36. Onboarding Success
One of the first things I would suggest for managers when hiring someone is just the importance of the first day, what happens to that person on day one.
Don [00:00:13] My name is Don Rheem, CEO of E3 Solutions and author of the book, “Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures.”
Don [00:00:23] I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement and I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level create engaging, workplace environments where employees feel safe, recognized and valued. Employees who feel safe are happier, healthier and more productive.
Don [00:00:41] Each week, my team and I take on topics impacting managers and we offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges. And, you’re listening to Thrive By Design, a podcast created by E3 Solutions to give managers, CEOs and leaders the tips strategies and tools needed to create an engaged culture at work.
Kelly [00:01:05] Welcome. I’m your host Kelly Burns, vice president of client experiences at E3 Solutions.
Kelly [00:01:11] As always, we tackle critical workplace themes each week with our resident expert and CEO Don Rheem.
Kelly [00:01:17] Welcome Don and thank you for taking the time to be here with us.
Don [00:01:21] It’s my pleasure Kelly.
Kelly [00:01:22] As we heard at the top of today’s episode, this week’s focus is about creating a successful onboarding experience for new employees.
Kelly [00:01:29] Last week we talked about laying the groundwork for a successful hiring process. But once those employees come on board, once they set foot in your office space you want the process of onboarding to go as smoothly as possible.
Kelly [00:01:41] It’s their first step into feeling connected to the culture and it is a critical opportunity for managers and H.R. leaders to create emotional velcro with brand new employees.
Kelly [00:01:53] However a recent Gallup report said that 88% of organizations don’t onboard well 88.
Kelly [00:02:01] What is that statistic tell us and why is it so important for managers to create successful and strong onboarding?
Don [00:02:06] You know, Kelly, I think part of the issue here is that so much energy goes into the hiring process, finding the candidate, interviewing them, looking hopefully you’ve done some testing and looking at the data and finding out if they’re a good fit.
Don [00:02:18] Once they say yes, it’s almost like everybody breathes a heavy sigh of relief and they think the hiring process is over. They’re in. But actually, the hiring process is just the beginning.
Don [00:02:29] And, in fact, it often creates expectations for the candidate. They’ve been wooed. They’ve been told they’re outstanding, they’re just going to be critically important. Okay, we can achieve great things now that we know you’re on board. So they’ve really been inflated.
Don [00:02:42] They have this very high sense of their value but then they show up for the first day and it’s like no one’s home.
Don [00:02:48] One of the first things I would suggest for managers when hiring someone is just the importance of the first day. What happens to that person on day one.
Don [00:02:58] And, I want to give you just one example that I experience with one of our clients. I was talking to someone and this person was a mid-level manager leader in the organization and they had been hired relatively recently. And I asked, you know, what was it like to come on board?
Don [00:03:13] And, I could see tears actually welling in her eyes and I said, “What happened?” Because I knew this was, obviously, it was a very emotional reaction.
Don [00:03:21] And, she said, “Well, I had a bunch of places I could’ve picked but the folks here said that they really needed me, my expertise was going to be essential. They were so excited to have me be a member of their team, they even introduced me to members of the team.”
Don [00:03:35] I said, “Okay, what was the issue?” She said, “Well, on my first day, when I got to work, no one was there. They were all gone on some kind of a trip or an outing.”
Don [00:03:44] And, she said, “Even worse, I had to ask where my desk was from someone that really didn’t know. When I finally did find it, there was no computer. There was no greeting. There was nothing. And so for the first day I literally just sat at my desk with nothing to do.”
Kelly [00:04:00] She’s gonna feel that emotion, of that first day, for a really long time. Even if the company does ultimately make up for it and she has that emotional velcro over time. That feeling doesn’t go away.
Don [00:04:11] This was nine months later and it still evoked this incredible emotional response.
First impressions matter.
Kelly [00:04:18] And they’re so easy. It doesn’t take a lot of time to create a positive first impression. So we should walk through some of the key things that leaders can do. They don’t take a lot of time. They certainly don’t take a lot of money that can really help create a very positive first impression.
