Onboarding Should be Relational, not Transactional


Sometimes, it’s the smallest things that get under a person’s skin and drives. them. absolutely. crazy.

For me, it’s the term “new hire.” Seems innocent, right? I’m sure about 99.2% of people in the free world wouldn’t think twice about the expression, but it’s one I simply cannot stand.

In fact, I told my friend Brian the other day that “I die a little bit inside every time someone says ‘new hire’.” Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but hear me out:

Onboarding should be relational, not transactional.

“Hire” is a verb. It suggests transaction, or something that you do. When I hear someone referred to as a “new hire,” I immediately think that person isn’t an official part of the organization yet. In fact, when we look at the top definition for hire, this is what we see:


Am I saying there is no “transaction” involved in the process? Not at all. I get it, there is paperwork to complete, processes to follow, content to share. But that is not the end-all-be-all to onboarding a new employee.


Onboarding is a process that immerses a new employee (noun!) into an organization.

I think it’s safe to say that most, if not all, of us want our newest employees to feel welcomed, nurtured and included when they join the organizations we support. Your new employees are people, with needs and emotions and questions.

There is so much more to onboarding than the simple act of “hiring” a person.

When building a culture that welcomes, nurtures and includes new employees (particularly when there hasn’t been much of a process in place), an easy place to start is with the language you are using. It may be subtle – maybe even unnoticed – but being intentional with a detail as seemingly tiny as “new hire vs. new employee” sends a message to your organization that you are committed to building relationships with your newest employees.

Want to blow people’s minds? Tell them about it.

Tell your onboarding stakeholders and company leaders about your decision to use intentional language. Tell them that your team is committed to making onboarding a relational process, rather than a transactional one. This can be a huge value-add for your program.

Guess what? The benefit of intentional language goes beyond onboarding. Consider your language for learning, development and succession planning programs as well.


Your turn: Am I crazy? Is this just being a little too nit-picky? Tell me about it. Or tell me that this is brilliant, and it will revolutionize your program. Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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5 Onboarding Challenges Hiring Managers Face (and how to overcome them)

5 challenges hiring managers face - and how to overcome them

Let’s face it, hiring managers: Onboarding a new employee is a tall order. Its importance is acknowledged by most, but busy managers often struggle with providing a solid experience for their newest team members.

I know, I can get a little preachy with hiring managers sometimes…like here, here and here (to name a few!). But today, I’m giving you all some love. I know you’re busy – I’m a manager at the day job, too. I know how many directions a manager is pulled. I know what challenges you face when bringing a new employee onboard.

Here are 5 of those challenges, and a few thoughts on how to overcome them:

1. Challenges with role clarity – both their own understanding and the new employee’s understanding.

When bringing a new employee to the team, it is important to review the job description with a fine-toothed comb. Is it current and accurate? If not, clarify the specific duties and responsibilities for the new employee so it can be clear during the interview process, and openly discussed upon hire. Ask the new employee questions about his/her understanding of the role, and engage in early, frequent dialog about it.

2. Challenges with setting expectations.

Over-communicate with your new employee. Devote ample time to meet with the new employee, and make an effort to discuss your expectations for everything – communication, meeting cadence/frequency, involvement, working hours, tasks, performance and results. But it doesn’t stop there – ASK your new team member what his/her expectations are for his relationship with you, the direct supervisor. It’s a two-way street – the sooner you start talking about expectations, the sooner you’ll find yourselves on the same page and in a partnership of trust and open communication.

3. Challenges with being too busy.

Yeah, yeah, yeah…there it is again. The Busy Excuse. In spite of the busy-ness, it is imperative that a manager spend plenty of time building a relationship with a new employee. If this doesn’t happen, the onboarding process (and ultimately the success of the new employee) is at risk.

The truth is, you don’t have time NOT to provide a sufficient onboarding experience for your new employee.

The good news? It doesn’t all have to happen in person. It doesn’t even have to fall entirely on YOU as the manager. Here are a few tips for busy managers:

  • Find a consistent, regular time to meet – during the first week, this should be at least once daily
  • If face-to-face meetings don’t always work, due to travel, remote locations or other reasons, leverage collaboration favorites like Yammer, Skype, conference calls, IM, or other tools to make connecting easy
  • Delegate some of the communication to others on your team – hook the new employee up to an “onboarding buddy” for the first few weeks
  • Use checklists or other job aids to ensure that important components of the process don’t fall through the cracks!

