Onboarding: Expectations & The Buddy System

I had the privilege of presenting to a group of manufacturing, warehouse & safety leaders today on behalf of the Manufacturer’s Alliance. The core theme of the meeting was people — finding, training & keeping them — and the conflict between getting the work of today handled and knowing you should be developing people for future.

After the meeting, our discussions continued to occupy my mind; even as I wandered the grocery store aisles, my brain searched for more dots to connect. This post is a compilation of a few of the dots & lines as inspired by this great group, with more to come. (I thank you!)

Expectations & the Buddy System

It is difficult to convey just how excited my step-daughter, Tori, was when she was heading off to college that first year. She had a picture in her mind of how it would be, the friends she would make, how difficult the classes would be. She was telling us about living in the dorm and how excited she was. And of course, it reminded me of my first days at college — how excited I was, what I thought it would be like, and how wrong I was.

D​o you remember your first day at your company? You’d gone through a hiring process & they’d made you an offer. Doesn’t matter the position. You got the job. And it felt great. You were excited and optimistic. H​ow long did that last? Months? Weeks? I remember one job I got where my excitement vanished in the first four days — as in, I knew I had made a mistake accepting it. (I have a “first day” story that would make you wonder why I went back for day 2.)

N​one of that had anything to do with job performance expectations.

T​ori went off to college, and as I told her she would, about 6 weeks in she was questioning whether she was in the right place. Classes were going well and she was getting A’s. She had a job on campus that she liked. But she had a lot of downtime. And though she’d met some people, she hadn’t made strong connections. She missed her old life and all that was familiar.

T​hankfully, Tori called us that Friday night to talk about how she was doing and how much she missed her old life (as I had told her to do when the time came). The best part — while we were on the phone, a dorm-mate knocked on her door and asked her if she wanted to join a group for a night swim at the college pool. We told her she was going, told her to have fun and ended the call. A week later, she told us about her new group of friends and all the activities they did together, including a regular movie night. By Christmas break, she called college ‘home.’

What triggered this thought for me was our discussion about setting expectations, and the manager who mentioned his company had invested in the Dare to Lead course based on Brene Brown’s book and how valuable it was to have an accountability partner. In every engagement survey I’ve seen, a key question is about whether an employee has a friend at work.

M​aybe the expectations we need to do better at in business have nothing to do with the tasks of the job, but everything to do with the overall experience — and the CHANGE MANAGEMENT needed to make it through the lonely time that inevitably comes when you start a new job. And with so many options available (everyone is looking for good people), it’s easy to think you just made a bad choice. That means we leaders have to do the work of helping you see that what you are experiencing is normal — a normal part of the process that everyone goes through. And you are not alone. And if you stick with it — you’ll get through. (Like Tori at college who just finished year 3.)

A​nd what about this notion about having a friend at work?

Jeffrey Hall, an associate professor of communication studies at The University of Kansas, set out to discover how long it takes to cultivate a friendship. Bottom line, he found that it takes 40-60 hours of time spent together in the first few weeks after meeting for people to form a casual friendship. To transition from a casual friend to friend takes about 80-100 hours of together time. For friends to become good or best friends, it takes about 200 or more hours spent together. (Source: https://www.today.com/health/how-long-does-it-take-make-friend-friendship-advice-t126538)​.

I​n her book, Frientimacy, Shasta Nelson takes friendship building a step further. She explains that cultivating a friendship is not just about spending hours together, but spending ‘quality time’ together. And it works only if both people bring positivity, vulnerability & consistency to the relationship. Yep, you got it: it takes two.

H​ow, then, do we help new employees connect & support them in the forming of new, meaningful relationships? A common practice is to give new employees a buddy — someone other than their supervisor that they can go to for help. But those buddies eventually go back to their normal routines.

W​hat can we do beyond the first weeks that would be constructive, that wouldn’t leave an employee on their own, but would also be meaningful? I think this is where it gets more organization centric. Job rotation could be an answer for some; maybe an extended training program for others. (I have a leadership program that could be an interesting fit — teaching self-awareness, goal setting, and teamwork; it’s repeatable and can be customized to meet your organization’s specific needs.) The answer lies in finding a way that you can invest in a new employee’s success AND tie that activity or program to organizational goals.

B​ottom line:

​- There are two kinds of expectations: what you expect from job performance, and what the employee can expect from the process of assimilating into your workforce.

​- Having “friends” at work is a key component of the employee engagement equation. Assigning a buddy is a good start; consider a process that goes longer term & provides an opportunity for deeper connection.

Post Photo Credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_coramax’>Corina Rosu</a>

Picture of Susan LaCasse

Susan LaCasse

Susan brings 25 years experience in driving change in a variety of project and leadership roles. Common to these roles were leadership development, process improvement and change management.

Susan is a student of human behavior, constantly seeking the latest in theories and tools. She also understands how organizations work. Together, she uses this combination to help her clients create positive, lasting change. Susan is a unique combination of coach, catalyst and trusted adviser.


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