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Organizational Culture

Why I fired (and rehired) myself


Adriana Bokel Herde, EMBA '17

Whether you have been with your company for a few months or many years, you can probably relate to the feeling of being a new hire. This period between your interview and first day can stretch out for weeks and be full of uncertainty and anxiety. During this time, new employees tend to receive email requests from different departments at the new company, often resulting in confusion and missed tasks like late background checks.

Yet, this pre-boarding time is critical to ensure that the employee has a great onboarding experience. The first 90 days is a strong predictor of success and satisfaction in an employee’s first year. Data shows that the better the onboarding experience, the more engaged employees will be at the company.

During Organizations-Lab (O-Lab) at MIT, I was asked to pick a project near and dear to my heart, where I could assess a process and make recommendations for improvement. I picked the pre-boarding process at the company where I was working at the time. I was eager to apply all of the tools and knowledge I had learned in the MIT EMBA to improve this important process.

But to really understand the process, I knew I needed to go undercover. Sending out surveys as the Head of HR Operations was not enough to provide an accurate view of the process. With approval from senior leadership, I fired myself and went through the hiring process under a different name to experience the process first-hand, identify problems, determine the causes of problems, and create solutions.

Go see and assess

The first step—before firing myself—was to “go see and assess.” I had heard mixed messages from new hire surveys about the on-boarding process, but I was not able to see where the missing link was because our process maps looked good. By observing the process in a closer way, I could move beyond the typical helicopter view of leaders and see what was going on behind the scenes. My goal in the “go see and assess” phase was to understand how the reality of the pre- and onboarding process differed from what the process maps indicated.

I saw that the pre-boarding process entailed 12 steps that could take up to five hours for each new hire and eight hours for internal resources per week. Those steps were only completed about 65% of the time before someone’s first day. We clearly had room for improvement to streamline the process to ensure completion of the steps before day one.

Analyze the work design

By firing myself, I could literally see the workflow from the eyes of a new hire. I started to better understand the feedback in the surveys and how it conflicted with our process maps. As a new hire, I received too many emails from too many people. IT asked what kind of computer I wanted. HR sent pre-hire forms to complete. What kind of business cards did I want? Did I need parking or travel for my new hire orientation day? The emails and questions went on and on.

I saw how we could consolidate all of that information into one document, to reduce the number of emails and requests new employees received from different groups. We could be more thoughtful and proactive in communicating what to expect with a one-page document once the offer has been accepted so new hires knew what to expect in the upcoming weeks or months (the onboarding time period varied depending on where they were in the world).

Identify the root cause

It also was important to identify the root cause of the issue. In this case, new systems and security processes had been added without an integrative user experience approach. There was a disconnect between the emails that pre-hires receive before day one, preventing some of them from completing tasks successfully.

It was clear that we needed a team responsible for the pre-hire process. HR operations teams had been transactional and not focused on the pre-hire experience, and internal functional resources did not have a full view of everyone in contact with pre-hires or new hires.

Target design and execution

Focusing on work design, I developed a one-pager with a checklist by country that the recruiter can manually send to every new hire once the offer has been verbally accepted. This would contain critical information, links, and contact information needed to prepare for their start date. We also assigned an internal resource to run a weekly report showing which tasks were not fully or correctly completed.

After implementing the changes, we saw a significant improvement in the process for new hires. Six months after the changes, our surveys reflected 50% improvement in satisfaction with the process and an increased ability to complete the steps needed prior to day one.

The key to success was the addition of timing on the process maps.  We made some significant changes to the process and the partnership with IT was critical. We defined cut off dates and the new hire team met weekly to review the list and ensure that the internal checklist was addressed – from computer orders to background checks – in advance of the new hires arriving for their New Hire Orientation day.

While I am no longer at that company, I am applying the same concepts in my role today. I make sure to “go see and assess” HR processes at least twice a year because process maps are not the answer for everything. Understanding the workflow and optimizing work design are both key to driving sustainable change.

Adriana Bokel Herde, EMBA '17, is the Chief People Officer at Snyk in Boston, MA.

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