Your onboarding strategy might need a reboot if….

Do you remember the old “You might be a redneck…” comedy bit from a few years back? It seems like you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a Jeff Foxworthy standup routine on television or seeing a book about it. Even though it’s been several years since its peak, you still see those jokes bubble up every so often. In fact, I heard a “redneck” reference the other day that served as the inspiration for this post.

Respectfully speaking, the “rednecks” who became the object of these jokes didn’t set out trying to accomplish anything…I highly doubt these folks ever had a goal of becoming Jeff Foxworthy’s comedy cash cow. They were just going about their lives, minding their own business, passing on traditions from generation to generation.

Isn’t that what all we’re doing in our organizations much of the time? We get caught up in our routines – sometimes we just keep recycling the same old processes, procedures and routines from organizational generation to generation as people come and go, and as teams shuffle, reorganize, acquire and be acquired……because it’s “how we’ve always done it.”

Yep, even with our onboarding strategy.

Sometimes, we get so stuck in the “consistency” that don’t realize that those strategies become stale, tired and outdated. Over time, we risk finding our strategy misaligned with our business goals and drivers, and the very programs we’re tasked with delivering are not serving the interests of our people.

So, how do you know that your onboarding program is due (or overdue) for a makeover?  Here are 10 indicators:

Your onboarding strategy might need a reboot if…

1. Your onboarding experience consists of little more than an orientation session.

2. You offer a “one size fits all” onboarding experience, regardless of new employees’ roles.

3. It’s been at least one year since you’ve reviewed or updated your content or materials.

4. Your employee retention data shows that new employees aren’t staying with your organization.

5. Your hiring managers are not involved in the onboarding process.

6. There is little (or no) on-the-job learning taking place as part of the new employee experience.

7. New employees struggle to become connected to your organization’s culture, team, mission or core values.

8. You’re not actively measuring new employees’ feedback and performance throughout the first several months on the job.

9. Onboarding is not explicitly aligned with your business goals or strategy.

10. Your senior leaders and decision makers are not informed and involved in the onboarding process.


So what to do about it?

Good news – even if you nodded along in agreement with EVERY one of these symptoms, it can be improved. There are 4 steps to making your onboarding program more strategic:

The reality check: Discover and TRULY understand the state of your current onboarding strategy/program, and where it converges with your business goals (yes, sometimes this is a punch in the gut).

Get your leaders on board: Build an **irresistible** business case for onboarding that speaks your leaders’ language.

Commit and create: Invest in the development and delivery of an onboarding experience that sets new employees up for success AND impacts business results.

Measure and audit: Evaluate the success and impact of your onboarding program in multiple ways, and take inventory of your content at least annually.
Even better news – you can access this DIY kit to make it FOOLPROOF.

In my annual State of Onboarding survey that goes out to thousands of HR and Talent/Organizational Development professionals each January, it was abundantly clear that phase(two)learning readers and clients were struggling with this.

Who knows – maybe you’re one of the people who expressed this feedback in your survey earlier this year?

83% of survey respondents indicated that their onboarding strategy needed updating and/or had serious blind spots, but they didn’t have the leadership buy-in to get started.

Friends, that’s a problem. If your leaders can’t/don’t/won’t see the significance of a results-oriented onboarding strategy, you aren’t speaking their language.

There’s still time to turn your onboarding strategy around in 2018, or get a jump-start on your 2019 goals. Whether you are part of a small or large organization, you’ll find value in this program.

Gain access to this self-paced course and DIY kit now, and make onboarding more strategic in your organization. (Don’t wait – introductory pricing goes up soon!)


Got questions about this offering? Drop me a note anytime – I’d love to talk more and answer your questions.


Onboarding Magic is in the Welcome

I grew up a couple of hours north of where I currently live. While my family doesn’t live in that city anymore, I follow the local newspaper online to stay in the loop about current events in my old stomping grounds.

