Better Starts for New Employees

On Sheri Hill’s first day on the job with the King County Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS), she arrived to find that she had a computer that wasn’t fully functional and a phone that didn’t work. (And when she got a working phone, the phone number initially assigned to Hill actually rang a line at SeaTac Airport.)

Some mandatory orientation events weren’t scheduled for Hill or even entirely clear to her. “My hire letter listed some trainings I was supposed to take,” she explains, “but it took me several months to figure out which were the right trainings.”

All this made her less productive that first week and made her feel less valued. “These are things that are not mission critical, but they would have made me feel warm and fuzzy,” says Hill, who is providing early childhood expertise and leadership for both the Health and Human Services Transformation Project and the Best Starts for Kids Prevention Framework.

Hill is quick to point out that the people were welcoming. But clearly, the onboarding process could have gone more smoothly for her.

Amber Hebert, a confidential secretary for DCHS, also saw that new employee onboarding was haphazard in DCHS. There was a checklist, but it was eight pages long with more than 120 items on it. That made for a lot of things to check, a lot of people being involved, and the ball often getting dropped half way through the process.

It had, to quote Hebert, “very random stuff” on it, including several division-specific items that wouldn’t apply to all new DCHS employees. There were items that no one person could handle, so that multiple handoffs were needed.

Worst of all, though, the checklist lacked clear standard work to ensure the most crucial things, like a ready-to-go computer and phone for when new employees arrived (like Sheri Hill). Indeed, there wasn’t really any standard work around the checklist at all, so many of the items on the checklist went essentially “unchecked” for new employees.

Hebert wanted to improve DCHS onboarding, from the time the hire letter is sent out until the employee’s first day. Working with a team of people who had a role in onboarding, including DCHS and King County IT staff, Hebert walked the steps in the process. In addition to the mammoth checklist, she saw lots of variation, depending on who was handling it and the role of the new employee.

onboarding team

The Onboarding Improvement Team (from left): Georgia Cortez, Michaelle Monday, Bryan Baird, Amber Hebert, Erica Gaur and Josephine Wong.(Not pictured: Quang Truong, Cathy Jimenez)

“My biggest ‘aha moment’ during the process walk was actually seeing how it is done by different people, seeing the amount of confusion and seeing the waste. There really was up to 16 steps to request a computer and a phone for one person!”

The team also interviewed the customers of the process (recently hired DCHS employees), and learned that the two main things people want on their first day are a working computer and phone, and a better understanding or overview of the department they work in.

With this information, Amber and the team worked to map out an ideal process for requesting phones, computers and login information before employees start so that they’d be ready to go on the first day. A standard request form has been created and the process is now only five steps, which Hebert says is very gratifying.

In the spirit of true PDCA, Hebert and the team are measuring the results of whether or not computers, phones, usernames and passwords are ready to go before employees begin work and will continue to improve the process going forward.

Also, DCHS is in the process of creating department orientation packets for new employees. Supervisors will be responsible for reviewing the information with new employees in-person within two days of their start date and providing the employee with an orientation packet to take away.

Already they’ve seen other aspects of onboarding that need standard work and measures. “We are going to attack another part of the checklist,” Hebert says. “I’m thinking training.”

Hebert did this work as part of a seven-week Creating Continuous Improvement training, co-taught by Martine Kaiser, a Lean specialist in DCHS, and Becca Cole, a Lean specialist who works in Jail Health Services.

The course is an intensive training in the fundamentals of Lean, guiding each participant through a series of exercises that they immediately apply with a team to a process within their own work.

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