Focusing on the Employee Onboarding Experience to Improve Processes and Reduce Turnover in School Districts

In Brief

4-Minute Read

Hiring a new employee brings the advantage of learning from their outside experience. By capturing their insight about opportunities to improve in the first 90 days, the organization gets a new perspective not yet shaped by the existing processes and language of the organization. This first 90 days is also an important period for engagement and retention of new employees – a critical need in education institutions.

Key Takeaways

  • In the constantly changing environment of the education industry, it is critical for K12 institutions to recruit employees with an innovative mindset and retain them beyond their first 90 days.

  • Connecting often with new employees and intentionally gathering their input requires a timebound approach practiced consistently with every new hire.

  • Onboarding practices that focus on employee experience and involve all leaders in engaging the new employee improve satisfaction and reduce turnover.

Instituting 30- and 90-day Conversations to Capture and Engage

A new hire is an investment not only in the time and resources they provide, but in the knowledge that they bring from other institutions paired with a fresh perspective on the organization’s current practices. This input can most effectively be capture in the first three months of a job, before they are overwhelmed with learning about their job responsibilities, organizational processes, team dynamics, compliance procedures and new technology.

Working with Huron, the Pewaukee School District in Wisconsin implemented two consistent touchpoints with new employees designed to capture their input early and help keep them engaged during their onboarding period.

Key Questions to Drive Improvement

These 30- and 90-day connections are not only strategically timed, but also consist of key questions leaders should be asking every new hire to gain valuable insight.

30-day Questions:

  • How do we compare to what we said we would be like?
  • Tell me what you like. What is going well?
  • I noticed you came to us from ________________. Are there things you did there that might be helpful to us?
  • Is there anything here that you are uncomfortable with?

These strategic questions help to make bigger decisions. Talking to an employee within 30-days of being a part of the organization, gives leaders the chance to see those powerful, initial perceptions that they bring to the organization. Listening and asking those probing questions is tremendously important.

By hardwiring this practice, the Pewaukee School District was able to capitalize on learning opportunities. The question “What was your previous school district doing well that we could be doing better here?” uncovered more efficient transportation practices Pewaukee’s system was able to implement to improve transportation and satisfaction.

90-day Questions:

After 90 days, most employees have a deeper grasp of the system and the gaps that exists. On top of revisiting the questions asked during the 30-day conversation, add two future-focused questions:

  • [If hiring] Is there anyone you know who might be a valuable addition to our team?
  • As your supervisor, how can I be helpful?

For the Pewaukee School District, the question of “Who is someone in your previous district that, if we had an opening, would be a good fit for this district?” was key for recruiting new talent and retaining existing employees. The question allowed leadership to get to know the employee better and learn about skilled and talented future hires.

Beyond the Conversations: Intentional Onboarding Practices

Onboarding isn’t just about showing a new employee the ropes and teaching them how to use the organization’s systems and processes. It’s the first impression of what working with the organization looks like.

In Pewaukee School District, onboarding is designed to represent the culture of community and employee experience that working there embodies. One of the intentional onboarding practices includes taking all new teachers on a school bus ride around the town and neighborhoods in which their students live. Teachers get a sense of what it’s like to be a child in the district. District leaders join them on the tour through the community, learning about the district boundaries, the homes in the community and the areas where children are in poverty. It’s a chance to see the community the serve first-hand. Another key practice put into place within those first 90-days is a lunch with board members and new hires. Board members are strategically seated to engage with new employees.

Systematically carrying out best practices in the first 30 and 90 days for new hires sends a message, sets the climate, and positively presents the culture and values within the district.


To use improve system performance and create an experience that employees don’t want to leave, district leaders must:
  • Think differently.
    Understand that the first 90 days is as critical to employee engagement and organizational growth as it is to training the new employee for the job role.
  • Plan differently.
    Develop an onboarding experience that is designed to both maximize the investment in new knowledge and make the best first impression about the employee experience.
  • Act differently.
    Make intentional connections in the first 90 days a systematic practice, and engage all leaders in some aspect of the onboarding processes.

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