest of the company to provide clear lines and guidelines for decisions, to avoid litigation or not to unnecessarily reduce the competitive advantage over competitors. On the one hand, cooperation across company boundaries is essential to maintain the company's innovative potential.

It takes an exchange with the environment in order not to miss the connection and ensure impulses for the further development of the company. The higher the number of network partners involved outside the company and the higher the networking density, the more likely it is to find innovative solutions. At the same time, the research and development areas are sealed off from the outside world. Access restrictions in the real and digital world regulate the confidentiality of knowledge worth protecting.

Startups vs. conventional companies

Restrictive rules for the use of video conferences, Twitter, Whatsapp, Facebook etc. may seem old-fashioned, against the background of the risks described, they are understandable and sensible. The strength of many large companies lies in stable success and often decades of tradition, which members of this organization are often proud of. This tradition is perceived as an identity-creating value. Protecting him is an expression of loyalty to the employer. If this strength is exaggerated, there will be over-regulation, which will slow down work and, in extreme cases, freeze the company.

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The situation is often quite different in younger companies, which are characterized by a high degree of flexibility and speed in making decisions. The collective term New Work encompasses companies whose working methods are characterized by regulating only the most basic elements and giving employees as much freedom as possible.

How do the onboarding rules come about?

A set of rules is designed jointly and iteratively. Regular reflection loops identify redundant rules or those that have become dysfunctional. In retrospectives9, for example, suggestions are made to eliminate superfluous and dysfunctional rules or to replace them with functional rules. By consistently focusing on customer needs, an attempt is made to keep the overgrowth of the internal control system at bay.

These companies tend to be more risky than traditional ones. They have lower access thresholds and a higher degree of networking with the outside world. Few rules and requirements increase behavior options. More creativity is possible, and with it the complexity increases. To consciously accept this dynamic presupposes that you do not want to predict and control employee behavior. Companies with rules that grow iteratively rely on the power of self-organization. The complexity is high and cannot be managed with traditional management structures.

Share your own knowledge

In recent years, it has been common practice for top managers of traditional large companies to make a journey of discovery into Silicon Valley. The extent to which knowledge can be adapted after the trip and will have an impact on one's own culture is another matter.

Sharing your knowledge with others can become a corporate motto. Many unconventional companies see their organization as a social living system. This idea has noticeable and visible effects on the handling of information. Due to the expected positive interactions and the increase in awareness of the company, high permeability of the filters is lived and promoted by the company management. More and more unconventional companies open their doors and invite interested people to learn together with their employees.

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The Düsseldorf-based company Sipgate, for example, regularly invites to its own premises to train interested non-members of the organization together with their employees. Meetups of other initiators can also be held in the evening at sipgate:

“At some point we noticed that we were mostly stewing in our own juice. Unfortunately, you don't learn that much. The pool of knowledge and new ideas was limited. […] We decided to change that and have been holding the Lean DUS evening event since 2014. Every month we invite well-known speakers […]. We book an in-house workshop [...] and a public lecture each evening, as part of the Lean DUS «.

The learning opportunities are enormous thanks to this exchange platform, which is jointly visited by internal and external parties. The work processes and special features of the corporate culture are also made transparent through regular tours. What used to be industrial espionage can become a new understanding of coevolution, as this example shows. If a company wants to learn from an unconventional company like sipgate, it is not uncommon for this company to be invited to sipgate's premises to learn with and from each other. Internationally, too, companies are looking for exchange among themselves.


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