Podcast: Dr. Christina Moran Unveils the Art and Science of First Impressions (+ More Onboarding Secrets)

expert onboarding

In our 20th episode of the Employee Onboarding Podcast, we are honored to host Dr. Christina Moran, joining host Erin in an insightful conversation on employee onboarding and creating exceptional onboarding experiences.

Dr. Christina Moran is a licensed psychologist and an esteemed member of the leadership team at a renowned design architecture firm.

Together, they explore innovative ideas and best practices gleaned from Christina’s extensive expertise in people leadership, organizational effectiveness, and psychological research.

Join us as we unravel the essential elements that contribute to successful onboarding and learn valuable insights into prioritizing the human touch amidst evolving technological advancements.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

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Introducing Dr. Christina Moran

Erin Rice: Welcome to the Employee Onboarding Podcast where we are unpacking great onboarding ideas and best practices from the world’s top HR practitioners and thought leaders. 

At Process Street, that starts with our mission to make recurring work fun, fast, and thoughtless for teams everywhere.  My name is Erin Rice and I’m the People and Operations Coordinator here at Process Street. Today, I’m joined by Christina Moran, Ph.D. 

Dr. Christina Moran is a licensed psychologist and works as part of the leadership team at the then design architecture. An energetic strategist and executor, she has demonstrated exceptional results in a variety of areas including people leadership, business operations, organizational effectiveness, marketing, international account management, and analytic modeling. She has collaborated with C-suite colleagues and clients throughout the duration of her career.

An evidence-based thought leader, Christina’s research has been published in a number of top tier peer-reviewed journals in the field, as well as Harvard Business Review. Christina obtained her doctorate and master’s from the University of Akron’s nationally ranked industrial organizational psychology program and her bachelor’s of science in psychology with a minor in Spanish from John Carroll University. She is licensed to practice psychology by the state of Ohio. 

Wow, Christina, that is an incredible background. I’m so excited to have you today. Thank you so much for joining us.

Christina Moran, Ph.D: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Erin: So before we dive in, I’d like to ask you an icebreaker question, you know, just to get it a little bit silly. If you could have an unlimited supply of something, what would it be?

Christina: Well, I think the easy go-to answer is probably money. Most people feel like it can buy whatever else you might need, whether it’s health, food, et cetera, and so on and so forth. 

But really, if I could wave a magic wand and have an unlimited supply of anything, I would probably choose health. It’s a very important thing to me. I think it’s the core of being able to do all the great things that we’re able to do in the world. So I’m a very health-focused and health-valuing person.

Exploring Dr. Moran’s passions and interests

Erin: Do you have a favorite activity that you like to do in your free time?

Christina: I do a lot of things and I do things that are usually either moving or creating. So I do a lot of different types of exercise, including yoga, Zumba, walking, running, all those kinds of things. But then also creating, so gardening, sewing, playing the piano, baking, cooking. Those seem to be the two areas that I just keep leaning more and more into.

Erin: I love that you’re including creating into a health focus. That’s such an important piece to our wellbeing.

Awesome, so now what we really came here for – employee onboarding. I’d love it if you could start by sharing a little bit about how you found your passion for people and people management.

Christina: Sure, absolutely.  I really enjoy the process of finding that hidden potential in somebody and then helping them find their way. So to recognize that and then utilize it to maximize whatever they wanna maximize in their life.

It’s just kind of a natural tendency of mine, I would say.I’m always kind of picking up on the hidden nuggets of who people are. Sprinkling and sharing and maybe not necessarily leaning into themselves and just reminding them like you have a special talent there or a special skill there.

We’ve got to lean into that, like why do you want to apply that? How do you want to apply that? So that’s of interest to me and then in all my work, I’ve just enjoyed being able to help people. Whether it’s in athletic attainment, or in business, or even just my colleagues. 

I find it very personally rewarding when I can make things more efficient and effective for people, which can then help them focus more on their talents and hobbies in their personal lives. Especially when we’re talking about people who spend so much time away from their families and their personal lives to devote to their business.

Applying psychology to the workplace

Erin: That’s awesome. With such a strong background in psychology, I’d love to hear how you apply that to your day-to-day life.

Christina: So, psychology. I’ll start really basic. Psychology is just the study of why people do what they do. 

