We’ve all heard the proverb “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Unless you’re in France, where it’s “On n’apprend pas à un vieux singe à faire la grimace,” which roughly translates to “an old monkey does not learn to make a funny face.” Or in Spain, where it’s “el loro viejo no aprende a hablar,” or “an old parrot does not learn to speak.”

Regardless of where your company is based, the idea is that someone fresh to the organization is in an ideal position to learn and embrace what the company wants its culture and principles to be—more so than a jaded employee of 5-plus years. Young pups are more readily trainable; older dogs are more skeptical of culture change efforts. It doesn’t mean the old dogs can’t change, only that the newer recruits are often more accepting of change, given the new environment.

However, it’s surprising how few companies realize and act on the notion that new recruits offer a means to start adjusting company culture in a positive trajectory. For most organizations that I’ve worked with over the years, new recruits are greeted with one of two scenarios on their first day:

Scenario 1: The recruit is greeted with a meticulously planned sequence of events, covering not just day one but up to the first three months. Numerous meet-and-greets are scheduled, as well as appointments for getting badges and paperwork sorted—even who is taking them to lunch on which days. In essence, this approach attempts to get new recruits to know the people who they’ll be dealing with and get them up to speed quickly on the requirements of the job.

Scenario 2: Here’s your desk, go figure it out.

Both scenarios neglect two characteristics vital for starting the employee journey effectively: any effort to tailor the experience to the new employee at the time of joining, and a comprehensive education and understanding of what the organization is all about.

Tailoring the Experience: The Rise of ERM

It may seem presumptuous to say that the hiring organization, the one that issues your paycheck, should tailor your induction to you, the one who cashes said paycheck. But many organization are what University of Michigan researchers Robert E. Quinn and Kim S. Cameron call a hierarchy culture. That is to say, the culture is structured and controlled, with an emphasis on stability, efficiency and “doing the right things in the right way.” The organization dictates policy that new recruits must follow if they expect to survive.

Pictured: a diagram that illustrates the Quinn Culture Types. The X axis moves from Internal to External, while the Y axis moves from Flexibility to Control.
Source: Quinn Association

However, just as customer relationship management (CRM) arose out of a need for better management of the customer journey and all interactions between customer and company, so too does the newer notion of employee relationship management (ERM). Seen as one of the top HR trends for 2019, ERM is defined as using technology to manage employee-employer relationships to help achieve a variety of company goals. At its core, ERM mimics CRM in a number of ways:

Characteristic Effective CRM Involves Effective ERM Involves
Communications Personalized customer communications and bespoke contact strategies, plus active monitoring of customer satisfaction (e.g. Net Promoter Scores) Personalized employee communications and regular monitoring of employee satisfaction (e.g. work/life balance)
Data Dependency Broader picture of customer, with advanced segmentation, recording of nuances and all interactions, predictive modeling. Broader picture of employee, including life goals, interests, motivations, etc.
Process Management Makes sales process easier and more efficient Makes the HR and line management process easier and more efficient
Systems Integration Works well with the marketing “stack” and other sales admin and reporting systems Works well with HR systems, including performance appraisals, remuneration systems, internal communications systems.
Adaptability Adjusts as the company grows Adjusts as the company grows
Business Decision-Making Enables better business forecasts and potential revenue opportunities Enables better HR-related forecasts (e.g. turnover, training) and potential development opportunities


Leaving the discussion of technology for another day, let’s focus on how employee relations could be used to rectify the two new employee scenarios highlighted earlier. If the interview and hiring process has taught HR professionals anything, it’s that people will say or do nearly anything to land a job. Some information gathered from the pre-hire phase about the individual’s personality, motivations and goals may be valid, but some may not. Therefore, it’s important in launching an employee’s journey to glean information that can help frame how they are managed. The entrance interview and relationship-building, whether conducted by HR or line management, are critical. Ideally, the employee’s inaugural days are customized to their needs versus one size fits all. This can set the course for how they are brought into the organization, what style of management works best, etc.

Unfortunately, the entrance interview rarely happens. Perhaps it’s because the information-gathering is not viewed as important. Yet the thousands of companies that use CRM systems and principles to guide their businesses would immediately acknowledge that treating all customers the same, and not continuing to gather information once the customer has signed the order, is a big mistake. Companies often fail to treat their employees with the same care they treat their customers, even though employees play an important role in retaining and growing the customer base.


Forget Your Heritage . . . at your Peril

The other characteristic that the two scenarios highlighted earlier often fail to incorporate is a true education and enlightenment on the history and heritage of the organization. We’re not talking about a boring, antiquated lesson on the company, replete with dates of founding, old pictures, and the type of learning that led many high schoolers to get a D in APUSH and forever hate anything associated with the term “history.” What we’re talking about are important narratives from the past, built around themes that have meaning and application today. These stories and lessons are what make your organization unique, give it character, and are reflected in the personality of the organization (simply put, its culture).

Sharing these narratives from day one helps in a number of ways:

  • It ensures a more memorable experience than simply dates and events. By creating interesting, engaging stories, the past can be brought to life in ways that have an impact on an employee’s day-to-day work and form the basis for both internal and external word-of-mouth marketing.
  • It grounds employees in the principles that got the company to where it is today and offers deeper understanding of what the company stands for.
  • It helps the employee gain a sense of context and recognize their place in a substantive heritage.


Who Let the Dogs Out?

Culture change starts with examining the employee experience in detail and asking questions, such as:

  • What does the employee journey look like?
  • How is it different for recent recruits vs. more seasoned veterans?
  • What changes are needed in order to make the journey better?
  • How can information about employees be weaved into the construction of the employee journey?
  • How can the company’s own journey translate into helping achieve the goals of the organization and belief in the organization?

While we’ve focused more on new recruits in this article, there are many ways in which all employees can be brought along to embrace new culture initiatives. Our experience is that you can teach old dogs new tricks, you can get old monkeys to pull funny faces, and you can teach old parrots to talk. Embrace the principles of ERM. And, of course, Start With the Future and Work Back.

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