Don [00:04:33] So when you think back, you’ve had several jobs in your career, Kelly, any particular first impression that really stood out to you?
Kelly [00:04:42] I had one organization that I was really excited to join. And, maybe that’s a part of the conversation too, is that the candidate is making a life decision when they’re deciding to come on board with an organization.
Kelly [00:04:55] It’s something they process, it’s something they talk to people they care about. It’s something that they spend a lot of time thinking about and investing in. And when they walk in the door, they want to know that investment was worth it. That it mattered to them. Did I make the right decision?
Kelly [00:05:11] And there’s a lot of ways that managers can make sure the answer to that is yes.
Kelly [00:05:15] So, I had an organization a handful of years ago where my first day on the job, I walk in and there is a company-branded mug and pen sitting on the desk for me, a welcome letter and signs, fun signs, pasted all over my office that welcomes me to the organization.
Kelly [00:05:32] And when I walked in, I immediately felt like they were excited to have me. And it was such a great day for both me and for them when I was able to walk in the door and start contributing to that organization. That probably took 10-15 minutes of thought and maybe 10 bucks 20 bucks for them to do. And it still stands out to me years later that that’s how I was welcomed to that organization.
Don [00:05:53] What was the expression on your face when you walked in?
Kelly [00:05:56] Well I love surprises, so there is a whole lot of joy, a big shock and a lot of gratitude that I felt like I had made the right decision by choosing that company.
Don [00:06:05] Yeah. And so that’s where the hooks and loops of the emotional velcro between you and the organization started to form. And those early days are really, really important.
Don [00:06:14] Let me talk about some other things that managers should think about to make this onboarding process more effective. There is some research around once you’ve hired someone, what are some things you can do that make a difference?
What stands head and shoulders above all the other, is this one issue, and that is giving the person a mentor.
Don [00:06:33] It should never be the person they report to. It’s not their manager but someone in the organization that they can go to to ask questions without fear of ridicule or asked if they are being silly or stupid or ignorant. It’s just really really important.
Don [00:06:47] We need to understand that when an individual starts in a new organization, one of the most powerful initial experiences is that of isolation that of being alone. I don’t know these people. I don’t know the culture. Everything is alien to me. So they’re in this new relational ecosystem, if you will, and how can we help them ask questions to find out what’s important for them?
Don [00:07:10] Or, not just ask questions but let’s say one of the core values is respect. And then they’re in a meeting early on in the first week and they see a leader do something that felt totally disrespectful to an employee or someone else. They need to be able to ask someone, is this normal? I saw this happen and it doesn’t feel right.
Don [00:07:30] They need someone they can ask those questions of that feels totally supportive. So my recommendation is for a mentor you know in the first month. The mentor should meet with them probably every week after the first month. They could go to once a month after six months. It could be once a quarter but then I think for the rest of their tenure it could be at least once a year. They get to sit down with that mentor who’s saying, hey, how’s it going? What’s going on?
Don [00:07:54] They have this continual relationship with someone that they can load share with.
Kelly [00:07:58] When we’re in elementary school or middle school and you start a new school, one of the first things you think about is, who am I going to have lunch with today? What if they don’t like me? And, I don’t know that that ever goes away no matter how old we get.
Kelly [00:08:10] As social creatures, we want to feel connected to somebody else. That’s why we ask a question in our survey about whether or not participants have a trusted co-worker that they can depend on.
Kelly [00:08:20] It is so important for us to have that and a mentor from day one that they can count on and ultimately, obviously they will be building more relationships with more co-workers, to create that sense of safety and belonging.
Kelly [00:08:34] That mentor is such a great idea to help start that process right. They’ve got somebody to eat with on their first day. They can breathe easy.
Don [00:08:39] Exactly. Here’s something else a manager can do.
Don [00:08:43] Ask members of the team and other key staff in the department just to stop by and say hello. Hey, Kelly started this week, love it if you just went by and introduced yourself told her a little bit about what you do. Be proactive about asking people to go in and make that initial connection.
Don [00:09:00] Then the other part of being a new person is we know that employees are often struggling with, how should I contribute? And, they don’t know the behavioral norms yet around talking in a meeting and how to make their suggestions.
