Why “Lean In” Made Me Step Back for a Moment


Over the past few years, the Lean In movement has become a highly influential, inspirational voice for professional women around the world. As a professional female, I appreciate the message and encouragement. As the mother of a teenage son (today, at the time of this writing, is actually his 15th birthday!) and a college-aged daughter, I appreciate that these conversations are happening, to hopefully provide an equal, empowering career experience for her, and that my son has an educated perspective as well. I’ve read the book and follow posts on social media. I would say that I’ve been in agreement with most of the points I’ve seen.

Until last week.

If you know me, you know that I am hardly a confrontational person. This blog, while sometimes a source of tough love for hiring managers and those who are responsible for creating learning experiences, is not typically a platform that seeks out debate because, quite frankly, it’s exhausting, it rarely yields change, and it’s just not my style. However, in defense of my passionate stance for the new employee experience, I was unsettled by a post and New York Times article I read the other day on the Lean In Facebook page:


Specifically, this line from the post:

Office Housework.PNG

Please hear me: I am not disagreeing with the overall premise of this article. I fully believe that women often do more “office housework” than their male counterparts. I have seen (and experienced) it time and time again during my 20+ years in the workforce.

My issue, and what struck such a nerve with me, is that this post described “training new hires” as OFFICE HOUSEWORK, suggesting that it is an inconvenience. A mindless task. A chore.

Then I thought, “Okay, Michelle. Before getting all worked up over a Facebook post, maybe you should read the article and then form an opinion?” So I did.

And in the first paragraph, I read this:



Right there, among suggestively trivial items like helping improve a presentation and planning a holiday party, I saw it: “trained several new hires…”

Now, I can accept that fact that whoever wrote the Facebook post, and the authors of this article probably did not intend to minimize the importance of onboarding. Of the thousands of people who read the post/article, I am probably the only one who is reacting so passionately to something that wasn’t even the main point (I could argue how sad that is, but I’ll let it slide). But since the Lean In organization has such influence over so many professionals in countless organizations and industries (and kudos to them for it), I am distressed over the notion that such cavalier word choices may cause readers to dismiss an organization’s need for intentional, results-driven onboarding.

If you treat onboarding like an inconvenience or a low-priority task, then don’t be surprised if your new employees aren’t feeling connected to your organization.

A study by Aberdeen has shown that as many as 87% of new employees aren’t fully committed to a new job for the first six months. Eighty-seven percent. Let’s put it this way: out of 100 newly-hired employees, 87 of them are still subscribed to emails from Indeed and Glassdoor and may still be following up about other submitted job applications or calls from assertive recruiters. Those talented employees that you have invested time and money to hire and train are not entirely sure that they want to stick around for the long haul. If your partners in the onboarding process don’t realize how important their job is, then it is your job to communicate it.

Who are your partners?

Regardless of who “owns” the onboarding experience for your organization, there are a number of key stakeholders who should be involved in the new employee experience. Just a few include:

  • HR/Talent Acquisition
  • L&D/Training/Talent Development
  • Hiring Managers
  • Peers and teammates
  • Support staff (IT, administrative roles, etc)
  • Executives and senior leaders
  • Clients and vendors

Everyone involved touches a new employee’s experience in some way. If they treat this responsibility like an inconvenience, an afterthought or a “nice-to-have” during a busy time, then your new employees feel it. It potentially stunts their development, performance, engagement, and connectedness. You must educate your organization on how onboarding impacts the bottom line of your business.

Wait, what? You don’t know how onboarding impacts your business?

Find out.

What story is your company’s data telling about your new employees’ performance, retention and engagement? 

Depending on your organization’s goals and priorities, some essential metrics could include:

  • Sales within the first 30-60-90 days of employment
  • Number of errors or accidents on the job
  • Reasons employees leave within the first year (exit interview data is a gold mine for this!)
  • Number of internal promotions within the first year
  • Productivity – particularly for those in a very metric-driven role (think call center data, customer service, assembly line, etc)


Onboarding and new employee training can make a significant impact on business results – during Orientation, in a training environment and through on-the-job experience. People, male or female, who are involved should know how THEY are contributing to the bottom line. Give them a chance to take ownership of their role and recognize onboarding as a need-to-have. To lean in to the privilege of serving and contributing to a new employee’s success (see what I did there?).