So whether it’s high school students at a sporting event, a bunch of people in a crowd at a concert, or one person alone after a bad day, psychology can help us understand what are some of the likely patterns of behavior or things that we would look for or expect based on some of those stimuli that exist. Whether it’s our own biology or an experience that somebody had.

So when you think about psychology as understanding why we do what we do, the workplace is a place where we spend so much of our time, right? 

So if you think about why people do what they do in the workplace, psychology can certainly give us a lens to view that, understand, and predict what might happen. When I’m thinking about my approach to psychology in the workplace, I’m drawing on all fields of psychology. 

So things related to aging are important to consider, as we have different people of different ages in the workforce. We want to consider things that happen in a group setting, things that happen in an individual setting, and how we word things. 

There’s just so many different things. Some of the famous studies in our field even looked at lighting and how lighting affects our productivity. So there’s just lots of different things. 

Obviously, if you want to retain a maximally successful business, you may or may not want to pull some of those levers or make things as conducive as you can to that success.But I think the first step is knowing what those things are so you’re not intentionally or unintentionally detracting from success in your organization.

Elements of great onboarding experience

Erin: So how do you take that information and apply it to onboarding?

Christina: One of the first things I think of when I think of onboarding is this visual of a hiring manager or an HR leader just going and saying, oh, great, somebody’s accepted the offer. 

Great, congratulations, let’s celebrate! What do we do now? How do we plan? How do we prepare for this person? 

And I think what most folks do in that situation is pull out an old onboarding plan, dust it off, clean it up, and refresh the dates. They say, “Yeah, I think this looks good”, and kind of put it into practice for the new employee.

What I found throughout my career is that there are different things like a decision tree.For example, there are things that should happen based on whether this person is client-facing or not. 

Do they have experience in this area? Do they have a sales goal? Are they an international employee or where are they based? So there’s just all these kinds of things that either one should happen consistently throughout the onboarding practice. 

For example, making sure that they have somebody to eat lunch with on the first day, or at least show them around. Making sure that those are built in so people don’t have to manually think of them and remember them every time. 

And then also the balance of that with the different decision paths that will occur based on that specific person and the role. I think where people get jumbled up is in trying to customize it, but keep it somewhat structured. It just ends up becoming really hard.

“We’ll figure it out as we go”, doesn’t apply to certain people.

Erin: I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t mention that Process Street has conditional logic and you can have it specifically set to the department if they’re client-facing. That decision tree, as you said, will create a different pathway for them within the workflow, which is really cool. 

Christina: Love that!

Erin: So what would you say makes a great employee onboarding experience?

Christina: A couple of things. 

So oneis the practical side of things. The logistics that have to be handled. 

And then there’s the feeling side of things. So this person’s just gone on two or three dates with the company and decided to get married, essentially, is how it’s gonna feel.

You’re making this big commitment after meeting a couple of people, maybe coming in a couple of times or doing that virtually. And so they’re trying to think and evaluate every step. Have I made the right decision? Do I feel comfortable here? Do I like being here? 

So you wanna make sure that you think about ways that you can wrap them in the feeling of “We’re so excited you’re here!; You’re a special person. We know you’re gonna do great things at our company and with our team.” Having that message reiterated across as many interactions as possible, especially within that first day, first week, and first meetings with key colleagues.

I think that’s the feeling part and everybody’s different.

Some people prefer little gifts and trinkets and that’s a love language that speaks to them. Other people are really into nice notes. Like, “I’m a person, don’t ever get me a gift, just write me a nice note and I will be forever happy.” 

Other people want one-on-one attention. So you gotta think of how you can reach people in different ways without even really knowing them yet, which is kind of hard. So you may think of a couple of different things that cut across.

Many people hope that in that approach, you meet most people where they’re at and where they like to be met. 

And then there’s the practical side of things. They need a tour of the building. They need to meet key colleagues. Those key colleagues need to be prepared with agendas for that first day. They can’t just blow over from another meeting that maybe went well and maybe didn’t, and then be expected to take a deep breath, focus on the new employee, and get into the mode of “We’re so excited you’re here!”

Let’s talk, let’s get to know each other. Let’s form a relationship. And then let’s also talk about what to expect, where to find me, where I can find you, and all those other logistical things. 

So I think a really well-done onboarding process is a beautiful mix of art and science, kind of the feeling and the logic part of the onboarding. 

