Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Onboarding Meeting Scripts #2: Ask Questions

Actions to take: Follow the advice from past onboarding posts. In particular, spend time during weekly check-in meetings describing expectations for new employees who work under you. Read these scripts to help you develop those thoughts. Do not copy these scripts verbatim. Rather, use them as inspiration to develop scripts that are unique to your own management style and priorities.

Note: The following introduction will appear at the beginning of all four Onboarding Meeting Script posts.

Back in April of this year, I wrote two posts about the boss's job when it comes to onboarding a new employee (Onboarding New Employees - Part 1 and Onboarding New Employees - Part 2). These quickly became some of the most viewed pages on That is no doubt in part due to the hour-long podcast episode I had with ELGL Director Kirsten Wyatt on the subject. 

As part of a weekly onboarding check-in meeting, I encourage managers to spend time laying out big-picture expectations for their employees as explicitly as possible. Multiple times in my career, I have received positive, unsolicited feedback that I must keep doing this part of the onboarding check-in. I have also never met another manager who does it.  

In the linked materials above, I talk about this step in some detail. I don't think people can picture it very well without having seen it themselves. This short series is an attempt to rectify that. These scripts are exactly what I use when I deliver expectations "speeches" to my new employees during our check-in meetings. Please keep a few things in mind:

  • These are scripts. The nuance of tone, body language, eye contact, and minor improvisation depending on the employee's reactions are not conveyed here.
  • These are intended as example, not as a finished product for the reader. They are written to describe my managerial priorities and expectations. To have real meaning, your scripts need to be your own. Take inspiration from these, but I encourage you not to copy them verbatim.
  • These are written assuming that the new employee is a manager themselves. Most of the content stays the same (excepting script #4), but not all. Not only should you write scripts to match your management, you should tweak them to match the new employee's position.

Onboarding Script #2: Ask Questions

Please ask questions about anything you don’t understand. Nothing is off limits. You will never be penalized for asking about something you don’t know. You may very well be penalized for not knowing that information later on.

It is sometimes nerve-wracking to ask because you think you should already know the answer. When I assign you a task, it can feel like there is an unstated assumption: “You should know how to do this.” That is not true. Remember, I have can't see inside your brain. Only you have a full understanding of what you have and haven’t been trained to do.  

I’ve found that the feeling “I should already know this, but I don’t” is worst in months 2-6. You’re new enough not to know things, but you have been around long enough that the “onboarding phase” is over. You must push through that feeling and just ask.  

I am not talking about just asking questions to me. I expect you to ask questions of your coworkers as well. Again, this can feel a little awkward. People will forget that you are new a lot faster than you forget. In a few months, they might be surprised that you don’t know a thing. Do not take offense. Do not take this to mean you shouldn’t have asked. The only alternative is to pretend like you do know. Trying to appear as though you know more than you do is a short-term and very foolish strategy. Avoid it by being honest with your ignorance and asking questions. 

When you ask questions, you are essentially assigning work to someone. But that doesn’t mean don’t do it. It just means be aware of what you are doing. It is your job to assign this work, especially when you are new, especially to me. As your supervisor, it is my job to do this work. I would rather answer 1,000 of your questions than have you hide even one from me because you think I’m “too busy.”  

When you do, be respectful of other people’s time. Think about the best way to ask the question. Think about how long the answer is likely to be. For example, you might have a big task you haven't learned yet. It would likely be best to ask if someone has 30 minutes later in the week rather than asking the question in the moment. Consider if there are ways for you to minimize the work of the answerer.  

Ask questions. Ask all the questions you have. Spend time thinking about and coming up with more questions. It is expected of you to you know everything you need to know to do your job. Not immediately, but eventually. If answers you receive do not fully satisfy your question/curiosity, make a note and circle back to that question at a later date.   

That's what I have to say about asking questions. What are your thoughts on this set of expectations?

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