Janet Cochran was just pulling into the parking lot of Rock Pharmaceuticals when she glanced at her watch.  8:30 on the dot.  She’d have plenty of time to get through security and be on time for her first day of work.   It had been a long drive from Pennsylvania to Northern New Jersey.  Thank God she would only have to do this for a short time until she and her family found a new home.  She was excited, but anxious and apprehensive too about what was in store, and whether she had really done the right thing in coming here.  Her new job as Executive Director of Training and Development represented a step up in title and responsibility; the pay was certainly better too.  Even so, she had an unsettling uncertainty about whether this move was right.  She was very comfortable in her last job.  She knew the people, she knew what to do, and she knew how to do it.   She was a star there by any definition; her team and management loved her.  “I’m pretty sure this will be worth the hassle,” she assured herself.

So she was nervous this morning, but she knew that was normal. “It will be fine once I meet with my new manager, Diane this morning,” she thought. Janet liked Diane, the VP of Marketing Services when they met during the interview process.  “Once I get settled in with my team, I’ll be on my way,” she said to herself.

Janet was a professional business-woman in her early 40s, and she looked confident as she walked toward the guard gate to begin her first day of work.    If you would have followed Janet into the guard booth you would have seen the guard call the HR Director, leave a message, and notify the main entrance that Janet was on her way.  You would have then seen her sit down in the lobby after she identified herself and wait.  About 10 minutes later you would have seen her approach the main desk and say to the receptionist, “I have a really important meeting today. It’s my first day. Can you check again and see if Barbara is in”? You would have seen her get up 3 more times and requested that the receptionist call again.

When it was 45 minutes past her scheduled meeting Janet was sure something terrible had gone wrong.  All of these people were walking by; other visitors were being greeted, but no one was paying any attention to her.  Then you would have seen the receptionist call to her and say, “Sorry Janet the HR Director seems to be on vacation.  I’ve left messages for Barbara (your VP) but I just learned that she is at a meeting out of state.”

“Oh my God! she thought,”– how could they possibly have got this all wrong?  Janet was feeling very uneasy now and her stomach was starting to churn.  Had she made a horrible mistake in coming here?  What would she tell her husband in Pennsylvania when she got home tonight?  Oh no!  “The realtor is there to list our house today, “ she remembered!  “I love that house she thought to herself!” “Everything up here is so expensive!”

Janet finally met with another HR Manager who apologized, and then passed her off to a more junior person who walked her through what many would say is a normal orientation – basically completion of paperwork – lots and lots of mind-numbing paperwork.  Janet would say later, “It was so impersonal! The people who handled this seemed disinterested – like they didn’t want to be there and could care less about me.  When she finished the administrative assistant found her an office, but the computer wasn’t set up, and she had no idea what she was supposed to do anyway. She found her way down to the cafeteria at lunchtime and ate alone.  She was seriously questioning this move by the end of the day and wondering if her old company would take her back.

“And you know,” she told me later, “I never really had a conversation with my boss until the third day after I started, and even then it was all business.  If she had only asked me about something personal – my family, the drive – anything.   For those first few days, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do – and I didn’t know anyone.  It was really horrible.  I felt completely lost!

“I just wanted to feel more welcome and important.”

“I wanted a signal that I was appreciated and needed.”

Fast forward to 18 months later.  Janet called me to say she was taking another job. “Tim I have to leave; “I knew things were not right after day number one,” and it never got much better.” Continuing she says, “If they had only realized how much I wanted to succeed, but also how much I was unconsciously evaluating things on that first day – maybe they would have tried a little harder.”

So how do we avoid this situation that caused Janet to leave her job 18 months after starting.  Certainly, Onboarding, the process of integrating new employees into an organization, is a key cog in successful retention.  But there is more, so stay tuned for our next installment and we’ll start at the beginning.

Tim Ruef is CEO of Ruef & Associates, a retained executive search firm, and a frequent presenter and author on topics related to Onboarding. Tim is also a CEO Coach and Peer Advisory Group Leader.