Thoughtful Onboarding with Jill Mueller

by | Mar 19, 2019

Jill Mueller is a trainer, coach, and learning experience designer dedicated to helping people teams become high performing by being Thoughtfully Fit.

by DLCC Coach Jill Mueller

Employee retention starts before the first day!

I have had nearly a dozen first days of work, and I can honestly say that I have never had a first day of work that I would classify as great, much less thoughtful.

On one of my first days, I surprised my boss by even showing up. HR told me to come, but my boss was expecting me the following week. I did a lot of reading that day.

For another job, I was shown to my cube and given a sheet of paper with long directions on how to log into my computer. Then I got to do an exciting series of computer-based trainings on computer security, sexual harassment, and ethics. Good times! I thought the next day would be better, as I was supposed to meet with my boss, but she got pulled into some other meetings so I spent my time creating folders in Outlook for emails I hoped would come one day.

I’d like to say I did better once I was a manager.

But there was one time I had an employee start on a Monday – the same Monday that I had six hours of meetings and needed every minute in between to get ready for the next one. Suffice to say, she spent a lot of time organizing empty files and reading as well.

In my defense, I didn’t think onboarding was my responsibility! That’s HR’s job! Right?


Get personal with new hires

A recent State of the Workplace report from Gallup suggests these lackluster first days of work are not unique. Only 12% of employees reported that their organization does a great job of onboarding. But the responsibility of onboarding doesn’t fall just on HR or training departments. As a manager, I needed to recognize that I had a very direct role in how a new hire’s first days and weeks went.

One of the trends in employee onboarding is creating a personalized approach for each employee. This doesn’t mean abandoning automated processes or starting from scratch every time, but there are some things that you can do to personalize the experience for a new hire.

Glassdoor reports that organizations with a strong onboarding process can improve new hire retention by 82%. That’s a lot! The extra effort of personalizing the onboarding process can go a long way.

Here are few tips to make things more personal.

Start before day one

Before the onboarding comes the “pre-boarding”. This might take the form of an email that includes logistics that the employee needs to know for their first day and week. Perhaps there’s an opportunity for the employee to come in for a quick tour or to drop off some essentials for their workspace before their first day.

A key part of pre-boarding is opening a dialogue ahead of the first day. When I would send an email to new hires, I asked what questions they had ahead of their first day (not if they had questions). This allows employees to get the information that they need, not just what we think they need.

Set clear expectations

Many managers take the time to set clear expectations for their employees as they set work goals and priorities. After my first bungled first day, I always let new employees know how much time they could expect with me during their first day. No more surprises.

A personalized approach to onboarding allows for a discussion of what employees can expect. Are they expecting direct training from their manager? Are they expecting a clear explanation of tasks on their first day? Are they expecting to dive into meetings and projects rights away? This perhaps is a place to step into BALANCE in order to make sure the employee’s needs are aligned with the manager’s and find middle ground where possible.

Ask thoughtful questions

It would be great if all new employees seamlessly entered our team. It’s usually not quite that simple, though. A new employee’s transition doesn’t end after their first day or week, so onboarding shouldn’t either.

It’s important to recognize that this transition is going to look different for everyone. This is where taking a coach approach and asking some thoughtful questions like, “What do you want to be able to say a month from now?” and “What does it feel like you can’t do yet?” and “What support do you need to feel fully confident?” can address limiting beliefs and correct assumptions.

Thoughtful onboarding pays off

When you are onboarding an employee, whether directly responsible or not, I encourage you to PAUSE, and THINK about what kind of experience you want that employee to have in their first days, and then ACT in a way that accomplishes that goal.

Invest through onboarding, and there will be less confusion, fewer wasted hours, clearer expectations and happier employees.

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