Am I going to stop following Lean In because of this? No, of course not. The mission and work of this organization is important; it invites productive conversation and adds immense value to our professional society. In fact, had it not been for confidence gained through the stories of passionate female leaders and influencers, maybe I would not feel comfortable sharing my opinion through this platform? Who knows…

As a champion of learning in the workplace, I firmly believe that we need to pay attention to the direct and indirect messages we are sending, and use our influence to shape learning experiences for employees in the organizations we support. This article was a powerful reminder.


Are you following phase(two)learning yet?

Don’t miss a thing! For tips, ideas and yes….an occasional rant, simply complete the form below. Be sure to connect on Twitter too – @MichelleLBaker. You’ll be glad you did!


5 Must-Capture Onboarding Metrics to Prove Your Value

We all know the old saying, “If a tree falls in the forest but no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Our onboarding programs are no different. If our data doesn’t tell a story about our program’s success, how much value is truly perceived? 

At the day job, I’m currently in the throes of working on our 2017 Training Magazine Top 125 application. We were honored to be included on the 2016 list, and we’re using the valuable feedback we received to make our application even more compelling this time around.

I recently read Will Thalheimer’s terrific new book, Performance-Focused Smile Sheets – if you haven’t read it yet, I’ll wait here patiently while you click on the link and ORDER A COPY RIGHT NOW. 

**cue hold music**

Okay, I’m assuming you took my word for it and ordered the book. When it arrives in a few days, clear your calendar…you won’t be able to put it down, and you will immediately want to start re-imagining your Level 1 evaluation process. Trust me on this one.

I digress.

The timing of reading Mr. Thalheimer’s book and beginning the arduous Top 125 application process have mind swirling over the importance of measuring the success of learning programs – beyond Level 1. Whether you are hoping to deepen the footprint of new employee learning or a training program, jockey for additional headcount or even position yourself for a promotion, you need data. Data becomes the plot of a page-turning story of how your program is making a difference – both quantitatively and qualitatively – in your organization.

And, friends, you need to tell that story in the language that resonates with your company’s decision makers. 

That language? Business results. Outcomes. Money. Even for you folks in a non-profit setting.

True, a comprehensive measurement (and any good story, for that matter) needs to balance “the head and the heart” – you need qualitative data (heart) to balance the quantitative (head). In order to prove tangible value to the company, you must look closely at WHAT your program can impact. HOW it can impact. WHO it impacts. Start with the end in mind.- why do you need this program?

If you are looking to develop a new onboarding program, or refine the processes of an existing program, here are 5 metrics that, depending on your organization’s priorities, can help you get started on your way to a data-driven success story:

1. Reduction in attrition – How long are employees staying with your company? We all know that it costs significantly more to recruit, hire, onboard and train employees than to retain, continually develop and (hopefully) promote internally. Partner with your Talent Acquisition/HR team to benchmark your current attrition rate and measure it over time. This can also be a springboard for more robust Employee Engagement metrics. Does your organization participate in a “Best Places to Work” program in your community? A solid onboarding program can certainly contribute to an engaged workforce.

2. Reduction in time to productivity – How long does it take a new employee to be “up to speed” on systems, processes and procedures? Time is money. Work with your hiring managers to identify the current timeframe for new employees to be fully productive, align your program accordingly and set a goal to shave some time off. Ongoing hiring manager surveys can be an easy way to capture feedback and needle-moving.

3. Increased sales in the first 30/60/90 days – Sales – whether new business, upselling or cross-selling, renewals, or whatever products or services that sustain your business, are the lifeblood. Enable and equip your new sales employees with the proper tools to be successful, and monitor their performance during the first months on the job.

