We read a lot about recruiting and welcoming new members into your association’s fold, but there’s another audience that deserves just as much attention: new association staff. These are the people who take care of the day-to-day operations that sustain an association, so it’s important that veteran staff and board members quickly onboard and sustain them in their new responsibilities.
I’ve worked with new employees at Naylor for almost 10 years. In that time, I’ve had the chance to fine-tune routines and best practices for welcoming new employees and helping them achieve their highest productivity from the start. Here’s my advice for jump-starting your new employees’ association career.
The first day
Treat the training room/building as if it’s your home and you are welcoming out-of-town visitors. Make sure it’s tidy and presentable. You want your office space to feel welcoming. This is their first impression of your company, and you only get one chance for that impression, so make it a good one!
I get in early on their first day. Be there when your new employees arrive so you can properly greet them and direct them where they need to be. A handshake and direction to the coffee pot on your first day are always welcome! We also provide some breakfast items, such as fruit, yogurt, or muffins because the new employee maybe skipped their breakfast due to nerves. They shouldn’t be missing out on the most important meal of the day!
Give a thorough tour of your building so they are aware of where everything is located at in your office. Knowing where places like the bathroom, the kitchen, and their manager’s office are located will help them feel more comfortable.
Introduce them to individuals who they will work with directly in their first few months. I try to stagger how many people they meet a day. It can be overwhelming to meet the whole crew during the first day. I try to have about 1-3 employees meet the new guys and gals per day. If you introduce more people than that, the introductions will be rushed and easily forgotten. When current staff introduce themselves, encourage everyone to share a “fun fact.” In every introduction of new employees I have witnessed, there will always be a few “fun facts” that people may share as a common interest, which hopefully will lead to them connecting afterward.
Provide a management contact sheet with details on who does what. It can be overwhelming at first to know who does what.
When you have a group of new employees, start off with an ice breaker. We have the employees interview each other simple questions like, “How long have you lived in the city?”, “What was your favorite vacation?”, and “What are some of your hobbies?” We do this activity within the first hour on their first day. After everyone finishes the questions, we have everyone walk around the room and they introduce their neighbor who they just interviewed. This activity acquaints everyone with each other and helps them feel a bit more comfortable in their new setting.
“You cannot underestimate the impact of people’s first few days upon how they will feel about your organization. What they experience ‘sets the stage’ for how they view you, and will dramatically affect their opinion about whether you truly care about your employees, and by extension, about your members or customers regardless of what your handbook or any training materials may say. Your actions set the stage for what your culture really is,” says Chip Sharkey, Naylor’s vice president of human resources and employee development.
Equip them with the right tools
Have all materials they need right in front of them. I set up our training table with all office supplies needed and their printed training materials bound up neatly in a binder for their first 4 weeks.
We also provide new employees with reusable Naylor tumblers when they join us. It’s a trinket that hopefully gets them to the water cooler to meet other employees.
Try to give as much “real life” experience as possible. Provide plenty of sales rep examples throughout training. Share stories of roadblocks that current reps have faced and provide details on how they overcame the obstacle. This builds credibility as well as a source for the rep to contact if they too face the same obstacle.
Plan to support your employee(s) beyond the first day
For the first month of our training program, our goal is to ensure that all reps understand and can complete the sales process. They do not have a first month sales goal. Their main goal is to feel confident with our sales story and to put their personality into their presentation. For the first quarter, we monitor through one-on-one meetings, email exchanges, and observation how they are using the tools that you just provided them in their first month. There are so many moving parts to any job; employees may need reminders on all of the info you just crammed into their brain.
Get to know your new employee beyond their 9-to-5 position. We give our new employees an Informational Questionnaire where we ask questions about their personal goals and their work preferences. This helps the managers get to know the rep on a deeper level so they know what makes them tick.
At the same time, make sure your employees feel comfortable asking questions of you. Let them know questions are always welcome. Any time someone asks me a question, I want them to know I am glad they asked it and that no question is a silly question. I want our employees to feel comfortable seeking help when they need it.
“I always tell everyone who comes into our organization that they will never have a problem by asking a question or asking for help. It’s when they don’t that things may not go as well,” explains Sharkey. “Fostering a climate of openness and trust starts at the very beginning, and it starts with the actions you demonstrate from the beginning.”
Set clear goals and responsibilities. Provide direction, examples or time to shadow current employees. Allow for task practice, and provide timely feedback.
Introduce organization culture
During new employees’ first few weeks, we schedule a lunch for managers to meet our newest employees. Everyone introduce themselves to the lunch group. The managers share with the new employees how they started with Naylor and tidbits of information about themselves and their work life.
Any time you hold a group meeting, allow for a time for new employees to be introduced. Have them share a few fun facts. Keep it fun so they feel comfortable sharing with a crowd.
Celebrate small milestones. After our four-week training program, we hold an informal graduation celebration usually consisting of bagels and coffee in their honor. There are plenty of other ways to celebrate, but the idea is to show appreciation for their commitment to learning how to succeed in your business.
Foster continual learning
We have a mentor program where we pair a new employee with someone who has worked here for a while. We provide a suggested list of starter questions for the new rep to use to begin their mentor relationship. This helps them think of what type of questions they can ask their mentor. (For example, “What were some of the struggles you faced early in your career, and looking back, what would you have done differently to avoid the roadblock?”) Let the new employee know this is another layer of help for them; someone who is in their same shoes, doing the same thing, who has probably run into the same obstacles. I try to touch base with all mentors and “mentees” to ensure things are moving smoothly. Allow for mentees to be able to work with other mentors to get other perspectives.
One of the best pieces of advice that I got as a new employee was to “get involved” in as many fun work activities as your schedule allows. This could include joining the office philanthropy committee, playing on the softball team, or simply eating in the lunch room with other employees. By participating in activities like these, you get to know more employees, and perhaps employees who you may not work with as often due to the structure of your business.
Try to have a variety of ways for employees to get involved so they can pick and choose what works with their schedule and comfort level. An engaged employee is a successful employee!
Katie White has been welcoming new staff to Naylor, LLC as a sales trainer for three years. Prior to training, she worked as a sales manager with new sales reps for seven years.