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Sink or swim.

That was the onboarding philosophy of one company I started at. I was given a desk, phone and a database of cold files, and invited to start selling.

Just over my cubicle wall, a perpetually sarcastic colleague with a scathing wit and floppy hair would eavesdrop and snigger loudly when I got flustered on my early pitches. My desk drawer was littered with business cards of those who had come before me. Who is Steven Waters? And Trisha Jones? Amit Basu? My colleagues glanced at one another askance and avoided eye contact … and my questions. They also avoided getting to know me until month four.

I survived and produced, and went on to have a lengthy career in that environment, but it was despite a tough start and not because of it. My boss later told me that he had thought I would not last three months. Interesting hiring approach: expect failure; be pleasantly surprised by success.

Perhaps that culture was extreme, but the mentality lurks not too far beneath the hiring and onboarding processes of many organizations — the uneasy, tacit, “jury’s out” view of a new hire.

A culture is the culmination of all of the ways you treat people and allow people to treat each other, and it starts with onboarding.

Okay, so maybe with Actionable — a company that is crazy about creating engaged and productive work cultures — you would expect an incredible onboarding experience. From day one, everyone was open, candid and communicative, and all in a virtual environment no less. As I struggled with overload of apps, passwords and spreadsheets, I always had several people I could reach out to for help. I was also paired up with an onboarding buddy who helped me out with all the wriggly little questions you have when starting somewhere new. And there were plenty of onboarding videos that guided me through the company and company culture. All this for a company of fifteen. Granted, we are about to grow and grow quickly, so we will soon really need this level of infrastructure. But I have seen companies far bigger pay far less attention to articulating and shaping their culture.

“Manage your business’s culture and that culture will manage your business,” says Arkadi Khulmann, former CEO and founder of ING Direct.

Khulmann has always espoused that a healthy culture is the key to an engaged, productive workforce. Get that right and much else will fall into place. Many agree but few leaders have the patience and discipline for the level of detail required to keep a culture rigorously consistent. Culture happens in the details. If you don’t consciously tend to them and calling out what does not jive with company values, a culture can quickly take on a life of its own. Like algae in a swimming pool, if you allow counter-cultural elements to linger too long, — whoosh –the company pool is rife with electric green before you know it.

Is your culture crystal clear?

Despite my very short time here at Actionable, it’s crystal clear what Actionable’s culture is and what behaviors would run counter to that. Everybody here embraces the values and walks them daily. On my very first day at Actionable, I was given a welcome gift–the same awesome gift that consultants who come on board with us are sent. And before I got home that evening, I received several candid, genuine notes welcoming me to the company. Small but meaningful details. And because the team has its eye on the details, I am pretty confident that, even as we scale up, Actionable will not require layers of managers because the culture itself will be doing the managing.

By the way, beyond the incredible onboarding process that is so true to Actionable’s values, what was most reassuring was the assumption of success. My colleagues aren’t sitting back, just waiting for me to mess up. They are leaning in, responsive and communicative, expecting success.

Tell us your onboarding experience via social media. What signals are your onboarding processes – official and unofficial – sending your new hires?

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