Believe it or not, professional experiences hold a powerful weight with the impact they have on our lives. If people aren’t engaged in their roles, have an opportunity to collaborate with others, or don’t feel excited to come to work, this can diminish the potential for an overall positive experience. When employees are spending 40+ hours a week in a place they feel trapped, they aren’t showing up each day as the best version of themselves (and before long, they may not show up at all).
As the VP of People Ops at 15Five, my experience both past and present has revealed to me that one of the most important ways you can set an employee up for success in their role is with a strategic onboarding experience. When someone comes into a new role, there are a lot of uncertainties. This is exacerbated if their role isn’t clearly defined from the get-go, and can hinder an employee’s ability to forge a genuine connection with both the company and their manager.
When I joined 15Five, I didn’t have to make a challenging case for creating a more enriched onboarding program, as many of our senior leaders understood the impact it can have on an employee experience.
With the help of our Director of People Science, Courtney Bigony, who uses the latest research in positive psychology to influence the 15Five’s product to create psychologically safe work environments, and my experience in the field of HR, together we created a meeting designed to set expectations and establish trust between an employee and their manager. We call it 15Five’s Best-Self Kickoff.
I’ve seen first-hand how detrimental a subpar onboarding experience can be, and watched one too many A+ employees walk away from their roles due largely to this disconnect. Earlier on in my career at a previous company, my team and I hired a woman (we’ll call her Fiona to protect the innocent), for a role who we thought was absolutely perfect, and for those of you in HR, you know how exciting it can be to find the perfect match after searching long and hard.
Fiona was leaving a role with the same title as the one we had hired her for, but the role at her prior company was entirely different. Our role required an acumen for writing long-winded client proposals and the ability to seek out and pinpoint opportunities, whereas Fiona’s experience was primarily rooted in relationship building.
In retrospect, my team and I did a poor job of identifying the role. We weren’t firmly aligned with what we needed, what skills we should be looking for, or what previous experience would make someone successful. We should have clearly defined and communicated the role during the recruiting phase, not after she started.
Had we developed a thoughtful and structured interview process, the interview questions we asked would have assessed if she could perform the job that our unique organization and team needed. Instead, we made the mistake of basing her compatibility for the role on personality and past title. Not even a year into the role, and we had to make the tough decision to let her go. All of the time, energy, costs, and especially suffering could have been avoided entirely with a Best-Self Kickoff.
The Best Self Kickoff is a two hour meeting between employees and managers designed to clarify expectations, strengthen their bond, and to understand each other’s respective needs. This meeting should be scheduled within the first week of your new role, and should take place within the first month.
The Best-Self Kickoff stands on the foundation of a clearly defined job description. Role clarity paves the way for psychological safety in the workplace, which is a key factor of high performing teams. Leaders can further create environments that are psychologically safe by asking the right questions on a regular basis and applying actions to those insights. The Best-Self Kickoff is a way to jumpstart this process and create a strong foundation from the start.
It begins by each person filling out a worksheet prior to the meeting, which is used as a guide for the discussion. It can also be used with existing team members to confirm or reset expectations, and is particularly useful when roles or teams have undergone some change. In addition to writing-in responses prior to the meeting, we encourage everyone to capture additional notes and comments that come up during the discussion to ensure that there is 100 percent clarity and documentation on all expectations.
The Best-Self Kickoff is comprised of two parts: the first is focused on role clarity and expectations, and the second is rooted in individual and interpersonal expectations.
In the Best-Self Kickoff, you and your employee will be able to fill in questions surrounding:
• Role, duties, and responsibility clarity
• Company/ team expectations
• Best-Self Management introduction
• Expected goals and milestones
• Conduct and behavioral expectations
• Career path introduction
For the latter part of the Best-Self Kickoff, you and your employee will go over items such as:
• Expectations between the manager/employee relationship
• Communication style
• How everyone prefers to receive feedback and recognition
• Short term and long term career goals
This is an opportunity to bring to the surface any pet peeves, favorite past projects, areas where you have an interest in contributing, ideal work environments, and more.
Both sections serve a specific purpose—to break down any barriers that can prevent an employee from being and becoming their best self. This kickoff is an extension of the Best-Self Management methodology, which aims to build an organizational culture that fully supports each and every person both in and out of the workplace. This way of managing people, while unorthodox to many, can yield extraordinary levels of productivity, loyalty, and ultimately, success.
The Best-Self Kickoff helps when giving explicit benchmarks to guide the employee’s growth in their role. For example, in each job description, the 15Five People Ops team clearly define a three-month, six-month, and 12-month snapshot of what is expected to be accomplished.
Without this outline, employees will work towards a path they can only assume is correct. Often times, these insinuations turn into misalignment, and employee development can be slowed down significantly.
Having the upfront conversation can help avoid these common roadblocks to employee success altogether. This kickoff while similar, differentiates itself from a 1-on-1 or Best-Self Review through the extensive list of strategic questions.
Obtaining knowledge of the other person’s feedback style can make it easier when a negative situation arises, or when constructive feedback on performance needs to be delivered. When things aren’t aligning, you can always reference back to this review, thus making a manager’s job much easier.
For the employee, this kickoff provides a clear instruction of which skills they should leverage, the expectation for how they will spend their time, and the goals they must accomplish. Basically, this discussion defines what success looks like for their role. These can ease any sense of anxiety and give peace of mind to all parties involved.
For managers, the Best-Self Kickoff is an upfront investment for future excellent performance. Think of it as a vaccine that prevents any future illness; it can be uncomfortable at times, but the result prevents suffering in the long-run. Use this valuable time to set each employee up for an experience that allows them to thrive both personally and professionally, because amazing things can happen when we start everyone off on the right foot.
Don’t forget to download the Best-Self Kickoff template here!
Heidi Collins is VP of People Ops at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, objectives (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and 360°reviews. Heidi is drawn to human-centric workplaces, and brings 20 years of experience spanning over two countries.