4. Challenges with the rest of the team embracing change.

Inevitably, when a new person comes onboard, the dynamic of the team changes. This can be particularly true if the new employee is in a leadership role, or if an existing team member interviewed for the position, but did not get the job. Stay ahead of the change from the moment the new position is posted – be communicative. Changes within an organization are more widely embraced when the team is built on a strong foundation. As the manager of the team, set the new employee up for success by creating a welcoming environment. Talk about the changes before the new employee arrives; discuss any apprehensiveness and answer questions, then involve the existing team in preparing for his/her arrival:

  • Enlist someone with organizing a team lunch or social activity during the new employee’s first week
  • Get assistance with training on job duties or department procedures
  • Ask someone to be the “onboarding buddy” or mentor for the first few weeks
  • Have everyone sign a welcome card or email a team “selfie” photo to the new employee prior to his/her first day…be positive about the change!

5. Challenges with communicating the company and department culture to the new employee.

As managers, we’re often really good at communicating the cut-and-dry topics: policies, procedures, tasks, projects. Step one, do this. Step two, do that.

The squishier topics are harder to explain: culture, vision, mission, values. The unspoken pulse of the organization.

How do you make those squishy topics come alive for a new employee? Simple. You live the squishy topics.

Be deliberate – tell the new employee, “This is HOW we impact the company mission statement,” “This is HOW we impact the customer experience,” — and ASK the new employee his opinion on how s/he thinks s/he can embody those characteristics in his/her new role. Make it an open conversation. And if you’ve never had that deliberate conversation with your existing employees, this would be an ideal time to initiate it with everyone!


There you go, hiring managers. 5 onboarding challenges, and some practical solutions for overcoming them. It’s your responsibility to provide a positive, nurturing environment for your new employees. Will you accept the challenge?

Your turn: Hiring managers, what have been your biggest challenges when onboarding a new employee? How have you overcome those challenges? Share your thoughts in the comments!


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Onboarding Rules for Hiring Managers….the workshop!

Bring phase(two)learning to your organization to deliver the Onboarding Rules for Hiring Managers workshop! Partial and full-day session options are available. This workshop is the perfect supplement for any management training program…send an email to learn more!

Top 10 Posts About Onboarding

Top 10 Posts About Onboarding

It’s summer vacation for phase(two)learning! For the next two weeks, please enjoy this recap of favorite phase(two)learning blog posts! Look for fresh, new content in July!

If you’ve been following this blog for long, you’ll know that onboarding is a topic that I could talk about all day. A solid onboarding program can have a tremendous impact on an organization – from understanding your customer to retaining talent to employee engagement. Whether you are an onboarding process owner, a facilitator of New Employee Orientation or a hiring manager, you play an important role in the new employee experience.

So, the question is: What are you bringing to your organization’s onboarding program?

For your reference, here is a curated list of the top 10 phase(two)learning posts about onboarding, according to the blog metrics. Enjoy, and share your favorites!

10. What Modern Family Reminded Me About Onboarding

9. A Few Words About Onboarding Jargon

8. What George Costanza Teaches Us About Onboarding

7. Pinterest for Onboarding: Part One

6. 5 Onboarding Rules for Hiring Managers

5. 3 Onboarding Lessons from Fortune Cookies

4. 3 Misconceptions About Onboarding

3. An Open Letter to Hiring Managers

2. 20 Questions New Employees Should Be Asking Managers

…and the #1 phase(two)learning post about onboarding is…

1. 3 Onboarding Lessons from SNL


Bonus! Here’s an oldie but goodie you may have missed:

Big-Box Onboarding


Know of someone who would benefit from these posts? Be kind and share this post!


Bring phase(two)learning to your organization!

Does your onboarding process need an update? Bring phase(two)learning onsite to conduct an Onboarding Audit or facilitate an interactive workshop! Send an email for more information!





Too Busy for Onboarding?


Startups are interesting little things, aren’t they? Growing a product and company, often from nothing more than a whim:

“Wouldn’t it be cool if we……….” (and a startup is born.)