4. Reduction in errors/accidents among new employees – It may be system errors, data entry errors, cash handling errors, shipping errors, customer fulfillment errors, on-the-job accidents or any number of other factors that impact employee safety and risk, business production, profitability and customer service. Everybody messes up once in awhile, particularly when navigating a new job. However, errors cost money (and remember…money is the native tongue of the decision makers). If you are able to meet with key leaders in your organization, this is a great topic to discuss. Ask them which employee errors keep them up at night – what has the most significant impact on the business? Seek opportunities to lower these erroneous incidents – this should be a priority during new employee training.

5. Improved customer satisfaction scores – This should be a given, but unfortunately it is often overlooked. If your new employees are customer-facing (heck, even if they’re not), are you helping them establish a direct line of sight to the customer experience from Day One? And are you providing managers with tools to help them maintain that line of sight with their teams beyond New Employee Orientation? It is critical that new employees know how they impact the customer experience, whether it is directly or indirectly. Clearly communicating your organization’s commitment to your customer, as well as setting service expectations and empowering new employees to take care of customers is essential for long-term success. Customer-centric organizations recognize, prioritize and measure this as part of their onboarding process. 
If you are not capturing this data, trust me – someone is. Make that person your new BFF. Find a link between onboarding and these a metrics.

The more connected your onboarding program is to your business processes and priorities, the clearer your data-driven story becomes, and the easier it is to demonstrate the value of onboarding. It becomes a competitive advantage for your organization, but also your competitive advantage as a leader and trusted advisor WITHIN your organization. 

>>> Your turn: How are you communicating the value of onboarding in your organization? Share your best tip in the comments below!


Is your organization planning to develop an onboarding program for the first time? phase(two)learning can help! In a 2-day workshop, learn how to utilize principles from agile software development to rapidly build the frameworkfor your new onboarding program!

Contact us to learn more!

Are we still onboarding like it’s 1999?

As far as headlines go, Prince’s recent death is hardly breaking news at this point. Several weeks have now gone by since his untimely, tragic passing. Having grown up in the 1980s, Prince’s music was the soundtrack of my youth. It was such a shock to learn that this original, talented individual is no longer with us.

Recently, I was walking through a used bookstore and came across this little gem:
I realize this hardly looks like a current resource, but I was intrigued and a little amused by my discovery of this relic. For $3.48, I was willing to find out if it was any good. SOLD.

What does this have to do with Prince? Well, let’s call this post a subtle nod to the Purple One himself. Based on this book, are there any recommended practices in this book that have stood the test of time? Is it all antiquated garbage?

Or are we still onboarding like it’s 1999? 

Disclosure: This book was actually published in 1988….so here are a few little nuggets from a time somehwere between Raspberry Beret and Batdance:

Page 6: “All members of the new employee’s ‘team’ should be encouraged to attend Orientation. They should be coached to go out of their way to make the new hire feel welcome. Nothing is worse than an insincere gathering where ‘veterans’ talk with each other and exclude the newcomer.”

Verdict: Stands the test of time (well, pretty much).

Clearly, the importance of making a new employee feel welcome is not new. And yes, co-workers and other stakeholders should all be coached in the importance of the role they each play in onboarding a new employee. The biggest difference to note here is the feasibility for EVERYONE on a new employee’s team to attend Orientation. While that would be awesome, distributed, global workforce often prevent this from happening. Advice? Take advantage of technology to connect the dots between global, remote and office-based employees.

Sidenote: Obviously, I used a direct quote from the book…I never, ever refer to a new employee as a ‘new hire.’ You may have read my thoughts on the subject, but in case you haven’t…here you go.

Page 32: “One mistake is to avoid trying to cram everything the new employee needs to know into the first day. Schedule the orientation over several days. Give each employee enough time to assimilate new information in a way that is meaningful.”

Verdict: Stands the test of time.

Orientation, in itself, is an event. Onboarding is a process. While this book focused solely on “New Employee Orientation,” it goes without saying that Orientation is an essential piece of the Onboarding puzzle. And no, all of the necessary information should not be thrown at new employees on their first day. On Day #1, even the smartest, quickest-learning professional is just trying to remember everyone’s name and where to find the restroom. For your 21st century Orientation program, introduce tech tools and other self-directed resources where applicable to extend the learning and discovery beyond the walls of your training room. Establish an assertive, yet realistic pace that meets both learner and business needs.