Don [00:09:14] So, I would suggest to managers to seek that new employees input, privately first, rather than doing it in a meeting. Asking say, hey, we’ve got this meeting coming up, what are your thoughts on this? Just to get a sense of the way they express themselves.
Don [00:09:29] Because some individuals think that their word is the last word and they say, well, you should do this. So it doesn’t feel collaborative. And, so what sort of help can you give them?
Don [00:09:41] And, the help that I would like managers to give to these new candidates, at least initially, perhaps use “I statements.” I think we should or I feel that my experience has been rather than stating things like they’re universal truths.
Don [00:09:56] I want this new person to lead with curiosity, rather than judgments or statements. And, then, let others lead.
Don [00:10:02] As a new person, you don’t have to prove yourself right out of the box. Some employees just go way overboard to try to prove their value and end up stepping on their own feet and creating a bad impression.
Don [00:10:12] So, just encourage this person to emerge gently into this new role, and especially invite them to load share with you as the manager if something comes up that they’re unsure about.
Don [00:10:23] You can also talk to them about what the core values mean in the organization. I’m sure they heard the core values or it’s in the employee handbook. We want to talk about what they mean, both culturally, often, for example, this is a differentiator for us, this is really important for us. But also, I want them to do it in a way that that exemplifies behaviors.
Don [00:10:46] So, you can say, I’m sure you noticed that one of our core values is integrity. And, one of the things that’s so important for us, at least on our team around integrity, is that we own our mistakes and that we don’t blame we don’t point fingers.
Don [00:10:59] Something doesn’t go well, we’re the first to step up and say, this happened on my watch. And, that’s what we mean by integrity. Just to give them some behavioral clarity around core values that are typically very opaque in terms of the day-to-day things that people do.
Kelly [00:11:15] This isn’t just writing on a wall, this is how it plays out in our organization and this is what we want from you too.
Don [00:11:21] Yeah, absolutely. And then the other thing I’d say is talk about the goals of the culture and what culture is and why culture is important in the organization. Because that sends the signal we want them to fit in with this new culture. It’s going to be helpful if we start explaining what it is and why it’s so important to us.
Kelly [00:11:41] So, when we talk about what an employee’s first day, first month, first six months should look like, I think this is important regardless of if you’re hiring one person or if you’re in a hiring explosion and your company is growing quickly.
Kelly [00:11:54] You have to figure out how to maintain and grow your culture with any new person coming on board, whether it be one person at a time, or 10 people at a time, to grow your culture quickly.
Kelly [00:12:06] So, I have a few thoughts around what the first day should look like for an employee and I’d love for you to add into those as well.
Don [00:12:11] Sure.
Kelly [00:12:11] First, that a manager, you’re going to know the day that your employee’s coming on board. Keep your calendar as open as possible.
Kelly [00:12:18] If you schedule back-to-back meetings that day, and you have a lot of stuff to get done, you always have a lot of stuff to get done. But if you remember the importance of your onboarding strategy as a part of her attention strategy, you need to keep that day as open as possible to be responsive to your employee, to walk your employee around, to help them get acclimated to the culture as quickly possible.
Don [00:12:40] Take them to lunch on that first day and maybe include one other person from another department. Absolutely.
Kelly [00:12:48] That you plan ahead for their arrival. That means that you have their computer ready to go, that they have all the technology, the passwords that they need, some schedule that they can follow for that first day, so they’re not twiddling their thumbs wondering which desk is theirs or if they’ll ever get a computer to start being productive in the organization.
Don [00:13:08] You know, I’ve even had employees tell me about their first day and say, “I didn’t know where I supposed to park in the parking lot. I wasn’t sure which door I was supposed to go in now that I’m an employee.” They’re just some of these really granular things that they worry and stress about. Let’s make sure we’ve answered a lot of those questions.
Kelly [00:13:25] That goes back to the limbic systems need for consistency and predictability. If you don’t have a predictable method, you haven’t walked into this office before, you haven’t parked here before, you don’t know answers to these questions and it creates a strong sense of safety if these questions are answered for you ahead of time now.
