Touchstone’s Alison Lowe will be the keynote speaker at the Employer Engagement conference in London on 10th September. Here she talks about how much difference an effective staff induction can make to the relationship between staff members and the organisation they work for.

At Touchstone, a West Yorkshire mental health charity, staff numbers have steadily doubled over the last 11 years. As CEO, I was rarely involved in new staff inductions though, thinking this was the province of HR and relevant line managers. How wrong could I be!
According to ACAS, “It is easy to forget that the selection process is only the beginning of the employment relationship, and the future of that relationship depends to a considerable extent on how the new employee is settled into the job.  Most employee turnover is among new employees, and work efficiency is reached only after a period of learning and adjusting to the new environment”. Having a good induction then is a crucial part of an organisation’s recruitment and retention strategy, but it can also determine how well the employee and employer begin, and then maximise, their working relationship.
A model of onboarding (adapted from Bauer & Erdogan, 2011)
The benefits of induction, or “On Boarding” as the Americans call it, are well known. By getting the balance of information giving and relationship building right, an employer can ensure not just an effective employee for their organisation, but also a loyal ambassador who adds value every day. Not just value to the bottom line – important in all industries – but value to the culture and ethos of your organisation; making your business the employer of choice.
At Touchstone, I learned the hard way that engaging your staff starts long before they join the organisation.
Having a fantastic reputation for delivery of person-centred, quality mental health and wellbeing services is clearly an advantage but employers also need to have their values and cultural norms pulsating through every bit of their business.
If you look at Touchstone’s website, you will see our passion for people and communities clearly honoured in the service pages, the blogs and the many news items. At interview, prospective colleagues will meet service users and staff who are major contributors to the recruitment process and at induction, they will meet me – the Chief Executive – and I will lay the foundations for engagement and trust for the life of their employment with us.
I have learned from staff that the experience of meeting me in their first few days or weeks had a major effect on their confidence in Touchstone’s leadership and their engagement with our values and strategic aims. This, I believe, is one of the reasons why we are a Sunday Times Best Company to work for since 2013, an Investor in People Gold and are placed 19th nationally in the Stonewall Top 100 most LGBT-friendly employers’ list. It’s not rocket science, but an effective induction meeting with staff must include honesty, openness and humanity.
As CEO of a mental health organisation I start all my meetings by talking about my own mental health problems. I tell them about my experiences of childhood trauma and I acknowledge that this can sometimes (although rarely) impact on my effectiveness at home and at work. Not because I can’t do my job properly, but because my own “stuff” can be a barrier to my listening skills, my ability to separate my feelings from my experiences and from my willingness to accept that I cannot do it all myself and need to ask for help.
The effect of these revelations is that staff immediately understand the culture and values of the organisation they have chosen to work for. We start from the premise that we are all human; we make mistakes but we can recover from these as well as the trials and tribulations that life throws at us. At Touchstone, you can really be yourself and I, by my own disclosures, model this fact from the start.
In return for my honesty, I ask that staff are equally honest with me. Not by sharing their own personal “stuff” (unless they want to) but by giving me the gift of their honest feedback, should I – or Touchstone – ever need it.
By giving staff my history and context, I hope colleagues will feel able to honour our values of integrity and openness in all their dealings with the organisation but I also hope that I make Touchstone a safer place for staff to work by giving something of myself. The benefits have been amazing with staff feedback to the Sunday Times Best Company survey improving year on year.
I know that not everyone will want to be quite so honest as I am with their staff, and maybe you don’t need to be if you make widgets using machines and people are not a major part of your business. For those of you who are considering sharing a bit more of themselves though, I can tell you that the benefits by far outweigh the risks and the relationship of trust and transparency you foster with them, brings its own rewards for years to come.
In the words of Stonewall:

I feel like we’re just beginning a fantastically positive journey.