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Welcome aboard!

Our guest blogger today is John Cherrey. John continues to fly for a Fortune 15 company after serving 29 years in the USAF and retiring as the Director of Operations for the Air Force’s training command. He served as a squadron, group and wing commander and had numerous deployments in the Middle East as well as assignments in Korea and Germany.

I can remember arriving at the 74th Tactical Fighter Squadron in 1990. They were already in Kuwait for Desert Shield but left several pilots at home at England AFB, LA as Embedded Battalion Air Liaison Officers. Despite being left behind, waiting for Army units that had no chance of deploying in time to see combat, the Flying Tigers welcomed me into what was left of the squadron and made me feel their sole purpose was to get me ready for the upcoming Desert Storm. Sadly, I missed that opportunity, but will never forget the feeling of belonging to a great squadron and the focus they gave me on getting through the mission-ready program and ready for combat.

As part of routine moves and transfers, most of us have heard the familiar welcome and motivational speeches from organizational leaders at all levels. Some still resonate with me today and others I can’t remember at all. At Nellis AFB in Nevada, all leaders emphasized a “big boy program” providing freedom to push the limits of our aircraft’s capabilities further than operational units with the caveat that more professionalism was expected in executing those test missions. Another senior leader briefed his focus on “Mission, Airmen and Family” and another on “Team, Mission, People.” While both had a different delivery style, they were equally effective because they always led from those focus areas and expected their subordinates to do the same.

Given 2020 was a year of remote work, virtual meetings, and nonstandard business practices, how do business leaders continue to build teams with new talent who understand their priorities, focus areas and are quickly integrated into the team?

A “Welcome” for new personnel needs to be more than just a meeting with the boss and then sending them on their way to do great things. It needs to be a program that is managed from the top and executed at every level down to their co-workers. A few questions to consider:

1. When was the last time you reviewed your new hire program? I’m talking about sitting in on what the average person sees when they join your organization. If you’re an executive or upper management and breezed through the process, you may have the wrong sight picture of both time and content.

2. What is your message and how is it being delivered? Usually, in-person is best, but at a certain level, you can’t see everyone so do you have a video, a letter, or another way you communicate your focus areas? I had the opportunity to talk with all of the first term Airmen in my organization of 4,600 people and delivered my message there.

I wish I had done better at getting with the mid-level supervision as they came in, but held quarterly meetings to try and make up for that shortfall.

3. Is your message genuine and realistic? Aspirational phrases like ‘valuing people’ are great, but if new hires come in and immediately see an organization chart fitting the “old boy network” profile, you’ve probably lost them on the rest of your points. Additionally, if your goals are not well resourced, talented new hires will quickly start looking elsewhere for job satisfaction.

4. How does your organization welcome people? Are they hired for their abilities and assumed to be professional contributors immediately or is there a “wait and see” attitude about how well they will fit in and perform? At the extreme, some organizations have an attitude of hazing and initiation to see if someone will “fit in.” If that’s the case, it’s time for an honest evaluation of your hiring HR procedures and why that’s still going on – your direct intervention will be required to refocus the company’s culture.

Running a top-notch welcome program is more than just a one-hour hype. It takes time to ensure your entire team is carrying the right message to your new hire. Given first impressions go both ways, leaders must think through how they will make their new talent feel part of a first-class team in minimal time.

The pandemic allows us to re-think how we welcome everyone back to work, re-establish our teams and ensure the talent that you just hired is integrated quickly into a long-term relationship with your organization.



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