Don [00:13:42] Absolutely true.
Kelly [00:13:44] And, I think the last thing, and I mentioned this earlier, some sense of celebration that they’re coming on board. That doesn’t take a lot of time and energy. Is such a great way to make somebody feel welcomed.
Kelly [00:13:53] Here at E3 when I onboard new employees, I love to change their computer backdrop to a welcome (insert name here) and a balloon imagery that as soon as they open their computer, they see that this is personalized to them. It makes them smile.
Kelly [00:14:08] It makes them feel welcomed to give them documentation that tells them who everybody on the team is. Every password and every platform that they need to know a general sense of short term and long term accomplishments. I like to provide that to them in a document, day one, so they can start reading through and understanding what their role is going to be like and how they can get up to speed as quickly as possible.
Don [00:14:30] You know you remind me of something. For years, I worked with a wonderful company, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters up in Burlington Vermont. And, one of the things that I was so impressed by when I first saw their employee directory is there was a picture of every single employee and they were listed alphabetically by their first name, which was the name you are most likely to hear in day-to-day work.
Don [00:14:52] And, someone says, well, you’ll be working with Antoinette on this project and then I think Roberto is also going to be a player. You can go back and look up Antoinette and Roberto and you now know who you’re going to see.
Don [00:15:04] Again, goes to this limbic issue about what’s next. You just feel more prepared and more relational. And it was especially important as your organization grew and they took on plants, facilities around the country, you could still see pictures of everybody in each facility. It was a wonderful thing.
Don [00:15:21] Now, when we think about this issue of, you know, their first day, which I think we’ve talked about very well in their first month, in the first six months, just a few things that I know have come up that have worked.
Don [00:15:31] One and we’ve talked about this already, I think very well. Just the importance of welcoming open arms and a little bit of fun, maybe even a little bit of celebration is okay.
Don [00:15:40] To be collaborative from the get-go and that involves, not only involving them in team meetings right away, but then as a manager meeting with that new employee after the team meeting and say, what did you hear, what did you see? What was that like? What were your impressions? And, collaborate with them in that sort of private way. Give them a direct line to you.
Don [00:16:00] Try a team event right after they come on board. Maybe the team can go out and do something?
Kelly [00:16:05] Have a happy hour or do something together.
Don [00:16:07] Yeah. Just go out and have a team event so they can start to integrate. And if it’s a team event that involves spouses or families that could be even better, so they get a sense of the human side of the team.
Don [00:16:19] And, then something that I am fortunately am terrible with, but which is one of the reasons why I know it’s so important, employees have a clear sense of a timeline.
Don [00:16:27] They know when they’ve been there a month, six months. They know their year anniversary and this is something that I think managers, especially myself, need to do a better job on. Is it their annual anniversary? Is this the date they were hired on three, four or five years ago, one year ago? And, to acknowledge that because they do. And they wonder, does anybody else know that this is my year?
Don [00:16:50] You know, it fits into this whole birthday issue of, annually, this thing happens that’s important to me. And, boy, their start date is really, really important to them. Don’t forget that. But you can also do the intervals. Hey, it’s been a month, how’s it going? Hey, we’re six months in, how are you doing? So acknowledge the month, acknowledge the six months and then make sure you certainly acknowledge the year.
Kelly [00:17:12] So, talking about the one-month timeline, when you think about somebody coming on board and they’ve been here a month, what should they have accomplished?
Kelly [00:17:18] I think about this in two tracks. If you are a manager hiring a frontline employee, I love having my employees go through what we might call, an experiential tour, where I’m setting this employee up with one key person from each department across the organization from the beginning within the first month.
Kelly [00:17:36] They sit down with somebody in each department to build relationships, to connect to get a bigger picture of what’s going on in the organization, how their role impacts what’s going on in the organization or in that person’s department specifically.
Kelly [00:17:50] It’s a great way for them to not only get connected to other people in the organization but also to build relationships that will impact positive collaboration and team effectiveness for the long term.