Before my current day job, I worked for a tech startup. The company was about 8 years old when I joined, so they weren’t exactly brand new, but still young, still entrepreneurial, still growing at an alarming rate. During my 3.5 years with that company, I learned a lot. I was surrounded by extremely smart, innovative people, and led training for some really exciting brands – Microsoft, Home Depot, Coca-Cola, L’Oreal, Spanx – just to name a few.

I also received quite an education on how many different types of organizations, including startups, view workplace learning. It’s often an afterthought (sigh). Somewhere between the “Wouldn’t it be cool if we……” stage and the “oh my gosh, we have 150 employees – now what??” stage is the “Maybe we should be training these people?” stage. As an advocate for workplace learning, it really kind of stinks, but it’s reality (queue the sad trombone).

Earlier today, I had a great conversation with a fellow learning professional who has been implementing an onboarding program at her company, another startup. Besides getting acquainted with someone I can only describe as an onboarding kindred spirit, I was reminded of my days at that former job. They have developed a terrific onboarding process. A process that involves hiring managers. A process that is championed by the CEO. A process that welcomes new employees to the company, team and role.

And it’s a process that many of their hiring managers claim to be “too busy” to follow.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that…

Managers, everyone is busy.

Trust me, I get it. I’m a manager too. I know how many directions we’re pulled. So, please know that I’m saying this with nothing but respect: Please stop using the “I’m too busy” excuse. The truth is, you are too busy NOT to provide a sufficient onboarding experience for your new employees.

I’ve directed several posts toward hiring managers – like this one, this one and this one. I know I can be a little tough, but only because coaching new (and seasoned) employees is part of your job. It’s the price of admission for a manager. Even if there isn’t a specific nugget on your job description that tells you to do it. This is a key distinction between an individual contributor and a manager…it’s not all about you anymore. You have people to look out for; people who are looking to you for guidance.

So, back to being busy. Like I said, I understand. I really do. Here are 3 simple ways to incorporate onboarding into your daily routine, when a new employee joins your team:

1. Make him your shadow.

If you already have meetings to attend, bring your new employee along to observe (when it makes sense). At the start of the meeting, introduce your new team member and briefly explain how he will benefit from observing the meeting. Don’t expect him to participate (unless he has something to add); it’s okay if he just listens and takes notes. He is learning about the topic of the meeting, sure…but also about how meetings work in the organization, how teams and roles interact and other culture lessons.

2. Leverage lunch.

Chances are, you eat lunch most of the time. Whether it involves leaving the building or brown-bagging it, make an effort to eat with your new employee once in awhile. Invite others along. By doing this, you are building camaraderie and integrating your new employee to the team. During these informal moments, so many topics are discussed. It’s a great way to encourage dialog and open communication.

3. Always answer “why”.

Whenever you meet with your new employee, explain something, answer questions or provide information, make sure you explain WHY things are the way they are. It takes time for a new employee to gain context, and they don’t always know what or how to ask. We don’t know what we don’t know.  Pretend the new employee is asking “Why?” like a curious preschooler, and tell them.

There you have it – by doing these three things, you are immersing your new employee into your culture. You’re proactively communicating. You’re providing context. Three things that are absolutely critical in a new employee’s first weeks on the job.

And you don’t have to add a single item to your lengthy to-do list. Even better!

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Need to engage your hiring managers in the onboarding process? The “5 Onboarding Rules for Hiring Managers” interactive workshop is now available! Download the brochure, then send a note to learn more about bringing phase(two)learning to your organization in 2014!


Pinterest for Onboarding: Part One


Ah, Pinterest.  The (addicting!) social media darling. This site has opened my eyes to everything from new recipes, to travel inspiration, to shoes and handbags (swoon!) and home decor ideas…and about 1001 other things.  I even post links to this blog and other things that inspire me on a Pinterest board.  Such fun!

Pinterest is still relatively young, only being launched in 2010. In fact, I am still given a confused look by some people when I mention it.  The site has been widely embraced by women (a whopping 80% of its users are female, according to recent studies), but major brands are finding ways to leverage its simple visual model to generate leads, engage customers, and share content.  I came across this great article with some really interesting information on how marketers are using Pinterest.  Since we, too, are marketers within our organizations, this got me thinking….