Page 34: “As a supervisor, you are responsible for getting things started during Orientation. It is not the responsibility of a secretary or another employee to do your job. They may be involved, but the new employee should not be assigned to anyone until you have made the initial contact and established a plan for the day.”

Verdict: Mixed feelings.

Yes. The relationship with the hiring manager is the single most important relationship that a new employee needs to establish and develop when starting a new job. And yes, that hiring manager should take ownership of the process. But logistically, this should be a partnership between a variety of stakeholders who bring something important to the onboarding table: Human Resources, Recruiting, IT, Learning/Talent Development, Executives and a host of supporting players impact a new employee’s early experiences with an organization. Leverage the perspectives of your onboarding stakeholders to enhance your program.
In summary, the book was actually pretty good. More relevant than I anticipated, and it even had some handy checklists that could easily be updated and repurposed. Not a bad $3.48, if you ask me.

Thank goodness for modern practices and technology! We’re able to start with a solid foundation for creating a welcoming experience for new employees, like outlined in this book, and build upon it with all the resources and amenities we have at our fingertips today. We don’t need to onboard like it’s 1988 – or 1999 – or even 2006 anymore.

Your Turn: What longstanding onboarding practices and traditions have stood the test of time at your organization? Leave a comment and share!

Heading to #ATD2016 this month?


It’s May – are you heading to Denver for ATD’s International Conference & Expo (ICE) this month? I am – and I couldn’t be more excited! ICE is the biggest event of the year for L&D folks, and I’m ready to absorb every possible idea or nugget of wisdom along with 10,000+ of my fellow colleagues. Plus, I’m on the docket to present this year, which is such a tremendous privilege. 


If this is your first time attending ICE, you should know that this is not an event you just show up at, sans-plan. With so many session options, it’s important to map out some options ahead of time. I’ve been working on my game plan for the past few days. While it is definitely subject to change, here are a few of the sessions I’m considering:

Sunday, May 22

8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Chapter Leader Breakfast, Chapter Leader Day

1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. – (SU205) Flip & Drip Approach to Leadership Development: Accelerating Learning Transfer

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. – (SU314) The LeaderShift: How to Engage & Develop the Next Generation of Leaders

4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. – (SU408) Keys to a (Really) Successful New Supervisor Training Program

Evening – ATD-Central Indiana Member Meetup!

Monday, May 23

8:00 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. – (General Session) Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Come Together and Others Don’t

2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. Chapter Leader Power Hour

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. – (M212) Cracking the Code for Kirkpatrick Levels 3 & 4

4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. – (M3318) Creating and Launching Sales Onboarding in 90 Days or Less 

Evening – TBD

Tuesday, May 24

1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m – (TU200) Redefining the Future of L&D with 70-20-10 and Beyond 

4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. – (TU416) 70-20-10 Onboarding: How to Engage, Empower & Develop New Employees (My session – join me!)

Evening – TBD

Wednesday, May 25

10:00 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. – (W201) Keeping Learning Alive Through Social Media & Learning Communities

1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. – (W304) Ending the ROI Void: What You Should Measure Come Monday

There are still several open spots on my agenda…this is why careful planning is necessary! There are so many intriguing sessions being offered, it’s tough to play the Sophie’s Choice game to decide which to attend. I’ll be narrowing the list over the next week or so, but I still fully expect to call a few audibles here and there.

First time at ICE?

Fear not! The conference website has a handy session planning tool that will let you review the session lineup and bookmark your favorites. Some folks in the L&D blogging community have also shared their own tips for a successful ICE experience. Here’s a great one by JD Dillon – 5 Tips for Making the Most of #ATD2016. He’s also shared his #ATD2016 schedule – check it out!

Will I see you there?

What’s on your must-see list while at ICE? Share your can’t-miss sessions in the comments below! 

Looking for some good conversation while you’re in Denver? Let’s catch up and talk shop over a cup of coffee! Drop me a note – let’s meet up!

When does onboarding become too much of a good thing?

Ah, c’est l’amour.

