S04 E01: Culture-Backed Onboarding – How It Boosts Candidate and Employee Experience

We are ready and excited to kick start the fourth season of CultureClub X!

In the first episode of this season of CultureClub X powered by CultureMonkey, we have with us Melinda Honcoop, Interim Head of People Ops at care.com and founder – Agile in HR, an HR Advising & Consultancy, who discusses with us  the significance of culture-backed onboarding and how it boost candidate and employee experience

About Melinda –

Melinda has a calling for people and creating healing workplace ecosystems. She has spent 20 years as a senior people leader and HR advisor for technology-focused companies.

She has been the Chief People Officer at TCP Software and has held multiple HR leadership roles at brands like Spiceworks-Ziff Davis, HomeAway.com, Blackbaud, and Expedia to name a few.

She co-founded the Austin Women in Agile meetup and believes in passionately guiding organizational leaders to rethink how they work to thrive.

Melinda is based in Austin, Texas and sits on the board of the non-profit – Love Justice International.

Here’s the gist of what Melinda speaks about in this video:

  1. How to strengthen the personalities of candidates during remote hire onboarding and how it can help them in their role and start on the right foot.
  2. Why onboarding isn’t just about the external hires coming in but also about importance reskilling and upskilling the talents. And how it can be linked to engaging your employees throughout their life cycle.
  3. The significance of identifying gaps during interviews to gain more knowledge in 30-60-90 days plan implementation and having one-on-one conversations can reduce hand holding.
  4. How can senior management help with the onboarding process for new hires to understand their part of the business and break the communication barrier, even in remote work.

Catch all this and more with Melinda Honcoop in S04 E01 of CultureClub X.

Transcript –

Diana – Hi everyone, and welcome to the latest episode of CultureClub X powered by CultureMonkey. I’m your host, Diana Blass. CultureMonkey is a complete Employee Engagement platform that helps people leaders listen to their employees and enhance workplace cultures.

CultureClub X is our community initiative, where global leaders share their experiences and discuss all things company culture.

After the success of our last season. We’re excited to kick off our fourth season with Melinda Honcoop, Interim Head of People Ops at care.com and founder of Agile in HR, an HR Advising and Consultancy. Welcome, Melinda. We’re stoked to have you with us today.

Melinda – Thank you so much. It’s exciting to be here.

Diana – Well definitely excited to have you with us today to weigh on the topic. But first, let’s share a bit about your background with our viewers.

Melinda has a calling for people and creating healing workplace ecosystems. She spent 20 years as a senior people leader and HR advisor for technology-focused companies. She’s been the Chief People Officer at TCP software and has held multiple HR leadership roles at brands like Spiceworks-Ziff Davis, Homeaway.com, Blackbaud and Expedia.

She co-founded the Austin Women in Agile meetup and believes in passionately guiding organizational leaders to rethink how they work to thrive. Melinda is based in Austin, Texas and sits on the board for the non-profit Love Justice International.

When she’s not busy with people, she could be found reading, walking her dogs, traveling, or hiking. Melinda, it’s our honor to have you with us today. Welcome again, to Culture Club X’s videocast on “Culture-Backed Onboarding – How its Boosts Candidate and Employee Experience.”

Before we begin, please tell us a bit more about yourself and your organization.

Melinda – I am a true at heart people nerd and HR was a perfect profession, you know I went to University to go into social work and very much found that workplaces needed a social work lens to really understand we’re people start within an ecosystem and how to create healthier workplace ecosystems.

And for me, my passion is, I believe, if we have healthier workplaces, we have a healthier society. And, you know, I love connecting and being able to look within a workplace and seeing we’re there, is that lack of alignment, that lack of community and order to be able to, to come in and be able to find ways in which we can reconnect and ways we can rethink to build community and I can’t think of anything better than our topic today, which is onboarding in which to do that.

It’s a very important part of the employee lifecycle but often overlooked.

Diana – Definitely and I love that you found a career path that fits so naturally with, with what you want to do. You know not everyone is lucky enough to find that passion right away, but we know the difference that it makes when you ultimately do find it and you’re carrying out that passion every day.

So that being said, I’m so excited to chat with you today. You’re really the perfect person to speak on this topic. So, let’s get started.

That’s really impressive, Melinda. With your professional experience so far, you seem to be the perfect person to speak on today’s topic. So, without further ado, let’s get started.