What about us?  Is Pinterest something that we can adopt and make part of our onboarding programs?  Our Learning & Development programs?

I think yes.

So, this afternoon, as I watched my beloved hometown Indianapolis Colts end their season by losing to the Baltimore Ravens (pout), I sat down with my favorite pen and brainstorming notebook, and came up with a few possible ways to use Pinterest to share links and educate prospective employees, engage new employees and connect with current employees. We’re going to be jumping on the Pinterest bandwagon over the next couple of posts – are you ready?!

To get started, here are a few ideas:

Board #1: Recruiting Team Resources

Your recruiting team can share their expertise on this board…everything from current job postings to articles on acing a job interview or networking best practices. Include links to everything a candidate would need to know to feel at ease for an interview with your organization.

Board #2: We Give Back (Social/Corporate Responsibility)

Does your company have a foundation?  Do you support a charitable organization?  Maybe you have an annual canned food drive.  Maybe your company adopts families during the holidays.  Maybe you’ve built houses with Habitat for Humanity.  Well, put it out there!  Post links to the organizations.  Post photos of employees in action, doing good in your community.  Not only does this give your company some “good press”, but it also gives incumbents a glimpse into what your organization stands for.  If the company lives by its Core Values, as many companies do, this is a great way to introduce candidates (not to mention prospects and customers) to those values and show them in action.

Board #3: A Day in the Life

What better way to let potential employees see what life is like in your organization, than to give them a visual tour?  Upload photos of employees working, playing, collaborating, talking and laughing.  If your company prides itself on its dynamic, youthful, or even quirky culture, this is a great way to showcase it.  From casual dress codes to video game tourneys to Happy Hour gatherings, document them all and pin ’em.  Incoming employees can peruse the photos, learn about the culture, and get EXCITED to start their new job!

The key here?  Be real. Not staged.

Board #4: Wellness Initiatives

Wellness is certainly en vogue these days.  Many talented people are seeking employers who encourage and contribute to healthy living; if this is your organization, it’s a great selling point for prospective employees.  Show  it off!  Post information and photos of your onsite fitness center, healthy snacks, running groups, and other noteworthy features your company has to offer.  As incumbents begin to imagine how they will fit in your organization and culture, they can also think about fitting that Tuesday morning onsite yoga class into their new schedules!

Board #5: Our Place in the Industry

A Pinterest board is a fantastic place to upload recorded webinars, podcasts and videos to give incumbents a one-stop shop for learning about your organization’s contribution to your industry.  You can also include links to notable blogs, key individuals in your organization/industry to follow on Twitter, and other resources to educate a new employee.

The span of time between accepting a job offer and the incumbent’s first day is when his engagement level is naturally very high.  He is trying to absorb as much information as possible to learn about his new organization, team and role.  Many times, the incumbent will go on a vague scavenger hunt, scouting out the company website and random LinkedIn profiles to find out nuggets of information. Pinterest can make this very simple for your new employee.  In a visually appealing way, you are presenting information about your industry, processes, and culture in a way that allows incumbents to explore on his own terms, at his own pace.  And yes, you can even make sure there is nothing proprietary out there, if that’s a concern.

The thing to keep in mind as you develop an onboarding program is that when you bring a new employee on board, you are not just adding a “worker” to the team; you are welcoming a whole person, who has needs that go beyond the bullet points that make up his job description.

Make it easy.  Make it engaging.  Make it count.

I’ve got a few more tricks up my sleeve on this topic…enough that one post was just not enough…so we’re going to dig deeper next time!  Until then, take a look at this example of a company that is using Pinterest, and doing it well.  I’ll admit, I’m a bit biased, as I used to work for this company and have a soft place in my heart for the people and culture!  I’m proud to be an alum of this fantastic company, so enjoy the peek into their very Orange world (you’ll see what I mean when you check out their board!).

Your turn: Are you a Pinterest user?  For personal or professional use? Have you thought about using Pinterest for your onboarding or learning programs?  Tell me all about it!

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The Art of the Meet & Greet


The Meet & Greet is a beloved component of many onboarding programs.  I’m going out on a limb, however, and guess that many hiring managers love them for the wrong reasons.  Let’s ruffle some feathers:

Reasons I Think (Some) Hiring Managers Love Meet & Greets:

1. They’re pretty easy to coordinate.

2. Most of the “work” falls on someone else.

3. You can easily fill a new employee’s schedule for his first days/weeks, and the hiring manager has to spend very little time with the new employee.

