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Employee Onboarding, Retention & Development

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Episode 170 — Onboarding a new employee isn’t just a quick tour of your center and calling it a day — it starts from their first interview and takes anywhere from 6 months to a year to get them fully assimilated into their new environment. In this episode, Carla Rogg, President of ProSolutions Training, explains how to properly onboard a new teacher so they are happy — and stay that way!

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Episode Transcript

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: 

Carla, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!

Carla ROGG:

Well, thank you so much, Ron! It’s great to be here with you today.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Today we’re delighted to have on the show Carla Rogg. She is the president of ProSolutions Training, a division of Care Solutions [Inc.]. And we’re going to get all the wisdom out of Carla about employee onboarding, retaining staff and how we’re keeping staff motivated and excited to come to work. It’s such an important topic and it’s something we’ve covered on various podcasts.

But we’re going to talk to an expert today in Carla and learn about everything that she has learned through her vast experience in this area. Thank you for joining us on the show, Carla. Let’s start off hearing just a little bit about you and how you got into early childhood education and your role today.

ROGG:

Well, thanks, Ron. I’m looking forward to talking about such a great topic and something that is so needed right now in today’s market, especially in early [child] care and education. But just a little bit about myself: I actually founded our parent company, Care Solutions, that’ll be 30 years this coming to July. And we started with the early care and education field and we have just seen such tremendous growth over the last 30 years and have just been excited to be a part of that.

And about 10 years ago we took all of the training that we had been doing and brought it online and now offer a library of over 200 courses in early care and education, including the CDA [Child Development Associate] Gold Standard™. So, just a little bit about us. But, like I said, we’re excited to be here with you.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Wonderful. And we know it from… so [we at] HiMama, we’ve done a benchmark report about early-childhood education. There’s lots of other folks out there reiterating the point that staff and employees are one of the hardest parts about early childhood education in terms of getting great quality ECE’s [early-childhood educators] and keeping them over time.

Let’s start on something that we haven’t talked a whole lot about in the Podcast – which could be an oversight for first some childcare programs – which is employee onboarding. So let’s say we found someone for a role we need to fill. They’re joining our childcare program. What do we do? How do we successfully onboard them as a new employee?

ROGG:

Well, Ron, you’re right. It is a piece that is often forgotten. I think we think that just because we’ve taken on a new employee and we’ve showed them where their classroom is, maybe where to put their lunch and said a quick hi to the employee, that our job, as far as onboarding, is done. But I think that we’re learning, especially in today’s world where turnover is so high, that that’s just not enough anymore.

And so we’ve really taken a look here at our firm and just really tried to take a look at, how do some early care and education centers successfully retain their employees, even at low pay rates? And I will tell you, one of the things that we have seen over time is those centers who are successful have a very formal, concrete onboarding plan. And by “onboarding” we’re talking about strategies that directors and owners use to successfully onboard an employee. And this doesn’t happen just overnight.

In fact, I’m going to stop for just a second and kind of ask you when you think that onboarding actually begins and ends. Do you have an answer for that one, Ron?

SPREEUWENBERG: 

I’ll tell you it from my experience. So, the way we look at it is, onboarding starts as soon as we start an interview process because we want our candidates to have an amazing interview experience, regardless of how that turns out.

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ROGG:

And that is exactly it. And if you’re not starting before that Day One then you’ve already lost in the whole onboarding process because it’s so important how that employee feels on that very first day of employment. But a lot of people think that onboarding, after they come in, they’re done after the first day or two. Or they may even think because they have a pizza party for the person the next week, they’re done. But onboarding really takes almost six months to a year to fully assimilate that employee in there.

So, it really is a little bit more than just that first day of employment. And I want to just jump in with two strategies that we talk about when we talk about onboarding. And the first one is a very tactical strategy. And the second one is much more about the employee’s emotional experience.

But the first strategy, which is very tactical, it’s much more the checking of the boxes. It’s making sure that we get everything done. And these are all very important things – you’ve got to take care of the legal; you have to make sure you take care of all of the H.R. policies; you have to make sure that the employee gets all of the training that is available to them, I mean for compliance issues.

But those are just the tactical. And checking the boxes does not necessarily help to retain the employee. It’s just really getting them into your organization. And just because you have a successful list and everything is checked off does not mean that that employee is successfully assimilated or is on board with you at this point. So, do you have any questions about the tactical before I go on to the strategy number two?

SPREEUWENBERG: 

No, that makes a lot of sense. And I know for my own personal experience, this is actually really important because sometimes the things are ambiguous and you’re not sure what to do or who to talk to. That can be kind of stressful. So, those administrative things of where to go and what to do in certain situations and just being clear about policies and that kind of thing is actually super-duper important.