The first question, how do you think leaders should rethink remote hire onboarding effectively? So that new hires feel valued, engaged and connected equally to in-office employees?

Melinda – This is such a good question and you could spend just an hour on this one question. It often through the automation process of through systems and because we get so busy, it becomes that first day experience of signing paperwork, getting to know the company a little bit, and you know in order to rethink often it’s about what is on, what is that time frame of onboarding and taking it from just a first day compliance activity and really how can we create a conversation?

A two-way conversation with the employee that doesn’t feel that it’s a one-size-fits-all that is really tailored to that individual, being able to get to understand who they are, the strengths and the personality that they’re bringing with them.

And being able to introduce ourselves to them and being able to create that connection before they even start, and being able to get the first day activities done, before they even enter in, and being able to have that first day, really be able to be about connection and getting to know what are the expectations of my role. And what am I going to be focused on in the first, 30-60-90 and, how does my manager see me coming into this organization and what success is gonna look like and the impact that I can make here.

Diana – And so from your experience, you know, at care.com or your startup, like what are some of those exercises that you do on a first day to get to that outcome?

Melinda – Yeah, so really trying to find first of all, being able to understand within our company, what do our new employees look like? What are those, what I like to call user personas? And what is our audience? And how are we tailoring the experience to them? And what is it that person may need that someone else may not?

And so making sure we don’t have just a custom template that we send to everyone, that we really are getting to know people. So how do we, you know, reach out whether it’s through a survey or questionnaire or even through an insights assessment, where we’re be able to get an understanding of kind of, how do they, what are their preferences around communication style around working in, in a one team environment and then how does that map to the assessment that the rest of the team members have made and being able to share that information in advance, be able to have a natural conversation between the manager and the employee prior to that first day and really been able to create a stronger bond there and in order to be able to get that level of engagement and get these things out of the way so you can really hit the ground running.

There’s so much data shows that the first 90 days really make a difference. I think other things that we’ve done is, you know, being able to think, is this person new in their career? Do they need to understand some of the nuts and bolts? Is this their first job? Are there some things that we can do to really help prep them, to feel comfortable and being able to understand and what are some of those questions I should be asking? How do I have a conversation with my manager?

Because often if this is their first job, they don’t know those things. So how might we be able to even provide some YouTube videos that help them prepare for that in advance versus a senior leader and executive coming in where they really need to most often they join and companies haven’t introduced them to anyone and so now they’re scrambling, trying to figure out, first of all, what is my role? Who are my key stakeholders? And I’m going to need to engage with across the company, cross-functionally.

If we’re able to take some of that work out and really put the thoughtfulness in and prep their schedule with prepared meetings. So when they come, they already have their first week plan for them in a way that’s meaningful.

It’s not like you’re taking them away and putting them in this class for a whole day, but really making these meaningful conversations that are going to be impactful to help them in their role and be able to get started off on the right foot.

These are some of the things examples of things that I’ve done in prior companies.

Diana – Yeah, I love that. I like how it extends from, you know, the less personal ways through surveys and assessments but then stretching all the way to exercise they can do as a team or just YouTube videos, which I personally found to be so helpful when I have transitioned, even the types of jobs, I was working, anything I could do to prepare in advance, just help that anxiety for me.

So I love everything you mentioned there.

The second question, in your opinion, how critical is onboarding on the entire employee life cycle? What should be the important focus area for employers? And why is it imperative for Gen Z employees?

Melinda – I love this one because onboarding isn’t just for our external hires coming in, as their first welcome to the company. If we’re looking at the entire employee lifecycle, and kind of the moments that matter most. Our hope is always at, as we reskill and upskill our talent, they’re going to be promoted into new jobs.

So as a transfer into these roles, how are we taking the onboarding experience that we use for someone coming externally into our organization, to welcome someone already at the company into a new role, into a new team. I think this is often missed and overlooked and so important, especially for new managers moving into to management roles.

And also when we look at merger acquisition, as companies have that within their growth plan, how are you welcoming this new company and the employees into the organization to create something combined in new together?

So I think we can really think about often we think about onboarding just for our external as at first beginning journey of the employee lifecycle, but if we were to take that and put it across the moments that matter in that journey and apply it to some of these other considerations, we could really unlock some incredible opportunities to really make a difference.