For several years, countless tourists in love made a pilgrimage to the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris to pledge their undying devotion by attaching a padlock, a “love lock,” to the metal grating on the bridge.

So. Many. Locks. 

The love lock tradition has spread to a number of other cities around the world. Like the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City:
I saw the Brooklyn Bridge locks last summer when I was in New York with the family. Even enterprising street vendors were trying to capitalize on bridge-crossers in loooove by selling padlocks along the bridge. It’s definitely a thing.

The idea of love locks has brought mixed reactions among Parisian tourists and locals. Some saw it as a romantic gesture, an homage to everlasting love….others, including preservationists and city officials, saw it as a cluttered mess, ruining an otherwise historic landmark. Last year, an estimated one million locks were cut from the Pont des Arts bridge, thus ending the Love Locks tradition.

What started out as good intentions – a sweet gesture – quickly spun out of control.

If we’re not careful, the same thing can happen with our onboarding programs. We invest time, energy and resources into creating a memorable experience for our newly-hired employees – but without proper management, even a great “idea” can go awry.

Be aware of these red flags…does your onboarding program:

  • Focus on training, rather than on performance?  Spending too much time “teaching to the test,” or mastering hypothetical, simulated content, instead of preparation for real-world experience can be risky. Ensure that your content is aligned to the true working environment, and that there are ample opportunities for application and assessment.
  • Have too much show, but not enough substance?  We want our Orientation and onboarding experiences to be pleasant. We want our new employees to enjoy themselves and have them walk away feeling they made the right decision in joining our organizations. Free lunch! Scavenger hunt! More swag! All good things. Just ensure that the fun elements have purpose. 
  • Set unrealistic expectations of how amazing your organization is? Onboarding is a process that bridges the gap between the sometimes-idyllic first impressions set during the recruitment and pre-boarding process and the reality of everyday life in the company. If your new employees are pinching themselves because things are just too perfect, beware. Showcase your organization’s strengths, but keep it realistic.
  • Encourage long-term reliance on a training facilitator, rather than a supervisor, peers and resources?  In cases where “new employee training” lasts several days or even weeks, training participants often look up to their primary training instructor and view him/her as an expert. While that may be true, it is important for the primary focus to shift away from the training environment and move toward the job environment. Make an effort to enable new employees to utilize self-directed learning resources, leverage peer coaching, participate in on-the-job training and (most importantly) build a solid relationship with his/her direct supervisor.

Having a hand in the new employee experience is a privilege. Creating an experience that balances learning, engagement, immersion, relationship building and yes, fun, requires thoughtful planning and ongoing attention. Just like the locks prevented visitors from experiencing the beauty of the bridge, don’t let your organization’s heavy “locks” outweigh the value your program adds.

Your turn: What are you doing to make that experience a memorable one in your organization? Share your tips in the comments below!

The easiest tweak you can make to your training and orientation programs…

How many of you put out candy for training attendees? I know we do at the day job…in fact, the photo above is a shot of my cart on a recent stock-up trip at my local Sam’s Club. Even when the cost of doing business continues to soar, this is an expense that we have curbed, yet kept.


Because people like candy.

Before the workplace health and wellness fans start to worry, we also provide fresh fruit and some considerably less-exciting snacks like granola bars and trail mix.

Until I attended a recent conference, however, I didn’t give much thought to the bowl of candy that graces our training tables. Then, a tiny little tweak transformed a simple snack into a learning tool.

I promise you now, whether you are a long-time phase(two)learning follower or this is the first post you’ve read, this is worth the price of admission. Which, frankly, is free…so what a deal, amiright?

Check this out:


Whoa! Mind. Blown.

How simple is this? All that is needed is candy or snacks, a package of printable adhesive labels and some tips or ideas to share to your participants.