ROGG:

And I agree. And you also have to make sure that you have all the boxes checked. A lot of people… we have an 8-page onboarding checklist that we use with our employees, which I’m happy to share with you, Ron, if you would like to have this after the Podcast.

The second piece, though, is really where we get into the employee’s emotional experience. I mean, some of you may be saying, “Oh, come on, that’s all that touchy-feely stuff; that’s not retention.” But you know, it really is. You have to be very intentional. And you want to ask yourself. “What positive emotional experiences do we want our new employees to have?” And you really can’t leave this to chance.

As educators we’re very familiar with the whole idea of learning objectives. But there’s also the objectives as far as emotional objectives for our employees. And so these tactics take us a little bit more on to belonging. When you think about it, for an employee when they’re first starting to work they’re very much they come in, they’re beginning that work. It’s almost like little steps along the way: they start to get to know a few people; they may learn all the acronyms; they know how to do their jobs. And a lot of people think, “Okay, you’re done.”

But you’re not really done. To fully assimilate you have to go all the way until that person is collaborating, is feeling like they’re very much working on being a valued employee there. And these are just very intentional activities. And I wanted to go over a few of those with people out there so they might get a better idea of what this might include.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

That would be great. Yeah, I’m sure our listeners would be eager to hear what are some of the things we can do to get that emotional experience.

ROGG:

And, again, like I said, we’ve checked the boxes. Now we’re looking beyond onboarding and how we kind of extend that onboarding. So there are different things that you can do. And one of these is much more around kind of the social integration and connections in the workplace. I mean, these are things that would support those objectives, like, you have friends; you’re connected; you fit in.

And this includes having a little bit of fun in the workforce, in the workplace. I mean, you don’t want to discourage socializing unless it gets away in the way of work. But allowing a little fun also is always a good way of doing it. For example, you can have staff dress up – kids love to see teachers dress up. You can have ice breakers at staff meetings. There’s lots of small little ways that you can encourage a little bit of fun there in the workplace.

The second one that I’d like to talk about is fostering connections with parents. And this one is extremely important. You have the most valuable common bond with that parent and that’s their child. And encouraging your teachers to connect with parents and to get to know them is really important. Now, this doesn’t mean socializing; this doesn’t mean you go out and have happy hour with them on a Friday. But it does mean kind of connecting with them on that level because of the common bond that they have with their child.

It reminds me a little bit, I remember when… I have four children and my two youngest had probably the best pre-K [kindergarten] teacher ever. And when I walked into that room to talk to the teacher or she called me, she made me feel that my children were the most important and the best children in her classroom, which I know wasn’t true because I knew my children. But she just had that way of connecting and making you feel that your child was the best.

And what that did for me was not only give me a great connection and trust with the teacher but it also gave me this great connection with the center. And it made me that much more excited to have my children in that school. So, fostering the connections with the parents I think is really important. And I think that’s one of the things that you all also do very well there with your company, as well. Did you want to comment on any of that before we keep going?

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SPREEUWENBERG:

No, it sounds great. I’m starting to see a theme of relationships: having fun with your peers, connections with parents, kind of what you were saying before, that idea of “belonging” I think is really just a good word to describe it. And I think even just human nature, people want to belong to something. And it’s not a checklist, for sure, but these are some good pointers.

ROGG:

And that is so true. And then the other thing that employees really need to feel is they need to feel valued. And they need to know how they’re doing. And that strategy includes providing ongoing feedback. And it’s one I think that we all, regardless of even what business we’re in, whether it’s early care and education or any other field. And this means not just a yearly performance reviews but providing some ongoing, formal – not just informal – feedback.

I think a lot of times we think that the yearly staff review is all you really need to do. But it’s just not effective. And a lot of our younger generation, like our Millennials and our Gen Z’s, they need and expect frequent feedback and guidance. And we need to give that to them.

So, a lot of times people will say, “Well, how much are you talking about?” Well, in on our onboarding process we have a very scheduled routine. It includes at the one-week mark of a formal check-in by the director or owner or the direct supervisor. Then again at one month, two months, three months. Then depending on that employee if we feel like they need a six-month we will or we will go on out to the 12 months.

And I know that sounds like a lot of time. And people are saying, “I don’t have time for this. If I had to sit down with all my employees, when am I going to get everything done?” But let me tell you, this is one of the things that can really play into effective retention strategies because at that one-week, one-month or three-month mark and there are issues that an employee is having, you can handle them so much easier before they become huge.