Diana – Definitely, I mean I know just from my own experience. People even in my own circle that you just want more communication on what the career path looks like. Especially for Gen Z who reportedly isn’t really, you know that incited by salaries and things like that.

It said they want to feel like they’re gaining more personally from it, you know, and experience.

Melinda – Exactly, yeah and often I think we do a good job of when we, bringing in someone external to organization, of having some conversations around. Hey, you’re new in this role, here’s your career path, but as they then start to get promoted, we lose that additional touch and those additional conversations and so how can we take that and apply it throughout their time at the company.

Diana – Hmm, and is that something that you do during like, evaluations, or how often do you have these conversations with employees?

Melinda – Yeah, man, I really tried. When I launch having real-time feedback with, between managers and employees, just that level of expectation. Is not just about the work that they’re doing in their job today, but how are we taking these those one-on-one conversations and making them meaningful and really looking to want, not what we’re just doing today in your current job.

But what also do we want to be doing a year or even six months from now. And how can we start to think about cross-functional projects or experiences that are going to help them re-skill and upskill in align that with their passion and their areas of interest and an opportunities that they’re uncertain, and how they can explore that and so how do we start to just put this into our everyday thinking and our mindset so we don’t have to have this big separate career development plan process and this document that’s created that kind of sits off to the side and no one ever looks at.

But how can we just create these little kind of like capsules of conversation and in our one-on-ones and what we already do to have generate a conversation and start to create steps toward. being able to gather those experiences and be able to understand how do the strings aligned to those and is there a good match? and how to build on that through just the normal on the job experience?

Diana – Right. Yeah, I mean it seems like invaluable information and just training for a company to provide, given just the fight for talent today.

So, moving on to the third question, now you mentioned the 30-60-90. So digging further into this process. How can managers outline goals in a 30 60 90 day onboarding plan, keeping the employee skills and expectations in mind, especially for Gen Z who has an ever-increasing expectation from the workplace?

Melinda – Yeah, this is something I really like to map out prior to that person even starting. So when we have that job description, we were thinking about even starting to hire that person because you can start to include this in the interview process of what does a fully functional person in this role look like? and knowing what are the areas that we know they’re not going to have?

And so how in that process in the interview, where do we see some gaps? And so how can we think about in the 30, 60, and 90? How can we start to develop that knowledge and that experience? And then once they understand the knowledge have taken it in, then what does it look like for them to actually produce and be able to utilize that knowledge in their day-to-day job? And so what is measurable that we’re able to say yes, they have this, they’ve got it, they ramped up and now they’re fully functional.

How do we break down those milestones within a 30-60-90? And that we can then have conversations within our one-on-one, well to see how that person is tracking or not. And are we coaching as a manager and providing them and being able to kind of at first or something some hand-holding, but we’d like to see that decrease over time.

So, often managers don’t understand, you know, when is that moment when the hand-holding needs to start to wean off? And that person should really be stepping fully into the role. So I think that’s also manager training and helping them understand you know, what does success look like? And how do we have those coaching, real-time conversations and if we’re not seeing that change in behavior, making sure we don’t wait too long to have that.

So that, you know, if we unfortunately didn’t make a good hire, we’re able to have a good conversation with the employee because it doesn’t feel good when you don’t when you know, you’re not meeting expectations. And so how can we be real about that up front and not wait a year to have that conversation which is why you’ve see companies like Notion not having annual performance conversations.

Diana –  Hmm. And in regards to Gen Z, how is this process different compared to Millennials or even older Generations?

Melinda – I often find that with the Gen Z versus Millennials, is they really want to be able to, it’s not like they’re just self-starting, right? They want to understand and be able to have a partnership with the manager. Be able to have a map, be able, it’s not like it, the map has to have the entire, it’s not like the GPS that’s going to get you there 100%, but it’s really understanding.

Like how does this then connect to what else is available here to me? What are the opportunities outside of just this role? So 30-60-90, yes, that is focused in the today of, you know, how can we get you up in your job, but and running, but it would Gen Z, it needs to be more than that with a 30-60-90.

We also need to start having conversations with them early on of, hey, let’s start to, maybe have some mentors that are able to have exposure beyond just their role be able to see, hey, what’s next? And how can I start to create the connection community to not just learn how I can be successful in my role today, but also starts work on what is next? and be able to see what else is here in this organization?