Recently, I was talking with a friend about various teachers we remembered from our childhoods. I mentioned that since my kindergarten teacher was close to retirement age when I was in her class, it wasn’t likely that she was still with us.

So, imagine my surprise when less than a week later, I came across this article posted on that newspaper’s Facebook page, with a photo of a face I hadn’t seen in decades, but immediately recognized:

100th birthday image

The woman on the right in the plaid shirt is Mrs. Berniece Getz, my kindergarten teacher from nearly 40 years ago. What a treat to see that she is not only still living, but apparently active and thriving!

But what struck me most wasn’t the sweet photo of the two friends, coincidentally named Berniece and Berneice, but the story written about them. If you’d like a warm-fuzzy moment, check out this brief article:

Friendship passes the test of time | Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette

Such a neat story…in case you didn’t click to read it, I’d like to call out the first few sentences, because there’s a lesson here:

During the middle of her seventh grade year in 1930, Berneice Witmer was forced to transfer when her school in Grabill closed. She felt a little trepidation when she walked into her new classroom at Leo.

“I figured I’d just sit in the back row,” she said. “But when I sat down, a girl comes up and says, ‘That’s my seat. Get out!’”

Forced to move, she was anxiously looking around for a new seat when another girl said, “’Come and sit by me and I’ll take care of you.’ She stepped up when I was desperate.”

And Berniece Conrad did take care of Witmer in the start of a friendship that has lasted 88 years. Now, the two mark another memory as the friends celebrate their 100th birthdays this month.


“Come and sit by me and I’ll take care of you.”

That kind gesture was clearly a turning point for a new student, who didn’t know anyone and was unsure of her new surroundings. She was put at ease and immediately struck a friendship that has lasted for a (long) lifetime.

These days, we probably aren’t expecting most new employees to stick around for a decade, let alone nearly a century. But the lesson here, friends, is simple:

Kindness matters in onboarding.

Kindness. Matters.

When new employees report to work on their first day, they bring with them a complex variety of emotions, including excitement, curiosity, and hopefulness…but also anxiety, insecurity and maybe even some doubt. Remember, new employees have chosen YOU just as much as you’ve chosen THEM. How will their experience stack up against the expectations you laid out during the interview process?

As you craft your onboarding strategy, remember that the training, building tours, meet-and-greets, policies and procedures are certainly important factors…but please don’t overlook the importance of the little gestures, and their impact on your business. Those seemingly-insignificant opportunities to get new employees connected to the team and to your organization’s culture really do matter. Studies have shown that the quicker a new employee can become “attached,” the more likely they are to perform at higher levels and remain with an organization longer.

Employee performance and retention = two BIG components of a strategic onboarding strategy.

Regardless of a new employee’s journey with your organization, ensure that their first steps include a warm, authentic welcome….because there really is something magical about it.


Happy 100th birthday, Mrs. Getz!


Before you go…

Did you know that the first online course from phase(two)learning – Building a Business Case for Onboarding –  is NOW AVAILABLE?

If you’re ready to build a results-driven onboarding strategy, this program will give you the tools you need to assess your current program and gain leader support to design and implement an onboarding program that delivers wildly successful results. Grab it NOW at a special introductory rate…the price increases next week!

Learn more & get lifetime access now!

If you’re having trouble relating to new employees, do this…

A few weeks ago at the day job, I was meeting with a couple of people on my team, discussing two training programs that we are in the process of updating. One of the programs is part of our onboarding process; new employees participate in the program between 30-60 days post-hire.

The team member who is developing content for that particular program joined our team less than a year ago, but she has been with the organization for 9 years, starting in an entry-level, frontline customer service role (and let me just say, she has quickly shown us that she is an absolute rockstar!). She said to me, “I’m having a hard time relating to the new employees. I’ve just been here so long, it’s hard to put myself in their shoes.”