You can talk to them about… it may be just a simple need for some additional training. You may find that this person needs a little bit more mentoring or maybe even a buddy. But those are the times where you can actually help that employee grow as a person. But it also, as the business owner, director [or] supervisor, gives you vital feedback on how things are going as well. So, I can’t overemphasize that when enough.

And people say, “Well, how am I supposed to get that done? When am I supposed to do that?” And you’re right, you can’t necessarily always have a scheduled meeting there in your office with the doors closed. Sometimes you might have to take your lunch and go down to her classroom or his classroom and be with them during a naptime or during a lunchtime. And it still can be very formal in an informal setting.

But I do want to caution you: if you do choose to do the feedback in an open setting, make sure you’re not delivering negative feedback or negative news or where you have to provide something that may not come as easily for that employee. You need to make sure that you do that in private. But feedback, again, one of the most important things that we can do both in a formal and informal [meeting], but don’t underestimate the value of these formal feedbacks.

And then the next one I wanted to talk about was recognizing employee achievements. People… again, we talked about the feedback and that’s kind of a personal thing between you and the employee. But when that employee is doing some good things let everybody know. People love to feel that they have been valued. And when you can recognize an employee among the center or with the parents they truly begin to fit in and feel like they belong. And that’s really where you want that employee to be.

And again, it can be as formal something as the Employee of the Month. But I caution you on Employee of the Month on that one because if it’s not meaningful after a while it’s going to lose a little bit of its luster. We used to do that a lot here and had Employee of the Month and it was a very well received. But after about four or five months we realized that people just weren’t taking it a seriously and we realized that it had taken had lost a little bit of its luster so we quit doing that one. Ron, do you all do anything for recognizing employee achievements?

SPREEUWENBERG: 

We do a few things. We kind of have like more formal, I guess, call it “friendly competitions” where you can win prizes and other fun stuff. The other thing we do is, every week we do two things: one is “random shout-outs”. So, we meet with everybody in the company and you can just shout somebody out for doing something really cool, someone who went above and beyond. And it’s great, too, when it comes from a peer.

And then the other thing we do is we have something called “the Hulk”. And the Hulk, he represents our values at HiMama and it gets passed along from whoever has it, they can decide who they want to pass it t, for someone who went above and beyond in their job and was really following our core values. But the really important part of it, too, is when they pass it along they have to explain why it was, why that employee deserved to get the Hulk that week. And so I think that was an important part of distinguishing it from, for example, the Employee of the Month, which could get a bit stale after a while, as you said.

ROGG:

Ron, that’s an excellent one! I had not heard that one. So, I hope you don’t mind, I may borrow that and pass that one on the others.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Go for it!

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ROGG:

One more that I wanted to talk a little bit about is professional development. I know we talked about social integration; we talked about connections with the parents and ongoing feedback and recognition of achievements. But I also want to talk a little bit about professional development. And this goes beyond just compliance training. I think every state and country have different compliance that has to happen when that employee comes on.

But ongoing professional development is really, I think it’s critical also to the retention for that employee. And again, they’re supporting those emotional objectives. They’re growing and they’re developing, that they feel valued and supported.

One of the things that we really encourage directors and owners is to create an individual development plan for each teacher. And [it can be as] simple as, okay, we’re not looking for something real long and real complicated. But again, not just a compliance-driven document but also something around professional growth.

Like, what is that next step for their career path? Is it moving from assistant teacher to lead teacher? Is it getting there A.A. [Associate of Arts degree] or B.A. [Bachelor of Arts degree]? Or maybe even their CDA? So, it’s really sitting down and tracking out what that professional development plan is.

One of the things, just as kind of a shameless plug for ProSolutions Training and what we do, is we customize training plans for each of our clients so that their employees are getting the type of professional development plan that fits for that particular employer. And we also hope to have a universal training plan that we’re going be launching next spring.

But again, professional development is extremely important. And while not overlooked sometimes it is not necessarily always given the type of attention that it needs. I think, like I said, that is probably one of the really important ones here. And these strategies here that we talked about as far as extending onboarding, we have the checklists that we had and now we’re really kind of talking more about extending that onboarding, to make sure, again, that we’ve gone from a place of where that employee starts work or I begin and we’ve worked them all the way through with all of the onboarding until they can truly feel like they can say, “I belong.” Because that’s really where you want to get that employee, is to that “I belong” place. Any questions so far?

