Onboarding is a Dialogue Too

Onboarding is usually the first time someone is truly exposed to an organization. Hopefully, first on the training list are the values, mission and cultural expectations—these will set the foundation for employee conduct, collaboration and work expectations.

Onboarding is also the first and best time to engage in dialogue and mutual learning. Curiosity about a new employee demonstrates an investment in an individual and shows appreciation for what they have to offer beyond their technical skills. Asking questions of, and learning from, new employees will build loyalty, investment and improve retention. One simple way to do this is by creating an employee profile with three categories of information listed below.

The following example is taken from my professional profile as a trainer at Howard Center and has a foundation in Person-Centered Thinking, Human-Centered Design, Design Thinking, Dialogue Education™ and principles of Positive Organizational Development and Positive Psychology. NOTE: Personal examples are listed below in italics and can also be found here in a sample one-page profile sheet.

1. What is Important to This Person.

These are things that make people content, happy and satisfied with their work life. What is it they need in their day to feel great about the work they are doing?

Example of “what is important” to Kelsey:

  • Feeling autonomy – ability to work creatively and independently
  • Being well-prepared for meetings and trainings
  • Receiving direct and frequent feedback during challenging and complex work assignments
  • Giving time to focus, uninterrupted, for long periods of time allows me to be most effective
  • Aligning core values with supervisors, direct reports and the organization. It allows me to feel connected and gives meaning to my work.

2. Best Ways to Support This Person.

These are interventions and individualized ways to help someone be most effective at work.

Example of “best ways to support” Kelsey at work:

  • Providing a clear agenda and information to be discussed ahead of meetings, supervisions or collaborative group work, so that I can be prepared and ready to contribute
  • Ensuring meetings start and end on time helps me structure and maximize efficiency
  • Clearly explaining the purpose of each meeting (e.g. sharing, discussion, brainstorming, decisions-making). Knowing expectations keeps me engaged
  • Having flexibility to structure my day. Rigidity stifles my creativity and effectiveness
  • Having time to answer the “whys” helps me feel connected to my work and inspires me to invest more energy into projects.

3. How this Person is Liked and Admired.

These are attributes, strengths and character traits that make a you great! These are defined by you and people who know you best. This can include and be fostered by surveys and tests like the Strengths Survey, MBTI, Reflected Best Self, core values exercises or any way that helps individuals specify what they are good at. Perhaps your organization already uses something specific. No need to re-invent the whole process, just make sure this information makes it into the profile.

Example of “things people like and admire” about Kelsey:

  • Great at creating dialogue
  • Strong facilitator and trainer
  • Creative problem solver
  • Good sense of humor
  • Creates honest and insightful discussions through dialogue
  • Great with the Microsoft Suite Applications
  • “Big picture” person who excels at visioning.

A study in the Academy of Management Journal notes that investment in support within the first 90 days leads to better outcomes when support and engagement are high. New employees are hired for their experience and ability to perform and this often means that introductory trainings are geared toward technical aspects of the job, and legal or liability issues, related to risk, that need to be “checked off” to minimize a company’s liability. Treating people like a part in a machine will lead to high turnover and low rates of retention, which hurts morale and the bottom-line.

One way to improve the onboarding process is to dedicate time for dialogue with new employees and creating something tangible that can be shared with co-workers, peers, supervisors and teams.

Bain Consulting, often rated as one of the best places to work in the USA by Glass Door, has an intensive onboarding process (six-seven weeks) and leads to self-discovery and sharing of individual traits, strengths and personality types. The end result is a “profile” that is shared with clients, teammates, co-workers and supervisors. Although it would be nice to have a seven-week onboarding program dedicated to developing each employee, it is unlikely that most organizations can adopt such a rigorous program. However, using the three categories above can help people develop their own profiles and lead to an increase in dialogue and improve effectiveness.

Profiles can be used as part of an introduction to a new team, supervisor or work group and enables people to engage more deeply in a shorter amount of time. It is strongly suggested that a culture of profile review be established. Having people put effort into creating a profile takes vulnerability, effort and inquisitive reflection. Honoring this with a meaningful review is a great way to establish new relationships. Putting your profile in a folder to never be reviewed diminishes trust, respect and the power of directives. This is a powerful tool, but it must be reviewed and updated frequently to achieve its full affect. What is written must also be honored by the team. Depending on the size of your team, portions of team meetings or individual/group supervisions are great examples of places to review and share profiles.

What is your experience with the onboarding process?

How could one-page profiles help improve the way employees

do work at your organization or business?



Kelsey Stavseth (kelseystavseth@gmail.com) is a Team Lead at Howard Center in Burlington, Vermont. He is dedicated to the creation of healthy, vibrant communities and believes in the power of dialogue, inclusion and empowerment to positively transform people, organizations and relationships.

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