HR Management & Compliance

How a Book Club Became an Onboarding Success Story

When is the best time to engage your employees? Many professionals believe that onboarding is the ideal time to show an employee that he or she is valued and an integral part of a larger whole.

Source: fetullahozasian / shutterstock

I recently interviewed Kim Becker, Talent Manager at MBX Systems, about a unique onboarding program that the company stumbled upon and perfected. All new hires are asked to read The First 90 Days, by Michael D. Watkins. These hires are then involved in an ongoing book club with other new hires, transitioning leadership, and people who are under new leadership.

The results of this program have been amazing, according to Becker. She says, “we have a very high retention rate … 93%, so the proof’s in the punch.”

An Organic Beginning

When it comes to onboarding initiatives, there is never a one-size-fits-all approach. Between different regions, sizes, and industries, each organization’s onboarding needs are unique. Finding those strategies that fit your organization, then, is the challenge. MBX is a good example of reading the room, taking a risk, and adjusting for success.

It all began, according to Becker, with a new supervisor who was struggling to fit his experience and background into a very different organization. He came from a larger organization and started rapidly making a lot of changes—ones that were not very well received. Part of Becker’s job was to oversee onboarding. She said that “he really struggled, and it was hard.” She ran the situation by a friend, who recommended looking into The First 90 Days. Becker began sharing takeaways from the book with the company’s president at that time. The ideas in the book were so helpful that the president began a managers-only book club.

The club was created, but it still had some growing to do before reaching its final form. The club was a success right from the start: “It really would give a different perspective when you start with a new company or even with people that are getting promoted within the company under a new department,” says Becker. And although the individual who was struggling didn’t make it in the company, the club “had proven to be very successful and it’s just one other avenue we take to create a great onboarding experience for our new employees.”

Evolution

Over time, the club was expanded to include all new employees, employees who shift to a new team under new management, and employees who are promoted to new positions. This evolution stemmed naturally from early successes with a manager-only program. The new system allowed for a greater mixture of employees in any given club, which allows for new perspectives, according to Becker.

Becker thinks that although the content of the book is very helpful, the structure of the book club itself also lends a lot of success to the program. She explains that “the book is great, and what really solidifies the success is the discussion that we have within the room. All different levels of people’s career, all different departments, some managers, some non-managers, warehouse workers, director levels … it’s great for employee engagement.”

The system also means that some employees might enter the club at different stages of their career, offering new perspectives for other club members and taking away new experiences, as well. Becker offers an example of one such employee: “This is his third go around, he was a new employee, then he got promoted to a different part of the department and now he’s in a different department with a different manager. So very different perspectives from him, which is great for the group to hear too.”

Onboarding Starts Well Before the First Day

A good onboarding program should begin long before employees show up for their first day. Becker believes that culture is critical, so the company makes an effort as early as possible to “really get to know them, what gets them juiced to get up in the morning and go to work, and really share with them what MBX is all about” so when they first arrive, they already feel comfortable.

Becker also makes sure to stay in touch with them during the 2 or 3 weeks they’re finishing at their old job. “Managers typically call them too to welcome them onboard,” she added.

MBX also uses its book club as part of its early onboarding strategy. It sends a copy of the book to every new hire, along with a water bottle and other swag.

Finally, all new hires meet with the CEO, the president, the chief strategy officer, and other executives once they begin. “This process is about introducing an open-door policy, and we really encourage ideas and conversation … it really helps add a layer to the onboarding process.”

After Onboarding

Successful onboarding programs usually continue well past the first few weeks, as well. Becker implements 30- and 90-day checkups. During the 30-day checkup, Becker ensures employees “have everything that they need, logistically, that they know where the supply closet is, we show them everything, but we just want to make sure to answer any questions they have.” The 90-day meeting is similar but focuses on how workers are getting along with their supervisor and how things are going in general.

Becker had some parting words about the book club program: “It’s proven to be successful, people are really excited to be part of something, and they feel a part of something right from the get go, and it’s great.”