Diana – That it’s really interesting to hear that perspective. I think often younger generations are just labeled as, you know almost a-step-above-interns, and maybe are too eager to work for themselves or to not put the work in when really is as you’re saying that they want more exposure to the company, more of a insight into how to progress and grow and play a bigger role, which, interesting.

Melinda – And I think that’s a value of work now, where many of the Gen Z, they could go and have their own solo careers. And where a workplace offers is mentorship, is community, are people of different experiences so why not unlock that early on for them?

Diana – Hmm, definitely especially in light of, you know, the value of branding and I think everybody should have a brand and how’s that match with your culture brand? It’s fascinating.

The next question, what part does senior management play in smooth onboarding process? How can they create a diverse inclusive and equitable environment for the future?

Melinda – It’s so important, I think this is also what Gen Z wants. These are those connections, these are those conversations and when I think of senior leadership, I’m thinking like a skip level. This is not just the supervisor for the employee. This is, it helps remove the us versus them. How can we start to break down that kind of glass layer? And how do we include Senior Management within the onboarding process? Yes, they have busy schedules.

But how can we, in a meaningful way, allow them to meet our new employees especially in a remote world where these don’t even, maybe know people because we’re not walking down the hallway with each other.

And so how can they be able to help the, this new hire understand that part of the business and how it ties into the greater strategic plan for the company. And how they see this person being able to add value to the work that they’re doing if it is in a different function than what this person was hired.

I think these and have the opportunity to get to know them. So it’s often I find that you’ll have these senior leadership in a YouTube video and they’re just talking at someone and that is good. That’s a, it’s better than not doing anything but how can we create an actual two-way conversation where that person actually feels that they took the time to get to know them and hear from them because they may have some really great perspective that they’re taking and bringing from an experience that leader maybe hasn’t had exposure to.

Diana – Right, and so what are some of those ways? I mean especially in the remote work world, what are somethings that you do?

Melinda – Yeah, so if you are, you know, hiring, being able to, you know, understand the time that we create meaningful, like small groups, maybe you do it monthly or quarterly or the senior leaders will meet with new employees and be able to hold it like an informal conversation.

Being able to be able to talk about what they’re working on, but leave time to hear from people what are their insights. I find these are often good after the person’s been there for 30 or 60 days, and it’s really neat to get that fresh perspective and their learnings before they get too much into the weeds, and I find that these conversations also help create a connection.

So that these conversations continue and out most often, these leaders have opened doors and are very approachable but because of the title, these new hires are afraid to reach out. They don’t know how do we best communicate. So this is a way to break that down, so I find that those chats are really good and because of fireside, it’s too many people we need to, like, have the smaller intimate settings.

Diana – Yeah, it sounds like, in a way and with the rtemote work culture, it’s become easier to set up these conversations and of course, people do all meet up in a room. And at least when you have a specific channel for these conversations or a meeting set in a calendar, and it’s so easy to just hop on perhaps, it’s become easier to break that barrier a little bit.

Melinda – Yes.

Diana – How can modern people leaders rely on technology to provide an optimum onboarding experience for new hires and ensure a reduction in drop-off rates?

Melinda – Yeah, a lot of these onboarding tasks that we are talking about can be really time consuming and especially moving into an uncertain economy in 2023 and where our budgets are really tight. How can we utilize technology to automate some of these activities that we’ve been talking about? How can we automate the scheduling, for example, is there a way to schedule these meetings and these conversations through technology.

The assessments, we are talking about being able to do that through a tool, being able to utilize onboarding technology to create conversations prior to the person starting. Being able to utilize 30-60-90 planning through an automated tool and be able to take that data and have a survey.

How are we doing in this creates some baseline metrics. There’s so many different ways that we can use a technology. I think, even in the onboarding, we often have very, very basic questions that were going to IT and facilities and to our HR teams to answer, but if a human is answering these more routine questions that does, allow them to be freed up to focus on the actual strategic impact that they’re hired to do.

So how can we use like, chatbots to be able to provide a centralized place for employees to ask these questions and they can actually get tailored answers that apply to their location. This some of the questions may have location specific responses.

Diana – Wow, yeah, that’s definitely it’s interesting. So many different ways that technology can be used as you’re pointing out, the chatbot sounds like it would have been a lifesaver for me when I moved into tech for sure.