Don [00:18:00] You know, it’s much easier if you’ve met someone in a structured setting, like you’re taking them around and introducing them to people. Subsequently is much easier for that employee to go to that individual directly with a question or something else, whereas, if they hadn’t met them they’re actually much less likely to go to that individual because there’s no relationship established. They don’t know them.
Don [00:18:21] And, what this is for the brain, is the brain doesn’t know how we’re gonna be received. If I’ve never met the individual, if I’ve never seen that’s that friendly smile coming from them, which sends the signal that they’re pleased to see me, they’re happy an employee. If I don’t have that intelligence and this is all done at a subconscious level, I’m actually much less likely to interact and collaborate with them.
Kelly [00:18:39] Absolutely.
Kelly [00:18:40] If you’re not a frontline employee, your manager setting up those then if you’re coming in as more of a senior leader, than you need to be going on what I would call a listening tour. That you set up these meetings, that you sit down with each department head across the organization to say, what are the big struggles that we face in this organization? How can my role help support your role in this organization?
Kelly [00:19:01] That you position yourself from the get-go as somebody who is willing to listen, willing to jump in and help wherever you can and is not going to put up walls and silos around your department, that you are going to be a collaborative force of nature as a senior leader in the organization.
Don [00:19:17] There’s something else that happens there, Kelly, is not only are they meeting these people, but they’re getting a much clearer sense of how the CEO interacts with them. Is it fun? Is it upbeat? Is it a positive conversation or does it completely lack emotion? Bob meet Mary. Mary this is Bob.
Don [00:19:35] Or, are they saying social things about how they did something together or hey, did you see that? Did you watch the game this weekend? They’re getting a sense of the leadership style of the individual who’s guiding them around and how important that can be. And that’s very, very valuable because they’re again, they’re trying to understand what drives this ecosystem.
Don [00:19:55] What are the norms around how people interact with each other? Is it all business? Is it friendly? Is it relational? Or, is it all about the numbers?
Kelly [00:20:03] Yeah. And, at the six-month mark, I think this is the key part where you need to be checking in with your new hires at six months. How does it feel? How do you feel like you have performed? Here’s how I see that you have contributed thus far. Here’s where I’d like to have us do some course correction as needed.
Kelly [00:20:19] But this is an excellent opportunity for immediate feedback within six months of an employee being on board.
Don [00:20:27] Yeah. Glassdoor found that organizations with a strong onboarding process improved their new hire retention by 82 percent and longer-term productivity by over 70 percent.
Don [00:20:39] If there’s anything that sends the signal about how important this onboarding process is, it’s here. It is to me the second half of the hiring process. These are not two different things.
Don [00:20:49] We talked last week in the podcast about hiring. This is simply a continuation of the hiring process. It’s just that tail end. You’ve done a great job finding them and securing them and getting them to say yes. Now, this onboarding process are the very first stages of your retention process to make sure that they stay with you.
Kelly [00:21:08] Keep the honeymoon phase going as long as possible.
Don [00:21:10] You want that afterglow to continue to last. Looking back over this I think some of the most important things that we’ve talked about is the importance of the first day, these first impressions and how important they are.
Don [00:21:23] The role of inclusion and including them in team meetings and with other people in the organization, bringing them by. Giving them a mentor, not their direct report or not someone that they report to directly but someone who’s been with the organization a longer time probably in another department.
Don [00:21:41] The other thing we haven’t talked about this yet, but I want to kind of close out with this person is just starting with you. It’s not too soon to talk about their flight plan and to start to map out. Okay, where are they going to go in the organization? Come alongside them and help them create that flight plan about where they can progress in the organization and what that would look like.
Kelly [00:22:03] That’s it for today. I’m your host Kelly Burns. Thank you for listening.
Kelly [00:22:08] Tune into next week’s episode. We’re gonna be talking about how to successfully communicate your company’s strategy and vision to employees.
Kelly [00:22:17] Are you looking for science-based solutions to increase employee engagement and retention? Are you ready to measure key drivers of high-performance? Do you want your team to look forward to coming to work? Don’t wait. Check out E3 Solutions.com right now.
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