4. The hiring manager can pat himself on the back thinking his new employee has been “productive” and sufficiently “onboarded”.

(Okay, ouch.  Too much?)

Friends, we need to teach hiring managers in our organizations the art of the Meet & Greet.

Meet & Greet sessions can be a value-rich addition to the new employee experience, but they can also prove to be nothing more than a revolving door of random employees babbling about complex initiatives, jargon, irrelevant titles and biased opinions.  During the first days and weeks on the job, even the sharpest new employee has very little context to understand these things.

Here are five strategies for effectively using Meet & Greet sessions when onboarding new employees:

1.  Before the new employee starts, identify key individuals that will bring value to his first days on the job.

Key individuals.  Not everyone the incumbent will eventually work with.  Consider the employee’s role, responsibilities and early projects or initiatives.  The hiring manager should look to the immediate team, other close allies and essential vendors.  These people should have an integral role in the employee’s success.

2.  Reach out directly to those individuals and prepare them for the meeting.

Sorry to break the news, but dropping a vague meeting invite on a person’s calendar does not count as “reaching out directly”.  A phone call or even an informative email would be fine.  If you do choose to go straight to a meeting invite, make sure the purpose of the meeting is clearly stated in the body of the invite!  Let’s explore this one…

Sample email/meeting invite body:

Hello Key Individual,

We will be welcoming a new addition to our team next week!  John Smith will be joining us as our new .  His first day will be Monday, January 14.  To help integrate John to our team, we are scheduling a few informal “meet & greet” sessions with key individuals within the organization.  Since you will be working directly with John on the Very Important Project, it would be great if you two could sit down for a few minutes and get acquainted, discuss your role and team, and how you will be working together.

Also, if you have any helpful advice or resources for John as he gets started with the company, I’m sure he would be appreciative!

Please let me know if this time will work for your meeting, or if you need any more information.  Thanks, Key Individual!

Warm regards,

Hiring Manager

This small effort will help the individual prepare for this meeting, and it will help drive a more effective, meaningful dialogue.  Plus, it’s just nice.  And isn’t nice, well, nice?

3.  Make sure the new employee’s schedule is well balanced with other activities.

Avoid the fire hose!  Any Meet & Greet sessions should be a component of the onboarding process, not its entirety.  Furthermore, if your new employee is rushing to and from back-to-back-to-back-to-back meetings for his entire first week, you haven’t found balance.

Remember, a balanced onboarding program should incorporate these three tenets:

  • Welcome to the company
  • Welcome to the team
  • Welcome to the job

Hiring managers, your organization’s Orientation program will probably hopefully do a decent job with introducing your new employee to the company.  Team?  Job?  These should fall a little more heavily on you.  After all, you are the one who has been involved in the selection of this new employee.  You know what his role will entail.  You know who he will be working with.  You know the systems, tools and resources that will be used regularly.

Own it, hiring managers.

Coordinate the Meet & Greet sessions.  Give him time to get settled.  Provide training when necessary. Begin discussing projects or tasks where the employee can be productive and build early credibility.  Think about those quick wins your new employee can strive toward, and involve him.

4.  Provide a detailed agenda for the new employee.

We’ve discussed a balanced agenda, figuratively.  This one is simple – give him an agenda, literally.  Create a document he can carry with him for his first week, even if these meetings are on his calendar.  Don’t underestimate the comfort of something tangible.  On the agenda, include the dates/times (obvs), meeting room locations (Does he know his way around yet?  Does he need a map?), the names of the people he will be meeting with (and their roles), and any other pertinent information.

