Spokane Journal of Business

Clarifying roles enhances employee engagement

Setting tone at onboarding can be critical to success

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René Johnston

When studying highly successful companies, a common priority observed is the importance of building a highly functioning team of engaged employees.

Clarifying the employee’s role and the expectations of each position or role is a key precipitating factor for high level engagement.

Clarification begins in the hiring process and then continues throughout employment. As managers and leaders, it is our job to ensure a crystal-clear understanding. Laying the foundation for successful employee engagement and setting the tone from the onset is critical to success. 

Hiring brings about an opportunity to fine tune the position, the role, and responsibilities. When a new position becomes available, take the opportunity to examine what was, and more importantly, what could be. Does the role need to evolve?

During the hiring process, make sure candidates have a clear understanding of the day-to-day responsibilities and the full, detailed job description. As well as those tasks that may be unexpected—or at least the possibility of the unexpected. Discuss with them not just the what but also the why. Have them sign the job description, acknowledge the information, repeat their understanding back to you.

Another key part of the onboarding process should be reviewing the organization’s mission or philosophy and letting potential new hires know that part of being a successful, contributing team member is committing to measuring their work in part by this philosophy.

During the interview process, ask the candidate probing questions to determine their understanding. Ask them to share their interpretations. Have them provide examples of how those values have shown up in their life/career. This will help you determine if candidates have the capacity to truly embrace what your organization stands for.

Learning experience design consultant Connie Malamed, of theelearningcoach.com, describes some best practices for onboarding.

*Align the messaging. As you would design any program, determine your onboarding goals first. Identify and clarify the impression you want to leave with new hires about your culture and work environment. Ensure your messaging is consistent throughout and that it is aligned with your goals.

*Plan the first day. When new employees start a job, they want to do something meaningful. They also want to feel comfortable. They need a place to work that is set up for them and to understand their role and responsibilities. New hires also want to know where to park, the location of important rooms and how to find supplies.

*Ensure a meeting with manager in the first week. An experiment at Microsoft demonstrated the company benefits and employees have a greater sense of belonging when they meet one-on-one with their manager during the first week of employment.

*Support the person’s authentic strengths. Authors of the extended article, “Reinventing Employee Onboarding,” found that if employees have the opportunity to reflect on their strengths and find a way to apply them to their job, “new hires get more satisfaction and meaning from their work, which also benefits employers.”

*Focus on social relationships. In his book, “The Social Organization,” Jon Ingham suggests bringing new hires together on their first day to let them work in small groups to identify what they need to know. Then groups go out and find answers to a few of the questions by talking to people. The social connections make the experience relevant and fun and probably improve retention.

*Provide mentors to new hires or assign fellow workers as buddies to ease new hires into their roles and work culture.

*Use diverse and blended formal practices. Offering more approaches to facilitate socialization rather than fewer, should be a primary goal of onboarding programs.

*Gather feedback. To improve an onboarding program, there must be multiple ways for new hires to give feedback. Use online surveys and facilitate discussions with participants about ways to improve the onboarding program. Gather retention and job satisfaction data to see if the improvements are having an effect.

One of the key findings in onboarding research – stated in different ways – is that learning through social interaction and building relationships should be a priority of any new-hire integration program.

It’s also critically important that each member of your organization understands the connection between the daily work they do and the big picture. Help them develop an understanding of how the work that they do day in and day out contributes to the overall success of the organization. Connect successes to the team member’s contribution and celebrate them. That acknowledgement allows the team member to feel appreciated and know that the work they do matters.

When team members are tuned into how their involvement relates to the overall function of the organization, they also tend to be more aware and appreciative of others’ contributions. That will go a long way in creating and supporting a team mindset.

As with most aspects of building a highly functioning culture and an engaged workforce, it is important to have support from all areas of the organization. There needs to be consensus and agreement on the objectives of the roles and how the roles relate to the mission, culture, and success of your organization. Team members need to receive consistent messages from all layers of the organization, and the details of all roles need to be thoroughly communicated and consistently supported.

Marie Forleo wrote that “clarity comes from action, not thought.” Implementing practices that provide clarity and set clear expectations will lay a foundation for higher levels of engagement and an overall healthier work environment.


René Johnston, of Spokane, owns Employee Engagement Solutions, a consulting and employee-engagement training company.

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