Hmmm. That made a lot of sense to me. We settle into our routines. We become familiar with people, processes and products. And after a few years, we often find ourselves (unintentionally) out of touch with exactly what those new employees are really feeling when they first walk in the front door to start their career with our organization.

This goes for the folks who are responsible for developing and implementing onboarding programs.

So, how did I respond?

I told her to go to Starbucks.

I suggested that she stop by Starbucks, pretending it was her first day as a new barista, and do the following:

  • Look at the different product offerings on the menu board, in the food cases and on the merchandise shelves,
  • Listen to the process the cashier follows when taking orders and payments,
  • Watch employees preparing food,
  • Watch the drive-through interactions……and
  • Watch how quickly the baristas can differentiate the different drinks and special orders and efficiently prepare them for waiting customers

If it was her first day on the job, how would she feel to take that all in? All of those precise details that seem so easy to existing employees are completely foreign to new ones. It takes time, training, support and coaching to build skills and familiarity when starting any new job.

The suggestion made sense to her – while we don’t sell coffee and pastries at the day job, we do have complex products, services and processes that employees need to learn and master to be successful on the job. And honestly, many of our new frontline employees came to us by way of customer-facing roles (including Starbucks). Those new employees might come to us being familiar with how to quickly prepare an obnoxious drink like this…

starbucks order

…but they don’t have a clue about all of the aspects that make our organization unique.

The end result of this little experiment? A better understanding of what it’s like to be the new kid on the block, and improved empathy and connection to the new employee experience.

So, if you or someone on your team need to reboot your understanding of how new employees feel….maybe it’s time to make a Starbucks run.

(That is, unless you currently work at Starbucks!)



Your turn: How do you stay in touch with the new employee experience? Share a comment below so we can learn from you!

What are your existing employees telling your new employees?

A lot of my blog inspiration comes from casual observations as I’m out-and-about. Today’s post comes from a brief conversation I overheard while waiting for an elevator, between an existing employee (Brendon) and a new employee:

Brendon: Today was your first day, right? How did it go? I’m Brendon, I’m the Director of Client Experience.

New employee: Yeah! It was great, thanks! Nice to meet you!

Brendon: It all goes downhill from here…

New employee: Umm…(nervous laugh)…yeah…..

*end scene*

As I stood there, waiting for and eventually riding on the elevator, I’m not sure if I wanted to hug and encourage the new employee (whose name I didn’t catch), or smack Brendon for saying that to someone on her first day.

Maybe Brendon was trying to be funny and break the ice. Maybe he remembers what it was like to be a wide-eyed, naive new employee joining the organization (it was a tech startup). Yes, as the Director of Client Experience, he has some context to know that reality means hard work, dealing with sometimes-upset clients and probably leading a team (yes, that’s an assumption based on his “Director” title). The truth is, he was probably just making casual conversation while waiting for an elevator.

But Brendon….oh, dear Brendon…what you didn’t consider in that moment is that this new employee was walking to the elevator to leave at the end of first day, processing her experience and considering her decision to join your company, and your innocent comment may linger. Did her first day stack up to the promises made during the interview process? Maybe it did, and she was excited to come back for Day #2……but now, a dark cloud of uncertainty creeps in.

What if Brendon is right?

What if everyone was on their best behavior today, but the reality is different?

What if I won’t like working here?

Sure, I’ve taken a snippet of a conversation and escalated it to a dark place. But it gives us something to think about…..what are the messages your new employees’ peers are sending? Does the reality of the working environment match the picture you’re painting in the beginning? If your organization doesn’t deliver on those promises made, the relationship between that new employee and the organization will always be lacking in trust.

And trust is a key factor in nurturing loyal, productive, engaged employees.

A study by Aberdeen a few years back suggested that as much as 87% of new employees are not fully committed to a new job for the first six months. As early moments, conversations and experiences add up, are they building trust and commitment, or breaking it down?

