Running a Shop Leadership Team Building

7 Key Elements to Effective Onboarding

Order Reprints
Culture Gets Created One Hire at a Time

Have you ever seen one of those pictures of a dog leading a whole flock of ducks? What’s going on there?

The scientific word for that is “imprinting.” Imprinting was discovered by a man named Konrad Lorenz in the 1930s when he studied the behaviour of geese. He found that geese  actually imprinted on whatever they first saw after they were born. This imprinting led the newborns to attach great significance to the person, animal and even red balls in later experiments. Once they imprinted they would follow the “mother” around with a blind obedience.

And of course this idea has worked its way into pop culture through movies like “Fly Away Home” and short stories like “The Ugly Duckling.”

Imprinting is a useful analogy for what happens when we hire someone. Social scientists call this a “liminal time.” A liminal time is an important time of transition when we open ourselves to new possibilities. Transitions become the seasons of our lives when we are most open to change.

We also tend to mark these times with rituals like birthday parties, graduations and weddings.

So what does imprinting, liminal time and rituals have to do with onboarding new team members?

Getting hired is a very important transition and it deserves to be marked with a ritual that is both meaningful and memorable. And if we as leaders do this right, our new team members will imprint on our shop’s culture in a way that is helpful to them and provides the most opportunity for us to retain them long term as team members.  

Here are seven key elements for onboarding new talent that I have found helpful.

  1. Set the stage with great experience. The owner or a key leader should take the new hire out for lunch. But please, not fast food or pizza. Take them out to a decent restaurant where they will have a full sensory experience of good sights, smells, and taste.

  2. Tell stories. Stories have a unique  power to convey things in ways that static bullet points simply do not. A key story to tell is the “founding myth” of your shop. How did it get started? What were the challenges that were overcome to get to where it is today?

  3. Share your “Why?” Team members want more than a paycheck. They want meaning. How does their work connect to a higher purpose beyond just straightening metal and replacing panels? What do cars represent to the consumer? How is their daily work connected to improving people’s lives?

  4. Emphasize the opportunity. Is your shop a place where people can learn and grow? Are there opportunities for advancement? What training will you offer them either on the job or via classes?

  5. Be vulnerable. I’ve written about this in an earlier column this year but how can this new hire help you? What are you working on in the wider organization that they might contribute to?

  6. Tangible takeaway. Perhaps this is something as simple as a picture with the owner that gets posted to social media and later texted to them. Maybe the picture is printed and framed for them. Or what about a tool that is engraved with their date of hire.

  7. Get them connected to others on your team. Have their manager walk them around the department they will work in and introduce them by name to several of their coworkers. Encourage them to get to know each other over lunch or after hours.

The vast majority of these seven elements can be accomplished over a lunch. How important is it to take one or two hours to create a memorable experience for a team member that might be with you for years to come? The answer depends on how important retaining talent is for you. From where I sit, it is one of the biggest challenges we face as an industry and a real competitive advantage shop by shop. With stakes like that, a couple hours seems like time well invested.

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