Granted, I’m sure I’m not the first person to “discover” this little nugget, but in over 20 years of teaching and facilitation, somehow it’s new to me. Regardless, it got me thinking….how else could we use this easy tip in training or Orientation programs? Here are 8 beyond-simple ideas:

  1. Provide the URL for your organization’s intranet, wiki, or other learning sites.
  2. Share the Twitter handles for influential, must-follow people in your organization or industry.
  3. Post can’t-miss dates – like when your benefit paperwork is due.
  4. Distribute your company’s IT Help Desk email or phone number.
  5. Share interesting trivia about your organization’s history. (Bonus: Have participants piece together the trivia into a timeline!)
  6. Introduce your company’s mission or purpose statement. 
  7. Solicit simple, one-sentence quotes from other employees – tips on how to be successful at your organization
  8. Share “Fact or Fiction” statements about your industry, organization, products/services, etc. Have participants stick (literally!) the wrappers under one of two columns on a flip chart (“fact” or “fiction”). As the candy is consumed throughout training, the columns will grow. On the last day of training, see how accurate everyone’s guesses are!

Honestly, I could probably come up with a dozen other ideas…there are so many creative possibilities for this one!

Your turn: Have you used this type of interactive element in your training sessions? What tips have you communicated? And most importantly, what is the must-have candy in YOUR candy bowl?

When is “really good” really, “good enough” for training?


Unless you’ve recently emerged from hibernating in a cave for the past two decades, you’ve probably seen the movie Forrest Gump. Come on, even if you’re not a big fan of movies, you’ve still probably seen that movie. It has gone down in movie history as a classic; Forrest’s extraordinary life story told by Forrest himself, in one of Tom Hanks’ Oscar-winning performances.

This movie brought in an estimated $55,000,000 at the box office, garnered numerous awards, including 6 Academy Awards. Not too shabby.

If you go to the IMDb page for this movie, you will see that there are literally hundreds of names listed for cast and crew…hundreds. So many people had their eyes, ears, hands, heart and soul poured into the creation of this film, and guess what?

It’s not perfect.

The other day, Forrest Gump was on T.V. Right in the middle of the scene where Forrest visits Jenny’s apartment (after he finishes telling his story to people at the bus stop), a little goof caught my eye:

In one shot, the iron is up – in the next shot, the iron is down. Hmmm. So, I was curious – was this the only mistake in the movie? Turns out, there are websites dedicated to pointing out movie flaws and bloopers (these folks must have a lot of time on their hands). And guess what? There were actually a lot of factual errors and continuity issues like the iron. Again, it’s not perfect. But we still love that movie. No one took away the Oscars because of these flaws.

So, if a film that had a team of hundreds, one that inevitably went down as one of the greatest films of all time, has a few errors…why are we so hard on ourselves?

We live in a world of flaws. We work in organizations full of flaws. Yes, it’s our job to disseminate workflows, processes and procedures to enable employees to learn, develop and succeed. But it will never be perfect. Never. Furthermore, it’s likely that you don’t have hundreds of people on your team to scrutinize every detail. Many of us are part of a small team, or possibly even a “team of one.” We do the best we can with the resources we are provided.

Keep on keepin’ on, friends. 

Forrest Gump is complete. A done deal. There’s no assembling the production crew 20+ years later to “fix” that pesky iron scene. But our training-leadership development-onboarding-eLearning (etc) projects? The good news is, so much of what we do allows for continuous quality improvement. As processes update, employee job requirements change, or even when we find a more effective way to facilitate learning, we can do it.

A few tips:

  1. Audit your courses regularly (a minimum of once per year) for accuracy and relevance. Do they still address the learning need? If not, determine what updates are necessary, or consider eliminating the program/course altogether.
  2. Monitor your metrics – what data are you getting from participants and stakeholders that validates the content or approach?
  3. Don’t make changes to your program just for the sake of change – ensure that the change addresses learning needs, business drivers or other organizational goals.
  4. Keep your eye on the content – efficiency, relevance and accuracy should trump “pretty.” Sure, a beautifully designed course is ideal, but don’t lose sight of your higher-priority tasks and responsibilities in pursuit of perfection.

Now, to quote Forrest himself, “That’s all I have to say about that.”


Your turn: How do you audit and review your programs to ensure they are accurate and relevant? Leave a comment below to share your own tips!

Attending the ATD International Conference & Expo (ICE) in Denver next month? I’d love to see you there!