As Talent leaders, we must keep a finger on the pulse of our organization’s culture, people and perceptions. Routinely review your data – engagement and exit surveys, questions that bubble up, time spent during meetings, and perhaps most importantly….get out of your office. Spend time with people across the organization and talk to them. On the surface, it may seem that these findings only affect your employee engagement efforts, but in reality it all connects to your people strategy….including onboarding and employee development.

To the Brendons out there….I hope you realize the impact you have on the new employee experience.

And to that new tech startup employee out there, I hope you’re finding success in your new role!


Your turn: How do you engage peers during the onboarding process? Share a tip, idea or strategy below!


3 make-or-break strategies for building a best-in-class onboarding experience

Today alone, in my work email – not even counting messages received in my personal email – I received over 30 solicitation emails (only a few were from organizations I know/like/trust and opted into at some point), telling me how I can improve the results of my (insert program) or how I can maximize efficiency with (insert process). You know the drill – your inbox probably looks the same way on any given day.

One commission-hungry, cold-email sender actually quoted THIS BLOG to me while trying to peddle his wares….that was interesting….

Another email promised me the key to unlock a better onboarding, and that if I did this, I could “finally set it and forget it.” Once the irritation subsided, it got me thinking…

There is so much subjectivity in any HR, learning or talent program. Every organization is unique: priorities, challenges, workforce, budget, customers, geography – and so many other factors – mean there isn’t one magic bullet that will ensure success.

This includes your onboarding efforts!

Regardless of the uniqueness of your organization, defining what these three strategies should look like in your world, and mindfully implementing opportunities to leverage them during your new employees’ first weeks and months on the job will set your program apart and encourage more rapid productivity and elevated job performance, which can be directly translated to tangible business results.

These 3 make-or-break strategies center around the sheer power of a meaningful WELCOME:

===> Welcome to the COMPANY: From their earliest moments interacting with your organization and brand, find ways to connect new employees to your:

  • Vision
  • Mission
  • Customer
  • Products & Services
  • Industry
  • Competitors

Every employee – new or experienced – should be able to establish a “direct line of sight” from their role to your customer. Help new employees make the connection immediately!


===> Welcome to the TEAM:  Relationships are at the core of the new employee experience, and “team” means both the entire organization and and the local department/business unit. New employees need to be provided with multiple opportunities to feel your culture in action. Make your core values come to life. Engage new employees in both formal and informal relationship-building activities to help provide context to organizational makeup and structure. For those employees teetering on the “Did I make the right decision to come work here?” fence (and there are more of those folks than you might realize!), feeling connected to a warm, inclusive team could make all the difference.


===> Welcome to the JOB:  Training matters. Providing a relevant, well-crafted learning plan is essential for all employees, regardless of role. The most effective learning happens over a period of time, through a variety of methods, including:

  • Instructor-led training (face-to-face or virtual classroom) on systems, processes and procedures
  • eLearning modules deployed via Learning Management System (LMS)
  • Mobile-friendly content
  • Job aids and other resources
  • Social tools – Slack, SharePoint, your intranet or other collaborative platforms
  • Peer mentoring
  • Giving/receiving feedback
  • Hiring manager coaching
  • Team meetings
  • Meet-and-greet sessions with cross-functional roles and teams
  • Introductions to key vendors, clients and projects

The most effective learning will happen through a deliberate blend of formal instruction, coaching and relationships and informal, on-the-job learning. Yep, 70:20:10.


Friends, you just can’t “set-and-forget” onboarding.

Sure, you can automate paperwork and build efficient processes. But the true mark of a successful program will fall in these three areas. Look at your organization’s unique factors, and make sure each facet of welcome is well-represented.


Your turn: How do you welcome new employees to the company, team and role? Share a thought, tip or strategy in the comments below!


