Grilled Cheese -And Other Kindnesses

 

 

I remember the day I first walked into a veterinary practice. 

It was 1985 and I was a young woman in a new town.  I had a new apartment, and a new job, and a husband in the same boat.  We knew no one.  I had been hired by Jean – the current office manager. She said she had remembered me when I came to interview because of my “red winter coat and my blue eyes” which is funny because my eyes are green. Then she made the connection between me and my family’s barbecue restaurant where she would periodically travel to for dinner. I’m guessing she received good customer service because she gave me a job. But that first day at work was very intimidating, even for someone like me, who had grown up working with the public and surrounded by a crowd. At this point in time, the practice did not take appointments so it was a controlled free-for-all. The training was limited, with the majority being “follow her”.  It was kind of a sink or swim environment.

That first day, I was introduced to the majority of the staff and shown how to file records and answer the telephone.  To say it was overwhelming was an understatement. I made it through the first day and went home still excited about the possibilities, but feeling less than competent while sharing animal medical stories with my husband. I was working for minimum wage and I took the job just to get my foot in the door of animal health. I don’t know that I would have stayed at that practice as long as I did, or even for the first week if it wasn’t for a grilled cheese sandwich.

 My second day at work involved coming in and working the morning shift. It was there I met Joanne. Joanne had been working at the practice for several years as a part-time morning receptionist. Her husband was an FBI agent and she was a former airline stewardess. She raised Borzois and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and she was one of the best customer service people I have ever met. But Joanne’s customer service went beyond taking care of clients because that day she also took care of me. I think she remembered what it was like to be a new person in town and to be the new person at work. So, at lunch on my second day, Joanne ask me to come to her house so she could make me a grilled cheese sandwich. She lived close by in a beautiful home surrounded by pastures with high wire fences so the sighthounds could run. We sat in the kitchen at the counter on bar stools drinking Diet Coke, eating our sandwiches, and getting to know each other. I have often looked back on Joanne’s generosity and random act of kindness as a linchpin to my career. She made me feel welcome. She invited me into her home and made me feel like I was not an outsider. Because of her kindness, I had a mentor and a new friend.  I stayed at that practice for 19 years.  Joanne had retired a couple of years earlier to live closer to her kids but we stayed in touch on Facebook.

 I tell this story because we work so hard to hire talent into our practices, then we forget to make them feel welcome.

We bring them in and have them fill out paperwork, we reiterate the job description, we hand them the employee manual and tell them the rules, and if they’re lucky we show them where to put their things and where the bathroom is. Onboarding a new person should be so much more than this. It should be a celebration of a new “family member”.  They should be introduced to the team, taken out to lunch, assigned a mentor and a trainer and we should touch base daily to see how they are fitting in and what concerns they have. 

The stats on great onboarding are impressive.  New hires get up to speed and productive much faster.  They bond to the business and become engaged with the work and because they feel a part of something bigger than themselves, they STAY.  It is impossible to build the culture you want and the skills your team needs with a revolving door of employees. 

Have a PLAN for your new hires.  I recently saw a post where a manager wanted to develop a list for new hires of their favorite coffee drinks, food likes and dislikes, and preferences in entertainment or places to dine.  I loved the idea.  But what is even better is to manage by walking around and talking to people about themselves and not just about the work.  What do they dream?  How can you help make it come true?  Pay attention to your people!  Notice if they are struggling and offer a hand.  Be there when they need you and encourage them to be there for each other. In other words…

Never waste a chance to share a grilled cheese.  It set my career in motion and 35 years later I am still smiling about that lunch at Joanne’s. 

If you need help with your team’s onboarding – check out this free resource on my website.