4 Key Onboarding Activities to Improve Performance

The past couple weeks, I found myself swept up in Olympics fever.

Of particular interest to me, especially in the running events, was the commentary about the importance of the techniques the runners use when starting their race.  In most of the races and relays, it was the starting moments that made the difference in the finish at the end.  It got me thinking about how new employees start and how those activities can have a big impact on their overall performance.

There are several activities that have a positive impact on employee performance and in this article I will highlight four that are critical and yet easy to implement.

  1. Giving early verbal performance reviews
  2. Explaining performance objectives
  3. Teaching about the group or division
  4. Clearly explaining job responsibilities

Giving early verbal performance reviews are important because everyone wants to do a good job and when people start in a new position or with a new company, they are anxious to prove to themselves and their new employer that everyone made a good choice.  Naturally, when we are praised for good behavior, we want to do more of it so we get more praise.  On the flip side, if we do something that is considered not optimal, it’s best to learn that quickly as well, so we don’t repeat it.

Imagine if you didn’t give your child any feedback, positive or negative, when they were learning to walk.  No reaction produces little action.  When the child sees their parents smiling and encouraging them, even when they tip over, the child is anxious to get the reaction again, so he or she repeats the action.  Eventually, their performance improves and they master the skill of walking.

Explaining performance objectives is important because we are more motivated to take action if we understand the reasons for doing so and what it looks like to succeed.  If a student didn’t know that the objective for taking the test was to get an “A” so they could advance to higher levels of education, it’s not likely anyone would bother studying for any test.  We need to know what we are aiming to accomplish in order to give our best effort to reach the goal.

Teaching about the group or division is important because people need to know where they fit into the big picture.  Recently I was hired to create a detailed program to onboard salespeople in a manufacturing company.  Naturally, the new salesperson would expect to learn about their role as a salesperson and how to do their job, but it was also important for them to understand how they impacted the other divisions of the company.  Not only did I craft the specific sales strategies and metrics to measure and track actions and successes, I also created video training for them so they understood how the manufacturing process worked and where they fit into the overall business.

Clearly explaining job responsibilities is important because people cannot do well at what they may not even know they are supposed to do in the first place.  Many years ago, I was part of a company that provided sales training classes to companies and entrepreneurs.  As the company grew, we moved to a new space and in our training room, we had a refrigerator stocked with bottled water and soft drinks.  My training classes always got rave reviews, but the president of the company gave me noticeably less acknowledgment for doing good work.  One day I overheard him complaining about how I never bothered to restock the beverages in the refrigerator after I taught a class.

It honestly never occurred to me that restocking the fridge was part of my job responsibility since it as always fully stocked when I taught a class.  What I didn’t know was that the president was the one refilling the fridge and getting madder at me with every can he put on the shelf.  When I approached him about it, he requested that anyone teaching the last class of the day restock the fridge.  Once it was clearly communicated, I was happy to comply.  It’s impossible to live up to someone else’s expectations if you don’t know what they are in the first place.

If you want to increase the performance of everyone on your team now, and everyone starting with your company in the future, you would be wise to put these four practices in place.  How you finish depends a lot on how you start.


4 Things CEOs Must Stop Doing Immediately To Grow

Stop thinking that your culture just is what it is and can’t it be taught. The culture of your organization is at risk with every single new hire you bring on-board in any role. If you have a team of people who go the extra mile and help each other out, but you hire someone who doesn’t share that philosophy, they can potentially turn your team of people willing to stay late into a team of people who say, “that’s not my job.” As a leader, your primary job is to protect your effective culture or fix your broken culture. It’s the foundation upon which all of your business decisions is made. A faulty culture leads to a future collapse.

Stop acting like you don’t have any role in getting new hires acclimated to the company. New people join your team and are immediately shuffled off to HR for paperwork or to their manager for role specific training. That’s great, but it’s too transactional for people’s tastes today. We live in a much more connected world and relationships are more important than ever. If you want new people to hit the ground running and give you their best effort, they have to feel like they belong. It starts at the top. A CEO in Atlanta has a team of 400+ people. If he is in the corporate office when a new hire starts, he will personally greet him/ her. If not, he has his executive assistant schedule a Skype call so he can personally welcome them to the company’s family. It means a lot when the head honcho says “Welcome.”

Stop pushing all new hire training onto HR or the Training & Development team. What? Isn’t that why you have HR and a T&D team? No. Sorry, it’s not. HR is there to keep you in compliance and out of jail. Stop thinking that your new hires are up and running after HR does a 1 hour, 2 day or 3 week orientation. The more people involved in getting new hires up to speed the quicker the team will gel and get important work done effectively.