SPREEUWENBERG: 

No, this has been excellent. But the problem is we’re quickly running out of time. And I did want to talk about one subject before we do run out of time and close things off here. And we don’t talk about this very much in early-childhood education, which is, what happens when an employee is maybe not working out? And we talked about onboarding and the importance of starting that early and making that a good experience. What about on the other end of that journey?

ROGG:

Well, unfortunately it does happen. I mean, in our industry we have over a 26% turnover rate. And I probably should have said this at the very beginning: there is no way you’re ever going to get rid of turnover. You’re just not going to. It’s part of our daily work, unfortunately. But the battle is to be prepared.

But when it’s not working out there are typically three areas where it’s not going to work out. One, the employee has the potential and you want to try to salvage it. Well, there are ways that you can work through it. One, go back to that development plan. Are there some things that need to be tweaked? Can you sit down with that employee? Does it need to be modified?

Make sure you really sit down with that employee and see if you can work through those issues. It may be something if she’s having trouble getting to work every morning on time, she may have her own carpool issues. And that may be something if she’s a good, valued employee that you can work through with her. So, communication with that employee is extremely important.

But the next two that I really want to say is one, is the employee is definitely going to leave –either they’re quitting or you’re letting them go – make sure… while we’ve talked about onboarding there’s another whole process which is called “off-boarding”. And if you haven’t heard about that, it is all about how you end that relationship. Because remember that is also supporting the emotional experiences and those still matter.

These former employees are still a mouthpiece for your business out in the community. Even if you’re having to let them go, you want to do it with grace. And you always, when you can, want to make sure that you’re having an exit interview with them. Think about what those top three questions that you might want to ask them. Obviously the first question is, “What made you decide that you wanted to leave?” Another question that we ask, “What could we have done differently here for you?”

But you can come up with those questions for you. And you can’t be afraid to hear the answer and I think that’s really important. You have to be open and willing to listen to what that person is saying. But off-boarding is really important so that again, remember, they are a mouthpiece for your business. So how you handle that is important.

But sometimes you have an employee who is really just not working out and you have to terminate them. And let me say, a lot of times we want to hang on to those employees because of ratios or we don’t have another person ready to hire. But let me tell you, if you have an employee that is contaminating your environment, you know what? Don’t wait. It’s very toxic. They hurt morale. It’s not setting a good stage and it’s not good role modeling for the other employees there.

Again, you still have to be very kind. Their emotional experience still matters as well. But we have always found that the longer you wait the worse it’s going to be. And the worse it does, also, for the rest of the employees. So again, off-boarding is just as important as the onboarding process as well.

So, I hate to leave, though, talking about something very negative because hopefully, for most of us, our employees will be with us for a while. And I think the important thing is to remember to be prepared. We didn’t talk about recruitment but that is something that you should always be doing as you’re going. It’s not something you can wait for, for when the employee is just going to leave. But having this onboarding process in place will lower your stress and hopefully support the retention for you.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Absolutely. And I think  you make a very good point about doing an exit interview and off-boarding, which is [when] you really have to put your ego aside and be ready to take that feedback and look at it as a learning experience, right? It’s an opportunity for you to figure out how to do things better or differently. And that’s always, for me, the most important context is, regardless of where you’re at and your onboarding and off-boarding process and professional development, as long as you’re learning and getting better and being open to feedback, that’s super-duper important.

ROGG:

And I think as directors, owners, managers [and] supervisors we have to remember that we are the role model for our employees. And how we act and what our stress level is and what we portray is what is going to get picked up by our other employees as well. We have to be very careful.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, totally. Some great learnings here, Carla. Something that really resonated with me was looking at onboarding as being six-months to a year. I never really thought about it that way but now that you’ve said it I can see how that’s true. And needing to be very intentional with that experience, not just for the first day or the first week or two but for up to a year is super important, to get them emotionally into the role and into the company.

Carla, a lot of wisdom you’ve shared with us today. If I’m listening to the Podcast and I want to get in touch with you to learn more, what’s the best way for me to do that?

ROGG:

Probably the best way is to email me: CarlaRogg@ProSolutionsTraining.com. Or you can visit our website at www.ProSolutionsTraining.com.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Wonderful, Carla, thank you so much for joining us on the Podcast today!

ROGG:

Thank you, I appreciate it. Have a good day!

Michael Keshen

Michael is the Content Manager at HiMama, with over 7 years of online content publishing experience. He is the current editor in chief for HiMama's early childhood education blog and ECE Weekly newsletter. He also produces HiMama's weekly Preschool Podcast and the annual Child Care Benchmark Report. When not developing content for early childhood professionals, he can usually be found out and about with his wife and daughter exploring all that Toronto has to offer, or playing music with his karaoke band.

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