A Day One Conversation

  • Posted by: James Marshall
  • Category: Leadership
First day of new job

Can you remember your first day at work in your current role? How were you treated? How did you feel going home that evening?

This is a subject close to my heart. I have a slight scar from the late 1980’s and my first day whilst working as a young graduate for a large firm of Chartered Surveyors. Arriving with avid keenness at 8am, I discovered my boss was on holiday. It wasn’t a great day. I was ignored by the wider team and sat there feeling more and more paranoid as to the message I was being sent (I mean
had they wanted a different graduate?). Rather than leaving that evening with a spring in my step, I started counting the days until my next graduate rotation. Rather hilariously my boss returned two days later and assiduously avoided me.

It seems so obvious to suggest that Day One is an important moment psychologically for people. A new starter is feeling apprehensive but excited, perhaps feeling uncertain and looking for clarity. I would go so far as to say that how you are treated on that first day will be a significant psychological marker for your time in a team or an organisation. We know that the brain values
fairness, social acceptance, status and certainty. All of those are affected by your Day 1 experience. So why is it often done so poorly?

International research in 2017 of 4,000 office workers by cloud software company Webonboarding found one third of the respondents had had a poor onboarding experience, whilst for a fifth it was so bad, they had changed their mind about the role. I guess my own experience has made me attuned to other, awful stories. A female senior marketing director of a large UK bank told me that she sat at her desk on Day One as colleagues trouped by without being introduced and getting a faint sigh as she asked for help logging on. She told me that she started to see through the “we are a great culture” pitch she had received at the interview. I guess the truth is out.

So, here is my proposition, treat a new starter’s Day One as sacrosanct. Design a Day One conversation to sear your leadership values and expectations into the
new starter’s mind. Or just do the human thing and make them feel welcome (“where are your manners” as my grandmother used to say.)

Ask yourself what exactly you are choosing to do on their Day One that is more important than making them feel welcome and setting them up to succeed.

I am sure there are people reading this who are proud of their onboarding process. You’ve probably heard of the best practice of firms like Zappos and The Motley Fool, the latter ensures new starters begin at 10am and they then push a sweet trolley around the office to meet everyone. They go home that evening with a $100 voucher to take someone out to dinner (no, not an employee, a loved one!!)

How can we design a perfect Day One conversation and process?

  1. Understand why it’s important, work out what you want from the process. It’s about motivating them, making them feel welcome, ensuring they understand expectations and values. It’s also about getting them up to speed and ensuring they are set up to grow and develop.
  2. Ask the team for their input. How do they want to meet and greet the new person? Develop a ritual.
  3. Make sure you are at work that day and not overloaded with work!!
  4. In any Day One conversation you should be:
    • Listening to how they are feeling and their expectations.
    • Setting out or reaffirming your vision for the team, the team values and your own work ethos. Remember leadership is often about why you are worth being followed. So, sell it.
    • Set out your expectations for them and crucially explain why and when you will be giving feedback (so they grow and develop.) It makes feedback conversations so much easier.
    • Create some sort of ritual, the Motley Fool exercise is excellent. What can you do? Food is always the great unifier.
  5. Take pride in your onboarding. Don’t give it to the most junior member of staff, don’t overdo the slides and don’t make it tedious and unnecessary. Use stories of previous colleagues. Make it fun and about them. Give them time to ask questions.
  6. Introduce them to an onboarding mentor.
  7. Announce them to the company. It’s a big deal so make it so.
  8. Get their space ready. Make the IT process painless.
  9. Provide a staff directory and a team directory.
  10. Make sure they are clear on everyone’s roles.
  11. Have a little present for them. (Why not? Show you are your values from Day One.)

A ritualised Day One conversation and welcome is a vital step in helping someone feel welcome, motivated and able to carry out their role. Think, what is at stake for you, if you don’t?

So maybe be there on their first day eh?


Photo by Bethany Legg on Unsplash

Author: James Marshall