Stop behaving like your employees need their job more than you need them. Regardless of what the marketplace or economy is doing, people work for people. People need to feel appreciated and valued. If they feel that way, they stay and give their best effort. If they don’t feel that way, they are out the door as soon as a better offer comes along. Even a similar offer is worth a try when someone is feeling undervalued. The company picnics and social events are not just a nice thing to do for your people; they bond your folks together so they care about each other and want to be around each other.

If people are your number one asset and largest expense, stop ignoring what needs to happen to get new people up to speed fast.


Merit Gest, keynote speaker, sales & behavior expert works with organizations to build sales by building up salespeople.

Merit@MeritGest.com ….. 720-980-1286


Using Your Left and Right Brain to Instantly Improve Onboarding

The world is made up of people who are left brain or right brain thinkers.  The left brainers are logical, analytical and think in terms of process.  Right brainers are creative and not necessarily linear thinkers.

What does this have to do with effective Onboarding?

A lot.

LB (Left Brain) Corporation has a detailed orientation plan set in place for new hires.  When they walk in the door on day one, they fill out all the necessary paperwork, take the obligatory office tour and start learning the phone system.

RB (Right Brain) Corporation has a “play it by ear” type of orientation.  They think they are being flexible by not having a detailed plan to follow, which doesn’t even occur to them to create.  When someone starts on day one, they have a loose agenda of “getting to know you” sessions with people around the office.

LB and RB are obviously fictional companies, but they may not be that far from reality and they could learn a lot from each other.

To instantly improve your Onboarding strategy, you will need to use both sides of your brain, or tag team with someone of the opposite brain “gender.”

One tip to instantly improve your Onboarding strategy is to greet your new hire at the door on their first day with their favorite (non alcoholic) beverage.  Imagine how surprised and comforted your new hire will feel just by holding that warm Carmel Macchiato in their hands as soon as they enter unfamiliar territory.

To pull this off, you would have to use left and right parts of your brain.  The left brainer would have to organize a scenario during the interview process to learn the candidate’s favorite beverage.  The right brainer would have to come up with a creative way to get the information (it’s the right brainer in me that came up with the idea of greeting the new hire with their beverage in hand).

To create a memorable experience it’s best to involve as many of the senses as possible.  The first day on the job is a day you want remembered in the best possible way.  Greeting your new hire at the door, as opposed to having them wait in the lobby chatting with the receptionist who didn’t even know someone was starting a job that day, is a good start.  That’s the part a left brainer would naturally consider.  It’s the creative right brainer who kicks it up a notch with the beverage.

The familiar scent, taste, feel and look of their favorite beverage help to cement the positive experience in their brain.

Now, if you could only get everyone in your office to sing the new hire’s favorite song you’d really create an event that touches all the senses!  Of course, if your office can’t carry a tune you might create a bigger turnover problem!


Super Bowl Lessons for Hiring Managers

Naturally the Broncos are in the Super Bowl because I will be on a plane for the first half of the game. Business travel is not always glamorous or convenient, but in this case it will save me from consuming far too many snacks. The last time the Broncos made it to the Super Bowl I was in Canada on business… thankfully alone in my hotel room during that awful game (I’m sure my Seattle friends have a different take on that game!)

The Super Bowl is an enormous spectacle for so many people; fans in their pricey seats at the game, millions of people at parties across America, advertisers, pizza delivery companies… the list goes on. But, for the players and coaches, it’s the culmination of a lot of hard work and preparation.

Getting new people up to speed quickly is critical to any organization. You wouldn’t expect a team in the Super Bowl to start a brand new player in that game and expect them to perform. Yet, every business day I hear a story about a company that is hiring someone with experience so they can hit the ground running. Hey, business folks, you could learn a thing or two from the NFL.
Helping new people become productive quickly happens in phases, much like there are phases to a professional football game.

Preparation In the NFL, coaches watch game tape to learn what they can about how an opposing coach plays the game. They learn the strengths and weaknesses of key players and they build their own game plan based on the knowledge they gained from their pre-game study. Have you done the work to make sure that you know what tools your people need to succeed? Do you have your playbook or are you hoping a new hire comes equipped with their own, and if that’s the case, how will their playbook integrate with those the rest of your team is using?