5.  The hiring manager should make time for the new employee. Daily.

The Meet & Greet is an enhancement to your onboarding program.  It is not a replacement for you, hiring manager.  Every day, in a variety of channels, you should be reaching out to the employee. The morning greeting, a midday check-in, and an end of day debrief are three essentials to incorporate, but don’t stop there!  Here are a few easy ways to let your new employee know you’re involved and available:

  • Take your new employee to lunch at least once during his first week (please make sure someone takes him to lunch on his first day, if you are unable to do this yourself!)
  • Organize a team lunch/dinner during his first week
  • Send an IM to periodically check in (be careful not to nag or micromanage!)
  • Include him in your routine mid-afternoon walk to the vending machine
  • Meet with him for 10-15 minutes at the end of each day of his first week – review his day, answer any questions, follow up as needed
  • Make an effort to get acquainted with your employee as a human being, not just as an employee!
  • Walk the new employee around the building and informally introduce him to department leaders
  • Make sure he has the supplies he needs; arrange for items that must be ordered
  • Discuss his job description – ensure that expectations are clear and everyone is on the same page!

There you have it.  Whether you are an HR professional, a Learning & Development practitioner or a hiring manager, you can play a role in facilitating meaningful dialogue between new employees and their tenured counterparts.  Those who own the onboarding process have the responsibility of enabling hiring managers to effectively embrace and immerse a new employee into the team and job.  Hiring managers should take ownership of knowing what the new employee needs and doing something about it, so your incumbent will find success.  We’re all responsible…and in our ways and roles, we’re all accountable.

Your turn:  Are Meet & Greet sessions a part of your onboarding program?  How do you utilize these meetings?  Has it been successful in your organization?  Please share your thoughts!
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3 Questions Every New Manager Should Ask

new managers need to build a foundation of trust

When people think of “onboarding”, many people often think of “orientation”.  Even the most seasoned learning professionals are guilty of this!  If you’ve read this earlier post, you’ll remember that we explored this topic, but it bears further exploration…

Orientation is part of onboarding, but not all onboarding is orientation!

So, let’s think beyond the basics…what happens during a new manager’s first few weeks?  After he goes through any standard orientation activities, and he is settling into his role?  While he is trying to make connections and learn about his team and manager?

During the first week, the new manager is being introduced to the company, the team, and the expectations of his new role.  Once the pleasantries are exchanged, it’s time to start doing something about the team structure! With his team, a manager needs to explore these three questions:

1. Where have we been?

There are a number of questions that the team can answer to provide clarity and context to a new manager.  2-3 days prior to a team meeting, the manager can submit questions like these to the team and encourage them to ponder the topics.  They can bring answers or just be prepared to discuss at a team meeting.

  • What words can describe our team’s history?
  • What are some major achievements our team has accomplished?
  • How was our team “born”?
  • What are some challenges the team has faced in the past?
  • How did the team overcome those challenges?

Before a new manager can adequately assess his team, he needs to know the origin of the team and gain understanding to “why we are the way we are”.

2. Where are we today?

Unless the manager is coming in to develop and lead a brand-new team, he needs to gauge where the past has brought the team and consider the current state of the team, individually and collectively, as well as projects and initiatives that are currently in progress.  Some questions the team can discuss include:

  • What are the team’s strengths?
  • What are the team’s weaknesses?
  • How do we bring value to the organization?
  • Who are our customers?
  • How do we bring value to our customers?
  • What are the organization’s top priorities/objectives right now?
  • What are OUR top priorities today?
  • How do our priorities align with organizational objectives?  Or do they?

A new manager needs to know how his team is perceived in the organization.  As he gains context about these perceptions, only then can he craft his strategy to move forward.

3. Where are we going?

Making progress.  In the book, The First 90 Days, the author states the importance of diagnosing the team’s current situation, and determining what immediate challenges should be addressed right away.  It is crucial to deliver results in the first few months on the job!

Once the manager has gathered relevant info from the team, through both team and individual meetings, he can work with his own manager to determine priorities, obstacles and outcomes.  When executed efficiently, these outcomes will build early credibility for the new manager and for the redefined team.  This also sets a precedent for open communication, proactive leadership and trust.

Where are we, and where are we going?  It’s something that every new manager needs (and deserves!) to know when he takes the reins of a team.  Is there a way you can build something into your onboarding program to enable new managers to facilitate these conversations?  Can you provide the tools, resources and encouragement?  I’d love to hear your ideas, and how you have worked with new managers in your organization.

On a personal note…

In the spirit of the holiday season, I hope you have been enjoying a wonderful season with those dearest to you, full of love and laughter.  Thank you for your continued comments, shares, emails and creativity.  Here’s to a successful, prosperous 2013!  Cheers!

– Michelle

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