But in terms of, I mean thinking about how technology perhaps has streamlined the process, would you say candidates to become more familiar, faster with protocols? Are you finding like future candidates more easily because you gain so much data from an onboarding process? Like, what outcomes have you gained?

Melinda – Yeah. I’ve through, once you are able to implement some of these onboarding technologies, you can often find quickly, are we hiring right. If you’re starting to see, there is a disconnect and there people aren’t ramping within the 90 days and then being able to go back and have that real time data and say we’re in the interview process, are we missing this and be able to then align that learning to, then iterate the recruitment process.

So that we are making sure that we do a better job next time and we don’t keep making the same mistakes. I think that is good feedback and often managers siloed if we don’t have this information, they don’t know what they don’t know and they don’t know that maybe they aren’t, maybe their intent is in the right place, but the delivery is missing or you know when they thought they understood the job description and what success would look like.

But there’s just something nuance that they can’t put their hands on. But the data is able to provide a signal that they didn’t have before.

Diana – Yeah, I love that you can really see the way that we can complement our efforts with technology. I mean you hate to think that tech can be like smarter than us in ways but data it’s really invaluable. And when paired together, it’s great that you can find better candidates.

the last question here. Do you agree that company culture has a direct impact on a good candidate experience? How does this impact retention rates? Employer branding and in building brand advocates?

Melinda – Yeah, company culture is, it’s so complex. You can probably spend an hour just on this conversation, but it is so important because it, culture is made up of the individuals of the organization and how they interact and how they behave.

And so as an organization, you know, what are those behaviors and those decision processes that you want to amplify and support of like how we work together better and if we’re able to actually codify that and name it and be able to then clarify those behavior expectations.

We now could then put these into the interview process and be able to hire, then to that culture. So that we’re really then aligning that individual and their strengths and with the organization’s strengths and behavior expectations. Because often when you find those value misalignments, those behavior misalignments, is when you often start to see the performance start to become more difficult.

And so I find with organizations that are really good at being able to see success down to that granular level, they hire better.

Diana – And you mentioned earlier surveys and assessments to value there and the predictive index came to mind for me. Is that something that you do to understand whether a future candidate fits into the culture? Do you or is that something you do later once they’re hired?

Melinda – Yeah, assessments is a tricky one within the hiring process, you would never want an assessment to be the decision maker, right? Let it can be an informing piece, but often people may rely on it too much. And then I worry about, are we missing the diversity, equity, and inclusion, and doing that? And so we need to be really mindful at what point are we implementing this assessment and so often I think later can be better and being able to make an informed decision.

Maybe you have the final three candidates and they’re all really strong and really good and maybe that assessment provides a one of the data points. Not never the final like ultimate decision, but maybe that nuanced to layer that’s able to help, you know that out of these three incredible candidates which one aligns the best.

Diana – And so, what are some things you do early on in the hiring process to see if somebody’s culture fit?

Melinda – It’s through like, how is that being able to have like work experience as being able to simulate as much as possible. How would that person be working with the team members? And I think the better we can get at simulating the work environment within the interview.

Then we start to see how they naturally behave, how they naturally are working through the process, at their decision making, how are they showing up in that interview with the other team members.

Diana – Yeah, definitely, well interesting. Well thank you so much for your time today.

Well, that was such an incredible assessment, Melinda. Your perspective on this evolving topic is so unique and interesting. Culture-based onboarding of new employees is certainly a critical factor in ensuring high productivity, engagement, and retention.

With CultureMonkey, leaders can gauge employee sentiments, and provide managers with personalized action-oriented insights effectively. So, visit culturemonkey.io to see how you can improve your workplace culture today.

With that we conclude this episode of CultureClub X powered by CultureMonkey.

Thank you. Melinda, that was such a wonderful chat and let our viewers know how they can connect with you to share their thoughts or just have a quick chat.

Melinda – Please, reach out to me on LinkedIn. I love hearing from people, “Melinda Roberts Honcoop” and I do respond to most messages. I may be a little bit slow, LinkedIn can get pretty busy, but I love meeting new people and happy to answer questions or dig deeper into anything we talked about today.

Thank you so much for having me. It was such an honor to be here.

Diana – Well, that’s all we have for you in this episode of CultureClub X powered by CultureMonkey.

Until next time, I’m your host, Diana, signing off.