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Is your onboarding stifling innovation?

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It’s estimated that 35% of new hires leave their posts within the first six months on the job.  This poor success rate is a poor indictment, not only of recruitment strategies, but also efforts by organizations to welcome new recruits into the fold.  Most companies attempt to counter this by offering on-boarding or induction processes to try and welcome new recruits into the organization and get them up to speed as quickly as possible.

The success of these procedures is debatable, and indeed research suggests that many are far from extensive enough, but on-boarding policies may also have some unexpected consequences.  A new study exploring the teaching profession found that the process of mentoring new recruits was actually doing more harm than good.

The teachers in the study arrived fresh from school with the latest research-based teaching methods to promote science education goals.  They revealed however, that their mentors would often provide them with very little in the way of support, and in many instances would actively obstruct the practicing of these methods, as they would often be different to the status quo.  Indeed, many were explicitely told to adopt practices that were known to be some way short of best practice, simply because it was more aligned with what already happened.

As a result of this behaviour, the new hires were often reluctant to confide in their mentors, implement new ideas, or indeed ask for any help whatsoever from their mentors for fear that doing so would damage their careers.

“Some teachers in the study implemented effective teaching without receiving assistance from their mentors regarding research-based practices. Others ran into so many constraints that by the end of their second year, their use of effective practices had decreased, and in some cases, disappeared,” researchers said. “Teachers who are capable of highly effective teaching practices are often being pressured to adopt the status quo. That needs to be talked about and addressed.”

The only way the new teachers were surviving was to go underground with their methods and practice them via stealth.  They would go about their work whilst telling as few people about it as possible, and outwardly pretending to comply with the status quo.

“The problem is that we know new teachers are still learning how to teach. If they keep quiet, there’s no one around helping them implement those practices, and they don’t have people with whom they can collaborate within their school,” researchers said.

Inductions and on-boarding are often seen as opportunities to teach new recruits about the ‘way things are done’.  Whilst the aim is no doubt a noble one, this research provides a telling reminder that this can often restrict our abilities to learn about potentially better ways of doing things, whilst also providing a barrier between those new recruits and the organization itself.

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