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Onboarding New Employees: 5 Keys to Getting it Right

When I got my first job out of college, I was lucky to land at a small private college in Southern Indiana.

I was full of vim and vitality (and student loan debt) – and couldn’t wait to get my career started. I had accepted a job outside of my degree for the potential to grow with a large organization, so I wasn’t quite as well prepared for the job as I might have been. Along with the excitement of starting my new career was also the trepidation that comes with the unknown.

This could have gone a lot of ways, but I was fortunate that Mark was my new boss. The Leader of the location where I started was one of “those” managers. He was respected and well known – and for good reason. He got results and he grew his people. I received a warm welcome on my first day, solid one-on-one time from Mark, and a detailed understanding of expectations. I also received a training plan that outlined my first two weeks which was used to drive my onboarding process. It was my constant companion as I learned the organization, and to this day I think it remains a great example of how to maximize the new team member experience.

When new team members start they are immediately judging their new organization and its culture. There is a special honeymoon period when folks start new jobs and you can either choose to take advantage of this impactful time or let it go to waste. I challenge you to make the most of it!

Here are 5 ways you can make the most of your new team member’s onboarding process:

WELCOME THEM WARMLY: Remember that starting a new job is hard enough without feeling unwelcomed. It is so important to show your new team member around the business and introduce them to everyone. Also, make sure that your new Associate has all the basics that he or she needs to get started. That could be the paperwork for direct deposit, uniforms, name tags, or parking permits. This is a good place to talk about name badges – first of all, please use them. They are important to your brand and start every transaction off by personalizing the Guest experience. Second, resist the urge to slap a printed label on a cheap blank and hand them out. This says “I can pull that label off and replace you anytime.” That’s not a great feeling and is just one step above a “Hello My Name Is” sticker from the local convention. You can be better than just price-of-entry here and have a welcome card signed by the team or balloons on the new Associate’s desk. Anything that shows you are happy to have them on board is a great way to start building loyalty and engagement.

SET THE EXPECTATION: Folks can’t hit a moving target or one that is kept a secret. If you did a great job during the hiring process, then you have already started sowing the seeds of expectation. There is no doubt that many service and execution misses aren’t a lack of commitment, but rather a lack of understanding. Sometimes folks just don’t know any better and that is a failure of Leadership. Take the time during the first days to review the goals of the organization and what part the new employee has to play. Review their job description with them as well as how they should be spending their day. Most times when there is slack in a day and team members are not maximizing their time, chances are they haven’t been set up for success. Make sure folks know exactly what they should be doing and that they have an organizational system to make it happen. Sometimes a $50 investment in software or planners can save you that much in lost time in just a week or less.

TRAIN THEM TO BE AMAZING: Never forget that poorly trained Associates give lousy service. That is just a fact – whether it aggravates them or makes them feel undervalued, the impact is the same. When your Guests come into your business, not only do they receive a substandard product or service, but they are met with an employee who hates what they are doing. This is sad, as it doesn’t have to be that way. Too often, both managers and Front Line Associates alike are tossed into roles with minimal or no training.

“Welcome. Here are the Keys. Don’t forget to lock up on the way out.” – Sound familiar? Many of us (myself included) were trained this way. I have had Leaders who could barely toss me the keys and safe combination before they headed out the door.

Don’t let your team start this way. When you hire a new team member, take the time to be sure they understand their jobs. This will often mean engaging new folks in all the learning styles – they need to be engaged by seeing, hearing, and doing. That is the only way that it will be sure to stick. The best training happens when you can outline what the job looks like, script the critical moves of performance, then allow folks to try the skill in a safe place. If you are hiring someone to make a latte, best to have them practice a few rounds for the staff before you try to sell them to a Guest. Remember that new Associates should never be allowed to practice on Guests and they should have the opportunity to observe others doing the job to see what success looks like. Once they have a grounding in the basics, then they can have their big moment with the Customers under the supervision of a Leader or key Front Line Associate. Leave nothing to chance and your Guests will definitely approve.

IMMERSE THEM IN YOUR CULTURE: If you want folks to buy in to your vision and values, you have to put them front and center from day one. Chances are your business, no matter how large, started small. Take the time during onboarding to discuss your company’s rich history and milestones. Many companies do a great job with starting by emotionally connecting new team members with their organization. Brands like Disney®, Ritz-Carlton®, and Southwest® make this a focal point during onboarding. This is a big part of the reason why these brands have such great service and are associated with excellence. If it is important to you that you have spotlessly clean locations, say “my pleasure” instead of “thank you” or value quirkiness within your business, you have to inspire and model those behaviors. This is definitely not a place for do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do Leadership. Honestly there is NEVER a good time for that kind of Leadership. Whether you have iconic videos, live presentations, PC based learning experiences, or hopefully a good mix of each, you have to make sure you tell your story and connect emotionally. Let new folks know just how important they are to the future of the business and ask them to give their best. Ask them to take great care of their Guests. Ask them to help the team pull the rope in the same direction. You’d be surprised just how willing folks are to become a part of something bigger than themselves and embrace excellence.

LISTEN TO THEM: When you are bring new blood into your organization, don’t waste a single moment. You have a fresh set of eyes and someone who has no vested interested in maintaining the status quo just because you’ve always done it that way. When folks begin with your organization talk them about what ideas they have to make the organization stronger. Ask them what seems to be working well and what isn’t – and how they would change things if they could. You should also make sure to ask them throughout the onboarding process how the experience has been for them and if things could have been done differently. Give them the freedom to speak openly and listen well. There is going to be gold in there because they have no filter or perspective on what has or has not been tried, or whose pet systems might be at work. They don’t know anyone well enough to worry about offending them and there is a purity to the POV of a new associate that can never be duplicated again. So take notes and get ready to potentially have your processes challenged – then be prepared to champion these new ideas (if they ultimately make sense) and give away all the credit to your amazing new team member.

Remember the key here is to get your new team members started on the right foot and contributing quickly to the organization.

The ultimate goal is to be sure that they are delivering stellar service to your Guests and driving that deep loyalty that we all seek. That can’t happen with a team that is hired and then left to their own devices. So think through what great onboarding can be for your business and then engage your entire team to make it a reality.

Until next time, treat those new employees like cherished friends and they’ll pay that forward to you Guests.


Tony Johnson Customer Service Expert | Author | Trainer | Speaker

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