Pre-game Show Before kick-off, fans participate in tailgate parties, paint their faces, put on their team logo gear, buy snacks, watch cheerleaders, paint signs and yell as the players run onto the field with great fanfare. What is your welcoming event? It’s easier, more convenient and cheaper to watch a football game at home, but tens of thousands of fans flock to stadiums across the country, in nasty weather, to be part of the event. Do you welcome your new hires with fanfare? What about your existing team… are they fans of your company culture?

Kick-off Time to get down to business. While everyone knows how to play the game, coaching, cheering, reviewing plays, challenging calls from the referee and water breaks are all still necessary. When it’s time to get down to business are your new hires left to their own devices, or does your Onboarding plan allow for coaching and Gatorade along the way? Coaching and training is happening during the game, even the Super Bowl, where you would expect that the players already know what they are doing.

4th Quarter The game is not over until the end of the 4th quarter and any fan of the game has seen it happen, at least once, that a team is down by a huge margin only to win it in the 4th quarter. In this year’s AFC Championship, the Broncos, in the lead the entire game, almost lost in the last 17 seconds! Just because a team gets off to a great start, doesn’t mean they have what it takes to win it in the end. It’s great when a new hire gets off to a quick start, but this can be dangerous too. Make sure your Onboarding plan allows for continued growth and development beyond the first 30-90 days. Payton Manning still runs drills. Remind your star players that they are not above doing some extra practice.

Post-game Recap Much is said after the game is over about how the game was played. In Denver, you would think nothing else in the world is happening if there is football that can be discussed and assessed! This is a critical assessment phase that can greatly impact the performance in the next game. Assessment is often overlooked in the hustle to get a new hire ramped up quickly, but taking the time to talk about what is and is not working in terms of a new hire’s initial experience can save quite a bit of time and frustration as time goes on. It’s mission critical in the NFL and in your conference room.

The NFL wouldn’t put a new player in a big game right out of the gate. They would train them thoroughly and make sure they feel and act like part of the team. Follow the NFL’s lead in your business and celebrate your success with a lot of yummy snacks.


What do you think about our culture?

Does the day-to-day culture of your business match the statement about your company’s culture printed and framed in the lobby?  If it does, then move on to the next item on today’s task list.  If it does not, then you already know you have some work to do.  But, if you are not sure if your day-to-day culture matches your intended culture, then read on.  You have work to do.

During a recent presentation to a CEO group in Chicago, I shared a concept I call the “Culture Check-In.”  The idea is to check in with newly hired staff to learn what they’ve noticed about the culture of the business.  At the end of the first, fourth, eighth and twelfth weeks of employment, the new hires meet with their managers for a brief conversation about the culture of the organization.  The meeting starts with the manager reviewing the specific core values of the desired culture of the company with the new hire.  The new hire then has an opportunity to share examples and stories of how, in their experience, the company did or did not live the values in day-to-day operations.

One of two possibilities exists.  Either the new hires find examples of people living the values of the business or not.  In either case, you (the business) win when you check in.

Let’s take a look at how each scenario could play out.

Manager: Hi Stacy.  It’s been quite a full week for you and I wanted to make sure, as we wrap up the week and begin to plan the next,  that we take a moment to check in on our culture.  It’s important to me, and to the business, that we see things from your perspective as someone new on our team.  As you know, our five core values are:  teamwork, service, integrity, making a difference, and respect.  Have you seen any examples of how these values did or did not show up as you’ve gone about your day this past week?

Stacy Steller: I have seen positive examples in all five categories.  Specifically, I saw teamwork when Brian volunteered to work with Tom to help with an upcoming pitch to a new client that Brian has some experience with.  I heard an example of great service when I walked past Lynn’s office and heard her on the phone taking responsibility for an error we made and arranging to bring the customer the new parts herself.  I witnessed integrity when we started our meeting this morning promptly at 10:00 am.  Making a difference was obvious when I walked in the office and saw the pink ribbons for October’s Breast Cancer Awareness month.  Respect is the easiest to spot around here.  It is evident during meetings when people wait their turn to speak, and when you brought me coffee this morning, even though you are my boss.

Manager: Great.  I’m glad to know we are demonstrating evidence that our core values do drive our actions and behaviors.

It’s easy to have a conversation like that when everything is rosy.  The best part of having that conversation is the opportunity for new employees to reinforce for themselves that they have chosen a wonderful place to work.

Of course, there is always the possibility that the conversation doesn’t go quite as smoothly.

Manager: Hi Stacy.  It’s been quite a full week for you and I wanted to make sure, as we wrap up the week and begin to plan the next, that we take a moment to check in on our culture.  It’s important to me, and to the business, that we see things from your perspective as someone new on our team.  As you know, our five core values are:  teamwork, service, integrity, making a difference and respect.  Have you seen any examples of how these values did or did not show up as you’ve gone about your day this past week?

