Masterclass Recap: Onboarding, Part One

HINGE Founder Kathy Ligon and staffing expert Kathe Petchel shared loads of great tips and tricks for childcare business owners and directors to implement during the beginning stages of their onboarding processes in our June THRIVE Masterclass.


Kathe launched the discussion with some recommended reading, mentioning one of her personal favorite books, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman and Paul White. The significance of the five languages—words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time and physical touch—can be summed up into the simple notion that investing, engaging and showing appreciation for your staff is the most full-proof way to keep them thriving within your childcare business… leading to Kathe’s second book recommendation: Love Em or Lose Em: Getting Good People to Stay by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans.

So all read up on appreciating staff in order to reduce turnover? Good! Let’s dive into why staff leave and concrete ways to combat these trends.

According to research, staff are most likely to leave during milestone moments in their lives—noteworthy birthdays, upcoming class reunions and work anniversaries. These are all moments when people reassess their lives and life choices. A great way to combat these moments of reflection is to recognize the milestone and react positively. Post a Facebook shoutout for your ‘Fabulous & Forty’ toddler teacher, send a handwritten thank you note to your friendly front desk gal for her 5-year work anniversary or host an early career ladder meeting for your teacher’s assistant with the upcoming 10-year reunion. The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace are super effective in helping you put a positive spin on these milestone moments for your staff.

Another milestone moment Kathe noticed? Directly after family vacations or holiday time off. Kathe observed from her own staff experiences that extended time with family generates moments of reflection for staff members. She combats this by discussing more flexible work schedules with the staff member as well as the opportunity to earn additional time off.

When replacing an employee costs $5,000 and $8,000, small gestures like staff parties and added staff benefits are worth the additional investment. Isn’t your staff worth holding on to? How much are you willing to spend to keep them? Kathe suggests calculating your annual turnover rate to better identify and combat the milestones and trends that are encouraging your staff to leave. This will help better quantify what to spend on staff as well as what areas to spend it.

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After discussing turnover trends, Kathe introduced the four stages of a team: Form, Storm, Norm and Perform (summed up in the right-hand graphic). But for the sake of staying within our one hour THRIVE Masterclass time limit, Kathe stuck to the first stage: Forming.

The Form Stage is vital to the retention of staff and is the best time for learning to take place. Using good teaching during orientation (preview, teach, review) and leaving time for questions are the most beneficial things you can do for a new hire. This is the stage to set clear expectations: where we park, what we wear, what we do for lunch, how we sign in and out of the building. It is also when you execute ‘willing and able’ questions to provide another reality check for the new hire of exactly what their job will entail.

Don’t be afraid to coach someone out during orientation. If you pick up on any reluctances or unwanted attitudes, let them know that you don’t think this is the right job for them and exit them out politely.

Pre-start (2 weeks prior to start date)
Between the hiring of your new employee and their first day at work, there are a number of tasks to complete. Make sure all necessary paperwork is done for human resources and licensing. Go over their job description, general hours and responsibilities—being specific and reminding them that, in this industry, employees do not own their own hours or responsibilities because we must always put the children and families we serve first. Pre-start is also the time to introduce your center’s career ladder. Find out what the new hire’s wishes, hopes and dreams are and be a part of helping your new hire reach them. And ALWAYS check in with new hires before their first day: Are they ready? What do they need? What can you get for their room or desk? How can you help best assimilate them?

Orientation & Onboarding (first 2 days)
By this time, all of the new hire’s paperwork should be completed and filed. Make sure to clarify their schedule and team role within these first two days, but before letting them into a classroom, host a small group training and give follow up tests to make sure they are ready to interact with children. Afterwards, set them up with a mentor and allow them to shadow a classroom. Their assigned mentor should be someone who reflects all of the school’s core values. Then, it’s the fun part… SWAG! Give them their branded t-shirts and nametag on day one so they immediately feel like part of the team. Then, load them up with other goodies like branded water bottles, emergency kits with candy and a handwritten note welcoming them onto the team. Another great way to welcome them is to make an announcement on Facebook and in a company eBlast. And don’t forget to put their headshot and biography on your website.

Position Start (Days 3 to 7)
Your new hire should now be in their classroom and working as a regular staff member (within realistic expectations). For the first week or so, the director or assigned mentor should lunch with the new hire to build a strong relationship. It’s also important that the new hire actively participates in staff meetings at this stage. Encourage participation with ice breakers and by assigning them a team responsibility like refilling the coffee station.

Kathe has instituted a number of great engagement techniques to help her staff feel heard and respected. One thing she’s implemented is a daily written sign out log where staff rate their day from 1 to 10 and write a synopsis of that day. If their day is below a 7, she touches base with the employee to see what she can do to help. It’s important that your employees know you are engaged and really care about their wellbeing.

Another great implementation is Kathe’s “One Hour Turnaround.”  With this, staff have exactly one hour to solve or attempt to solve an urgent situation. Explaining and helping the new hire execute this can help the hire know what to report right away and what situations can wait to be addressed.

These first seven days are a honeymoon stage for new hires. Your job is to clarify all of their questions, support them or exit them out, if need be.

Want more tips and tricks on how to best support a new hire in their first seven days on the job? Watch the recording of this THRIVE Masterclass here. Then, join us on Thursday, July 19 at 1pm Eastern for our follow-up onboarding webinar covering days 8 to 90 of a new hires' integration into your company and discussing the Storm, Norm and Perform stages of a team. To register, click here.

Meredith Martin