How to onboard new team members for long-term success

As co-owner of PhysioFit Adelaide, Andrew Zacharia knows how to run a successful clinic. There are awards for these things, and he’s actually got one of them. In this guest post, Andrew shows us how his team welcomes new practitioners and nurtures healthy working relationships that last for years.

Guest author

Andrew Zacharia , PhysioFit Adelaide·

An image featuring the full team at PhysioFit Adelaide

My aim with recruiting and onboarding new team members is simple: I want people to love coming to work each day. That sounds nice, right? Everybody wants that. But what does it actually mean?

It means that our culture must be nurturing and supportive so people can grow as professionals and individuals. It means they feel a genuine connection with their team and are always willing to lend an extra hand to help out. And, if everything comes together the way we plan, new team members can thrive and show true passion for their work.

Obviously, all of this can’t happen overnight, and the process begins each time we hire someone new. So, that’s why we work hard to give each new team member the best experience possible in their first few months on the job.

Shane Davis, from Clinic Mastery, has been an incredible mentor of mine. He describes this period as one of education—we must learn how to work with each other. The new practitioner is learning about us. They soak up everything they can about our systems, our software, our clients, and our referrers. Likewise, we have to learn about their strengths and weaknesses, their preferences, and their personality.

To assist everyone through this period, we’ve found that presenting a clear structure provides the best opportunity for success. And, it all starts with ‘Day 1’.

Do you remember your first day of work?

I don’t know about you, but I was a jumbled mix of excitement and nerves on my first day as a physiotherapist. I was eager to see my patients, but I was also worried that I’d forget something or make a mistake.

The reality is, starting at any workplace can be scary. People are confronted with a whirlwind of emotions that usually leave them exhausted and stressed. Despite any happiness they feel, it’s still a tough time.

Why not counter those negative feelings with a fantastic first day? To begin, allow them to have the morning free from appointments. You wouldn’t want to waltz right into taking clients on your first day, would you? Of course not. Give them a few hours to get settled in and comfortable. It’s in everyone’s best interest.

Beyond that, never underestimate the power of a goodie-filled welcome pack and a first-day celebration. All of our new practitioners get a personalised coffee mug, and a combination of flowers, chocolates and wine/beer (depending on the person). We also include a stack of business cards with their name on them. This really gives them the warm and fuzzies. And best of all, to ensure it’s truly a day to remember, we throw a full-team welcome party at lunch, complete with their favourite coffee and cake.

These might seem like small gestures, but on a turbulent day, they can have a real and lasting impact. The sooner people feel a part of the team, the more quickly they’ll begin to enjoy their new position. And that enjoyment has a direct effect on the long term success of your working relationship.

The sooner people feel a part of the team, the more quickly they’ll begin to enjoy their new position.

So, now that they’ve had the best first day ever, what comes next? Each person is different, of course, and each clinic will move forward in their own way. But, over the years, I’ve discovered three tried-and-true techniques that might help you to successfully induct a new member to your team.

1Provide clarity and certainty

When a therapist starts at a new workplace, they rarely run short of questions. But the truth is that they may not feel comfortable enough to ask them. The last thing they want is to look silly or come across as inadequate in some way.

The best weapon against this type of uncertainty is knowledge. So, before they even start, we make sure to provide a lot of clarity and present an atmosphere where all questions are welcome. If we do this correctly, we instil the comfort and confidence they need to ask anything they want—even the silly questions.

Here are a few steps we’ve developed that have proven helpful.

Position descriptions – When we present a contract, we also provide new team members with a detailed ‘Position Description’ which outlines their expected roles and responsibilities. Beyond basic standards, this form also identifies smaller and somewhat unique tasks. For example, at our clinic, we ask our team members to participate in content creation for social media, and to become an active presence in our local community through workshops and presentations.

Start date and hours – As soon as possible, we provide a start date and the expected working hours. And while we’re at it, we clearly map out their planned induction and observation schedule. The simple step of telling someone when (and how) they are needed can go a long way toward making them feel comfortable, and it provides some insight into the routine and rhythm they can expect in their day-to-day.

Observation – Regardless of experience level, I suggest blocking out time for each new member to observe the rest of the team. They should shadow your senior practitioners and spend time at the front desk observing the administrators. Teach them the language of the clinic and show them how everything operates. Let them get a feel for the entire client experience—check-in, waiting, treatment, check out. This can be enormously helpful. But at the very least, it will provide a chance for team members to begin interacting and getting to know one another.

Also, schedule time for them to observe the other services you offer. There is nothing better for in-house communication and improved client care than giving each person a full understanding of the care that others provide during their consults.

2Discuss their roadmap to success

The first 100 days are a crucial time in someone’s journey with your clinic. This period will determine if they’ll feel comfortable with the team dynamic and contribute to the culture, or if they’ll feel displaced and ostracised.

At our clinic, we’ve recognised the importance of this period and have adopted Clinic Mastery’s ‘Zero to 100’ document that maps out different tasks for new team members to tick off week-by-week. They vary in scope and can pertain to anything from clinic operations, client care, and team culture.

For example, tasks for clinic operations might include getting familiar with the practice management software or learning the proper use of equipment. For client care, new team members might be asked to perform clinical assessments or describe when and how to use strength dynamometers. Or they might participate in the team culture by posting their first ‘weekly win’ and sending a shout out to another team member on Slack.

To further promote team culture, this plan also provides information regarding our clinic’s core mission and values, and we even include the names and pictures of our current team members.

3Ongoing support & mentoring

If you implement all the steps I’ve listed so far, your effort will be completely worthless without also providing new team members with ongoing support to aid their continued growth.

One of the most powerful ways to do this is to simply spend time with them. Structure a regular meeting schedule to discuss how things are going and how you can help. For us, we have a weekly 1-on-1 session for 30 minutes in our clinic, but others might choose to schedule twice a week or once a fortnight. The key here is not the frequency or duration of these meetings, but merely to have a regular, established time to answer their questions and have a supportive conversation about their thoughts and feelings.

Each person is an asset to your clinic and deserves your time and energy.

If you’ve been in this business for more than one day, you know that I’ve only scratched the surface of what it takes to help someone be successful in a new clinic. But hopefully, I’ve made a few things clear. Everyone needs to feel cared for and that they are an essential part of the team. Each person is an asset to your clinic and deserves your time and energy. Give them the support they need – especially during the critical first three months. At that point, if they feel aligned with your team and culture, they’ll be kicking goals.

I will leave you with a quote that underpins how I think about my role within my own team: Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

Author information

Andrew is a co-founder of Physio Fit Adelaide , winners of the 2019 Telstra Small & Succeeding award. He is also a director of iMoveU Practitioner Training, and a business mentor with Clinic Mastery.

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