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5 ways that “offboarding” can elevate your onboarding efforts

In my book, Talent GPS: A Manager’s Guide to Navigating the Employee Development Journey, my co-authors and I provided managers with easy-to-use processes throughout the entire employment lifecycle, from the initial interview through when an employee leaves the organization. While we typically focus a lot of our energy on developing employees in their roles or preparing them for a future role, there is something to be said for connecting the dots between an exiting employee and onboarding his/her replacement.

I’ve been thinking about that offboarding –> onboarding connection lately. Many organizations conduct an exit interview and/or deploy a survey (my opinion on this process is a post in itself) to solicit feedback when an employee has one foot out the door, and that’s it….sometimes (often?), that feedback is sucked into a black data hole, never to be reviewed or acted upon.

So, how can we better leverage an exiting employee’s perspective to set an incoming employee up for success, particularly when that employee is leaving the organization on good terms?

A few thoughts:

Tie up loose ends: When an employee leaves mid-project, his/her replacement often inherits the project….and could use a decoder ring to figure out fragments, manual processes or key stakeholders. Create an action plan to tighten up incomplete projects while the exiting employee is working through his “two week notice,” and consider creating a simple transition template to capture helpful information to pass along to a new employee.

Transition tasks and projects ahead of time: Don’t wait until the exiting employee has departed…create a plan in advance for who will be assuming projects and responsibilities. That allows the exiting employee to…..

Share legacy knowledge with others: Document processes. Make introductions with vendors or other stakeholders. Create checklists, templates and job aids to simplify tasks and processes. Discuss challenges, solutions, tips and other helpful information that will serve new employees (and other team members who will absorb work!) effectively.

Get feedback: Ask your exiting employee about his role, tasks, projects and responsibilities. Look for inefficiencies, communication gaps and other pain points that could be addressed before your new employee joins the team. Taking action, particularly on quick wins, will help set your new employee up for success.

Show respect – both ways: Recognize effort made and results delivered by the exiting employee during his/her tenure with the organization. Then, respect the endeavor your incoming employee will make to quickly jump in and become a productive team member. A little mutual respect goes a long way.


Your turn: How do you “offboard” your exiting employees? What strategies have you found successful to bridge exiting employees with new (or internally transferring) employees? Share an idea, thought, tip or comment below so we can learn from one another!

Onboarding During Times of Organizational Change

I don’t often talk about happenings at my day job, but I have an interesting case study to share. We have recently completed a major system conversion, a project that has taken nearly 3 years from inception, but particularly the past 18 months. My team was tasked with enabling the entire organization through training, on-the-job practice, working with SMEs and communication. Since this was such a meaty endeavor, and a change that literally affected nearly every area of the business, we had a hiring freeze during the final months of the implementation.

Our first orientation class since we’ve migrated to the new system began this week. As in many facets of organizational change, there was apprehension floating in the air about bringing new employees so quickly after the proverbial switch had been flipped. It got me thinking about onboarding new employees throughout times of change….here are a few quick tips if you are in (or approaching) a season of change in your organization:

Believe it or not, your newest employees have the upper-hand. They lack the context of how things used to be, the crutch of comparing old and new processes or a brain full of outdated system knowledge. They come in with a fresh mindset and can actually bring helpful perspective to the team.

Get your house in order. When new employees leave the secure nest of Orientation and head to the job, they won’t have a true Subject Matter Expert on hand to show them the ropes. Depending on how “new” systems and processes are, they may find that even seasoned, tenured employees are still learning. Ensuring that you have well-designed job aids and other resources are essential for just-in-time learning.

Training new employees is very different than training existing employees. To the earlier point, new employees don’t know how the previous system or process worked. Existing employees need to be ready to jump right into their existing role after the change takes place. Attempting this with a new employee is akin to the old fire hose approach………new employees need to balance learning content consumption with the context to understand and apply it.


All in all, the team is excited to jump back into a new chapter of our award-winning onboarding program and welcoming our newest team members!


Your turn: What strategies have you found successful during seasons of major organizational change? Share your challenges and tips in the comments below!



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