• Pierre Battah

What Employers Can Learn About Onboarding from a Classy High School Goalie

Updated: Sep 4, 2020

It was just another day at the office as T.J. Sullivan strapped on his goalie pads in the dressing room. His teammates were going through their usual pre-game rituals. They were the visiting team this night, so they could not expect a warm reception from the spectators.

Midway through the first period, the goalie for the home team got injured and the team scrambled to find a netminder. One of their players volunteered to strap on the pads. He had never played goal before. The coach gave him some brief instructions and encouragement, and then he skated to the goal.

T.J. Sullivan observed all of this, of course. As the buzzer sounded to signal the end of the first period, he did not join his teammates in leaving the ice. He skated down the rink to his opposite number in net. The referee, probably not alarmed, but curious, skated to the pair to see what was going on. What he discovered was an act of thoughtfulness and inclusion. T.J. was giving goaltending tips to the first-time netminder.

The media picked up the story of T.J.’s generosity for reasons that had nothing to do with stopping shots that came in his direction. T.J.’s choice is a lesson for employers everywhere when onboarding new hires.

T.J.’s tips on covering the angles and staying safe are examples of critical components to effective onboarding, which in organizations are complemented by first day-week-month checklists and a plan to engage the new hire with meaningful work to help them feel productive and welcomed as a team member. The team leader (not unlike a hockey coach) is present and involved to inspire the new hire. Here are a few additional items inspired by T.J.’s actions:

  • Buddy systems work: If you’ve ever been assigned an “onboarding buddy” on your first day, typically a co-worker assigned by the team leader, to be your “go-to” for the work and non-work stuff during the first few days and beyond, you remember how meaningful that was. I believe the power of the socialization process that happens in those early days substantially influences the new hire’s future engagement as it creates paths to workplace friendships and a sense of belonging that are proven to increase employee engagement.

  • You’re one of us now: New team members are sometimes viewed with apprehension or perceived as threats, and it can take time to welcome people into the fold. T.J. did not wait until the end of the game to congratulate the newly minted goaltender on the opposing team. At the first chance he had, he skated to the new goalie, an acknowledgement that although they may have competing interests, they were connected in a kind of goalie community, and he chose to help. How quickly and intensely we get new employees to feel they belong, and we’ve got their backs is huge, and is a shared responsibility that team leaders would do well to role model and expect of their teams.

  • Onboarding is ongoing: After T.J. had briefed the newbie, for the rest of the game whenever his opponent made a stop T.J. banged his stick on the ice to encourage the goalie and keep his spirits up. One of the most important elements of any onboarding program is what happens after the formal briefings, orientation and introductions are over. T.J. was checking in as best he could under competitive circumstances and from 50 meters away. Team leaders and colleagues do well when they check in frequently to encourage, teach and correct in the early weeks and months.

Media reports rightfully highlighted how the beginner goalie Davan Cloney had “stuck his neck out” to help his team and showcased T.J. Sullivan’s “classy” move. Cloney’s coaches referred to T.J. as a “kind soul” in media reports and the opposing fans cheered their opponent.

The score was lopsided, but nobody counted or cared about the score on this night.

Photo courtesy of Facebook/Paul Cloney

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