I am kicking off this blog with the introduction of my Employee Experience model, the foundation of my work. This is the first of six sequenced blogs to help you explore the model’s potential. The second and additional steps will be released over the next six weeks.

Think about the last time you experienced a ‘first day’ at a new job. How’d you feel when you received the offer, discussed expectations, and/or walked in the door? Now think about your first day of work at your very first job (which was likely years ago). Regardless of the diversity of the two experiences, I’m betting your emotions were quite similar, ranging from excited to nervous, energized, curious, etc.

Searching for a job, going through the interview process, and your first day/week/month on the job itself is an anxious time. You’re on your ‘best behavior’, trying to make a good impression with everyone you interact with. In fact, finding and starting a new job is remarkably like dating. All parties need to listen carefully, communicate clearly, ask clarifying questions, demonstrate curiosity as well as confidence, and assume positive intent. If one of you ‘fails’ during this critical relationship building process, then your relationship is likely doomed long before it has even started. Even if you try to ‘stick it out’, the damage is often lasting.

That’s why as managers we need to be very deliberate in the way we say ‘hello’ to prospective employees. The more positive the ‘wooing experience’, the greater your new employee will be engaged in learning and growing. And the more satisfied you will be with the process and your return on investment (a new employee who is engaged and producing). Evidence consistently shows that employee engagement starts at the beginning of the relationship and directly impacts future productivity and loyalty. Your opportunity is to meet employees at this stage and make the experience about them. Doing so will increase their curiosity, trust, and yes, their engagement. So you both win.

The Employee Experience model

Over the last twenty years I’ve successfully managed several small and large teams, at the same location, across multiple locations, and with the team completely virtual. In my roles as an HR partner and coach, the concept of employee engagement has been a constant for me. Understanding how your employees think and feel about their job, you and/or your company is important. And how they act as a result is critical. Will they speak highly of you/your company to others? Will they go the extra mile in delivering service to your customers?

Being responsible for studying and impacting employee engagement results for over fifteen years has helped me understand that employees progress through the same five stages in every job they hold—Hello, Onboarding, the Daily Grind, Growth, and Goodbye. Each stage requires a different level of interaction. As the following model depicts, their experience with you isn’t just about ‘the job’, it’s about the before and after periods. Treating employees with respect at every step of the way will have positive, lasting effects for both of you.

Reflection: I held seven unique jobs while at UnitedHealth Group over a period of 23 years. I progressed through each stage, each time I moved into a new role. In some cases, I had to work a little harder to be engaged during one or more of the stages. Not because I didn’t find the work rewarding. Rather, it’s because my manager was often not fully prepared for me, e.g. hadn’t adequately prepared my peers, didn’t create time upfront for more frequent debriefing, etc.

1. You Had Me at Hello

The ‘engagement meter’ starts ticking the moment the prospect considers applying for your job. It could be that they saw an advertisement on LinkedIn or Indeed.com or perhaps they were referred to you. Regardless, when they start researching your job, your company and/or you, they are assessing whether you’d be a good fit for them. If they find the application process difficult because they had to fill in every single job detail rather than simply upload their resume, the engagement meter could take a negative ding. On the other hand, if they find their conversation with your recruiter seamless, the engagement meter could get a ‘plus one’. Every interaction counts.

I encourage you to think about the application and selection process through the eyes of prospective employees. Be mindful of how quickly your team acknowledges an application if at all, how respectful your team is in screening, declining and/or progressing candidates through the interview process, and how your team extends a job offer, discusses expectations and start considerations. This is all part of Hello and they haven’t even started.

Before you post your position(s), make it a practice to thoroughly develop the job expectations, goals and salary, and develop your interview strategy so you know what questions will be asked, who will be a part of your interviewing team and what role they’ll play, and develop a reasonable timeline so that you can drive toward that date.

“Hello” is a very time-consuming yet critical step. If you do it right, you’ll save time and frustration during the actual interview and selection process for both you, your recruiters, and your prospective employees.

Reflection: Those prospects that you ignored or passed, or that may have declined a job offer? They’re still out there with a point of view about you and/or your organization! The way they feel and think about that limited experience can absolutely impact your brand and yet they never even worked for you! A good practice is to operate with the mindset that ‘they haven’t worked for you yet’. The adage about not burning bridges for employees absolutely applies to prospective employees.

2. Onboard Me for Success

All a new employee really wants is to know and understand what is expected of them. It’s awkward to not to have anything to do. It’s boring to work through a bunch of eLearning modules. It’s annoying to be paired up with someone who doesn’t know the first thing about onboarding a future peer. A simple best practice is to develop a two-week schedule that starts very structured and ends with a lot of open time to work and reflect independently. Here’s a simple template that I invite you to customize and use. Let me know if you have any questions or want to share your best practice by emailing me @ Cecilia@CQsquared.us.

Reflection: One of my favorite ‘reads’ on onboarding is Paul Nunn’s 10 First Days, published through Amazon. Paul has over 15 years of experience as a trainer, training manager, instructional designer, and independent consultant. Paul shares ten “first days” that he personally experienced between 2012 and 2016. You’ll chuckle as he recounts the associated lessons that he learned as an employee and appreciate Paul’s ten onboarding rules and associated actions.

3. The Groove

At some point, both you and your employee will agree that they’re competent and no longer need the level of coaching and instruction you have given them up to that point.  In all likelihood, they’ve ‘hit their groove’ and they are working independently.  The key here is to step back and coach them when they need coaching. If you believe they’re competent, let them ‘get at it’. Yes, there are times when you’ll need to provide more instruction or coaching. Save your more hands on intervention for the situation in which they are doing something new or working on something with high visibility. Otherwise, you’ll be a ‘micro-manager’ and completely disengage your employee.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t meet with them regularly? Of course not. Meet with them one-on-one at least bi-weekly, and as a team on a regular basis as well. You’ll just use your time differently—they’ll do most of the talking!

Reflection: Situational Leadership II, or SLII, as it’s more formally known, is an excellent managerial model that helps you successfully diagnose what level of coaching and direction an employee needs. I’ve been a practitioner for years and highly recommend it.  Let me know—I’m happy to introduce you and/or your team to SLII Concepts.

4. Help Me Grow!

Understanding your employees’ career aspirations is extremely important. At every stage, you and your employees should be naturally discussing their career, e.g. goals, next job, desire to go back to school. Discussing your employees’ desires on a regular basis will make it easier for you to link the work they’re doing today with what they’d like to be doing tomorrow. You’ll both be able to identify areas where they need more experience and work together to find ways to address that gap.

Reflection: If you haven’t read Beverly Kaye’s Up is Not the Only Way, add it to your reading list right now. Beverly and her co-authors Lindy Williams and Lynn Cowart share their research and sage advice about the nine different ways to develop your employee. I have owned over ten copies of this book—each time I purchase one, I end up giving it away because it’s so invaluable!  

5. So Long for Now or Goodbye?

The way you say goodbye is just as important as the way you say hello, because you never know when your paths will cross again. Often your employees aren’t leaving the company, they’re simply leaving you to pursue their career goals. It doesn’t really matter where they are going, partner with them to ensure that you both have a transition plan that ensures that they will be able to give their work to someone else. Most employees want the same thing you do—to exit on a positive note so that your lasting impression of one another is positive.