Coaching New Employees to Success
When Lilly arrived almost a month ago, everyone thought she would be a perfect fit for the practice. Her recent experience in a similar clinic combined with glowing references gave everyone, including Lilly, the confidence that she could “hit the ground running.”
Now she’s running all right—into trouble! Lilly seems increasingly confused about her role as a veterinary technician in a busy, multispecialty practice. She hasn’t demonstrated the confidence and competence that were expected and hasn’t really developed the interpersonal relationships with her coworkers that might help make this transition easier. Just when everyone was hoping that Lilly would be fully “on board,” she’s at risk for being left at the station.
What happened with Lilly is not unusual. In many busy practice environments, there is a culture of “trial by fire” during which new staff members are thrown into the mix with minimal or no attention to factors that can lead to success. When a new employee is expected to quickly adapt to a new environment without having internal support of the transition, there is an increased likelihood that neither the employee nor the organization will be served well.
How significant is this issue? Conservative estimates suggest that more than 25% of the workforce in the United States experience job/career transition every year.1 Half of all hourly workers leave new jobs within the first 120 days. In addition to the overall disruption caused by staff members leaving a practice, the cost associated with employee turnover is estimated to range from 25% to 250% of the individual’s annual salary.1 No matter how you quantify these expenses, they can be significant—but in many cases avoided.
To minimize the shift, current experience and research in human resource management have identified ways to better prepare new hires for their job and their environment.
Successful “onboarding,” which refers to orientation and training of new hires, involves considerable effort from everyone in the practice. It is critically important for existing staff members to embrace the idea of “all for one and one for all” and be equally committed to both individual and collective success. It is in everyone’s best interest to make new staff members feel welcome and comfortable in the environment while learning and applying specific behaviors that will lead to maximum productivity in a reasonable period of time.
In Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success, Talya Bauer, author and management professor, cites 4 C’s of onboarding success:
1. Compliance: Providing information related topolicies,
2. Clarification: Ensuring understanding of roles,
3. Culture: Providing a sense of organizational practices and
4. Connection: Reviewing the relationships and networks that
If these 4 C's are what we need to do, how do we do it? Another C word, of course, COACHING!
Coaching is all about change. It is a proven method for assisting individuals and teams who want to be better at what they do. It is especially useful during periods of transition, such as new employment, as an individual facing changes might have difficulty navigating alone.
And while it clearly falls within the domain of leaders, coaching is increasingly viewed as a skill that can be learned and practiced by anyone in an organization. Coaching can be part of the organizational culture, focusing on ways everyone can use their strengths and resourcefulness to function optimally.
While an external coach can certainly help someone with this process, internal coaching by owners, managers, supervisors, and peers can also be very effective.
Let’s look at some ways that coaching can assist with the onboarding effort using the 4 C’s.
Typically during orientation, most organizations focus on compliance factors. Basic orientation generally reviews guidelines that govern professional practice. Specific details related to employment (eg, work rules, benefits options and elections, certification/licensing requirements) are addressed, as they must be executed at the time of hire. However, the sheer volume of information presented during orientation can be overwhelming and may not be fully understood or remembered.
A coaching approach to compliance could include:
• One-to-one meetings between the new employee and the hiring manager to review basic policies and procedures with an objective of conveying information and determining in which areas the new hire might need additional training or support. For example, when reviewing scheduled hours of work and the tardiness policy, the manager can ask the new employee if he or she anticipates having difficulty reporting to work on time. This allows discussion of obstacles to success, such as child care considerations in advance, so there can be discussion of choices related to minor schedule adjustments at work or with the day care provider.
• An onboarding checklist with a column to document desire for additional information or experience in addition to the completion of that element of training.
• Daily check-in during the first week of employment so the supervisor can talk with the new employee to discover what’s working and what areas might need more focus.
Clarification of employee roles and responsibilities is often addressed by reviewing the job description, which may or may not include a discussion of employer or employee expectations. Lack of role clarity is frequently cited as a reason a new employee fails.
There is no substitute for scheduling conversations (and there should be more than one) between the employee and employer to thoroughly discuss reporting relationships, responsibilities, and mutual expectations related to
performance and success. The basic coaching tools of inquiry and direct communication are essential during these conversations, which should take place at least weekly for the first 4 to 6 weeks and then every other week until the first formal review at 90 to 120 days.
Instead of asking the new employee, “So, do you understand what’s expected of you in this role?” consider an open-ended question that can lead to dialogue around areas of ambiguity. For example, “What areas of your role and responsibilities are you familiar and comfortable with and where do you think you might be facing a new challenge?”
In addition to clarity at the outset of employment, there should be monthly meetings to discuss how employees believe they are meeting expectations. This is an opportunity for the supervisor to use direct communication in noticing if what the employee describes is different from what has been observed or reported. By having ongoing, timely feedback related to role clarification and job performance, situations of problems “suddenly” developing are minimized.
While most people agree that organizational culture exists and is important, it is not easy to describe— especially to someone who has not yet experienced it. Unfortunately, this aspect of onboarding may be glossed over or not considered without conscious effort to do so. Failure to address organizational culture and assist the new employee in adapting can have major impact on employee assimilation, adjustment, and retention.
Because the entire practice team plays a vital role, everyone is responsible for helping the new employee develop insight and awareness into the norms that typically are unwritten rules of behavior. Coaching conversations in these areas can be grounded in transparency and trust. New employees are often afraid to ask questions like:
• How do we treat established clients vs. new clients?
• What is the “rule” related to taking breaks when we’re really busy?
• How safe is it to admit what you don’t know?
Any staff member can have coaching conversations that allow the new staff member to voice concerns about “fitting in” and help explore ways to better understand and adapt to the prevailing culture.
Connection, or relationship development between individuals and the organization, might be the most critical element related to onboarding success. Many organizations leave this area open in terms of active involvement in creating opportunities for connections to happen. Yet if a new employee does not feel a part of the team, it will be difficult to become fully engaged in the work and committed to the organization.
Coaching is an excellent way to cultivate connection because it involves conversation and relationship.
Part of the onboarding process can be individual meetings with all staff members over a period of time. Curiosity about what the new employee is thinking and feeling can be a powerful way to create open communication and collaboration. And coaching conversations for connection can reinforce the element of caring. If new employees believe they are valued for who they are and what they bring to the organization, they are more likely to embrace the goals of the team and the practice.
Many organizations include a mentoring or peer coaching element in the onboarding process as a way to increase and maintain connection. This is generally a fellow employee who is not the new employee’s supervisor. An assigned “buddy” can make a difference in how quickly a new hire feels connected with the practice.
Ongoing coaching conversations between new employees and their supervisors are critical for employee retention. You are not likely to hear that an employee left an organization because the supervisor was too interested in his or her success!
Coaching new employees can make a critical difference in avoiding the cost and trauma of employee turnover and creating the climate and culture you desire. If each new employee is approached with the intention of making his or her transition better, you will “C” a difference! | EVT