Three Ways Managers Can Drive Performance Through Onboarding

“What can I do?” the manager asked me in frustration. “HR experts designed and executed the onboarding program, yet we continue to lose people within their first 90 days!”

Brene Brown likes to say, “Clear is kind.” So I asked the manager to allow me to be “kind.”

For the best probability of a strong start and long-lasting employment, new hires need three things:

  • A well-paced onboarding plan
  • Clearly delineated performance expectations
  • Mutual understanding of preferred communication

How To Drive Results With Better Onboarding

While Human Resources (HR) may drive the first of these, the manager of the new hire bears some responsibility for the first, and the lion’s share of the other two. Through deliberate planning, you as the new hire’s manager can connect them to purpose and performance quickly and for the long term.

Since this may be a surprising–if not overwhelming–concept for managers (“You’re giving me more responsibility?!”), here are three critical touchpoints that will enable you to own and drive more of the onboarding experience, yielding notable results in (and retention of) new hires.

Start on Day One

There’s never a second chance at a first impression, so on the first day:

  • Arrive early and be waiting to welcome new hires. Make it your goal to put them at ease, build rapport and create a sense of belonging from the moment they enter the lobby. You might provide a welcome basket, branded tchotchkes and clothing, have a sign or banner at their desk, and plan a team lunch. Their new team members can each own a piece and proudly provide a positive impression.
  • Explain the onboarding process. Go over the schedule at a high level, setting expectations for their engagement but encouraging questions at every juncture. Be intentional and transparent about the goals and timelines for each element. Follow and execute the outline you present to show consistency, grow trust and demonstrate accountability.
  • Encourage and empower the new hire to voice concerns or confusion. Respond to questions transparently, never chastising when something might need more than one explanation or demonstration. Ensure they know who to ask when you are unavailable.
  • Take time to deliberately share the organization’s values, with examples of how to demonstrate these. Also share team-specific values and norms; this is best done with and by the whole team, possibly with real-time and recent examples of “how we work together.”
  • Day One is also a great time to provide an overview of leadership structure and how different teams work and fit together to benefit the organization and its customers.
  • Provide your availability and how they can contact you. Also introduce them to a team mentor or peer coach who can check on them daily, answer questions, sit with them at lunch, and introduce them to people beyond their team.

Conduct a Second Checkpoint

This can be done when it makes sense for your schedule, but near the end of the new hire’s first week is a good option. This meeting will cover things that would overwhelm the new hire if covered on Day One:

  • Describe what the leader-follower relationship looks like and your expectations. Inquire about what they have appreciated in 1:1s with previous leaders, and what they would appreciate in regular meetings with you. Set commitments with each other for candid, transparent conversations about performance, accountability and development. Put the next couple of 1:1s in your calendars, set ground rules for communication and address any virtual/hybrid concerns.
  • Solicit their initial impressions of the culture and their work and let them know you are there to ensure their success. Listen without judgment and clarify any concerns. You could request they email questions for 1:1s in advance so you can be prepared with answers, solutions and further information.
  • Show them where they can contribute based on their experience and skills, and how those will tie directly to the organization’s goals, as well as future responsibility and opportunities.
  • Ask questions to gauge the new hire’s interests, engagement, and communication preferences to guide how you will motivate and reward their performance.

Follow up With a Third Check-in

A good time for this is 4-6 weeks into the new hire’s employment, covering things for which they now have awareness that bring deeper questions:

  • Revisit the leader-follower relationship. Are you both honoring initial commitments? What is working well and what could be improved? Reassess and recalibrate if needed to continue trust-building and promote optimal performance.
  • Reinforce performance culture by asking and answering questions about expectations. Is the new hire communicating any insecurity or unwillingness for a task? Establish a common language of key terms so that you both have mindshare. Doing so paves the way for efficient communication, definitive results and autonomous ownership.
  • Reflect on your approach and hold yourself accountable for missing any steps or standards. This models accountability to the performer and builds their comfort level for doing the same with you and others.
  • Ask for feedback on your leadership so far and accept as well as discuss with a servant heart and open mind. If adjustments are needed, do so graciously and plan to revisit these items in a few weeks to check that you both are giving and receiving what is needed and best.

Contact CLS

Develop Your Skills With The Center For Leadership Studies

Prioritizing these three manager-driven, purpose-filled touchpoints paves the way for trust and open communication. These are key drivers of employee engagement, productivity and retention, enabling early wins that lead to quicker autonomy and heightened performance.

After hearing me out, the manager thanked me for being “kind,” then said, “I wish my managers had done that with me. I’m going to start with my next new hire.”

Contact The Center For Leadership Studies to start developing your skills today!