Stacy Cynical: I’ll be honest, I haven’t witnessed anyone living our culture.  When Tom asked for help, nobody volunteered, in fact, Brian had to be threatened to lend a hand.  When I walked past Lynn’s office she was raising her voice with a customer and rolling her eyes at me as she yelled.  Our morning meeting didn’t start until everyone arrived, which was 20 minutes late.  Nobody has said or done anything that leads me to believe that we live the “making a difference” value.  Not to mention, I’m pretty sick of people telling me to bring them coffee just because I’m the new kid on the block.

Manager: Wow.  That’s a lot of evidence that we are moving in the wrong direction.  I am so grateful that you are bringing this to my attention.  I know it’s not easy to say what is so, but your having this conversation with me is exactly what I want people around here to be able and willing to do.  It embodies our value of respect.  I won’t pressure you to find solutions, but I’m curious about what you may have experienced in other companies that could help us really live the culture we crafted.  In previous companies, how did you know there was a team player mindset?

We could go on and on, but the point is this . . . if you ask and they have found good examples, you have an opportunity to collect more stories and the new hire quickly learns what will be rewarded.  If you ask and they have found negative examples, you still win because you are demonstrating that you do care about them and the company.  You want to improve it and by the having this conversation, it shows.

The only scenario that can hurt you is this . . . don’t check in on how your new hires experience your culture.  Not only will you reinforce bad behavior among new staff, but they don’t get any sense of being important . . . and if that happens, it’s pretty much over for you and your business.


Start on Empty

It was mid-December when hard charging business executive approached me with a concern. He was reviewing his results from the past year and was making plans for the upcoming year. Since I had coached him over the past several years, I was familiar with his goal oriented wiring and high activity level. He has been extremely successful in his sales management role, but there was something different about the way he shared this concern that troubled me. There was something different in the way he talked and moved.

As we sat and talked, he shared his fears and insecurities about being able to keep up the same frenetic pace to which he had become accustomed. He was exhausted, but he couldn’t see any change in pace on the horizon.

I asked him what he says to himself when he wakes up and gets ready for work. His shoulders slumped down and he lowered his head, shaking it side to side. “I say, time to get back to the day to day grind,” he said. Then I asked him to think back to a time when he was on top of his sales game and things were clicking on all cylinders and recall those feelings. He said, “In those days, I would say to myself, time to make it happen!” with an air of excitement and anticipation of all the opportunities.

It’s always fascinated me how the words we speak out loud to others or in silence to ourselves pave the way to our future reality. Some would say, all you need to do is think good thoughts and everything will work out. Others would say that to improve results all you need to do is focus on the facts and stick to a plan. But, what happens if you work your strategy from both ends? Could you consider the facts and create a game plan with an attitude and outlook of something positive moving toward you?

The business executive was trying to tough it out pushing himself to accomplish results. I don’t have a problem with working hard and focusing on a plan to reach a goal. But, he saw those actions as “a day to day grind” which lacks power. It was an attitude born from fear of not being able to keep up the pace, insecurity about not making enough money or doing enough activity and regret or guilt about not doing more in the past. All of those fear, insecurity, regret and guilt feelings weigh you down. A person who is weighed down by emotion cannot soar high and reach their lofty goals.

I told him to take a deep breath and imagine exhaling out the fear and insecurities. I told him to write his fears on a piece of paper… and then tear it up.

Now, don’t worry, I’m still a business writer, author and speaker. I’m not about to go all woo-woo and incense on you. But, there is science behind emptying your mind of negative and self-sabotaging thoughts. Back in 1952, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale wrote in The Power of Positive Thinking, “Haven’t you experienced a sense of release when you have been able to pour out to somebody whom you can trust worrisome matters that lay heavy upon the heart?” Whether you talk to a colleague, friend, therapist, priest or rabbi, or whether you write your fears on a piece of paper to tear or burn, the point is… the best way to start on a path to more and better results is to start on empty.

A mind empty of fear, insecurity, regret and guilt is weightless. In this weightless space, allow optimism to reside. Optimism is light and airy, open to ideas and opportunities.

As you plan for your best year yet, be sure to work into your plan a strategy for emptying the trashy thoughts weighing down your mind and limiting your potential to soar.



Merit Gest, keynote speaker, sales & behavior expert works with organizations to build sales by building up salespeople.

Phone:  720-980-1286,

Email:   Merit@MeritGest.com