As HR leaders listening to this, continue to think about those two areas – how can we enhance both the feeling that this was a great decision, as well as the logistics of making things easy and memorable, so they don’t have to write down a million notes. 

Then, I think, you’re probably on the start of a path to a great onboarding journey.

Erin: I love that you point out the importance of preparing those key colleagues and letting them have some time to get that agenda together. Onboarding a brand new employee in another department is not their highest priority, but meeting them is a high priority for the new hire.

Productive onboarding and its downfalls

Erin: What would you think of as the best, most productive onboarding experience? What would you say is the biggest downfall with onboarding?

Christina: I think one of the things related to onboarding that people struggle with is, what you just kind of let into.

If I’m an existing employee, it doesn’t feel like the start of something exciting and new if I’m bringing on a new employee.  But if I’m that new employee, this is the start of a relationship and something exciting and something new. 

So I think that this is one of the biggest downfalls I see. People are kind of being thrown into it, not really thinking about it. Maybe they’re in town that day, maybe they’re not. And sometimes those things happen, where a start date just happens to fall on a vacation or something that can’t be avoided or shouldn’t be rescheduled necessarily. 

But I think that, like you would prioritize the customer experience and where they’re coming from, I would think about the employee experience in the same way. 

The employee experience doesn’t start one day one. It starts from the moment that person first interacts with your company. It’s just that the onboarding piece is really the point at which that person is asking themselves: “Did I make the right decision? Do I feel like I can be successful here? Can I see myself here for a while? Do I like going in?”

Of course, the first couple of weeks are a big adjustment in routine and just everything that they’re learning. But in general, you want them to go home feeling like: “ I like this. I like talking to this person. I want to ask this person this question next time I meet them”

And not just feeling like, “They don’t really care about me. I’m just going to be left to figure it out on my own”.

A very small portion of employees will feel comfortable in that type of environment, whereas the rest will need more consideration, care, and attention.

Motivating colleagues for onboarding

Erin: As HR leaders, sometimes it can be hard to motivate those hiring managers and other leadership people to prioritize those things.

Do you have any advice to give to HR leaders out there who may be struggling to motivate the priority of that new hire for those teammates?

Christina: Yeah, for sure. So when I think about that question, I think about the role of HR as an internal service provider. 

And so just like we struggle to get on our clients’ calendars or talk to people outside the organization, as an HR leader, we do that more internally. And we’re going to those internal colleagues and saying to them: “This is a priority. I’m trying to help you be successful. Let me be there for you in this situation.”

What I like to do as a service provider is try to think of all the barriers that there could be to this person putting all their effort into onboarding practice. 

For example, one of the things that I did was I built this onboarding plan builder, which sounds very similar to what your company has created in terms of the conditional logic. 

It’s basically a form that asks the hiring manager all these questions that they can do in their own time. Based on that, it spits out the onboarding plan for them. So they don’t have to spend 30 minutes with HR unless they want to. They don’t have to go and dust that old one off and then try to refresh it and maybe do that effectively.

And if there’s a process change, we can just do that directly in the form, versus trying to communicate with a bunch of people at once.

I think centralizing that and then thinking about how you can be that concierge service for those hiring managers goes a long way. I don’t believe that a lot of people intentionally try to be prickly or deprioritize it. I just really think logistically. 

We’re all pretty overwhelmed in terms of our work and our workload. And it’s the extent that we can give a white glove service to people, but also there’s some responsibility there. We don’t do everything for them.

Make it easy for them to make those decisions. It is wildly successful in my experience compared to what it would be otherwise.

Erin: Yeah, in our department, we talk a lot about giving that white glove service to our hiring managers because they’re kind of our clients in a way.

We’re going out and seeking people, helping them find people. They may ultimately make those decisions, but we’re the ones saying: “All right, here’s your baby chick. We’re going to raise them up together. We got this!” And it is very much a collaborative kind of client relationship. I love that you pointed that out!

The starting point of onboarding

Erin: So where does onboarding really begin?

Christina: I think it depends on who’s involved.

I think the town acquisition folks, the recruiting folks, they are definitely setting that tone. They’re representing the employer brand from before even the first interaction. 

So that potential employee finding your company’s account on a social media page, looking at your website, or seeing you in the community in some of the work that you’re doing, all of those things represent your brand, both to potential clients as well as to potential employees.

Having that awareness that you’re reaching people who are gonna partner with you from a business standpoint, a revenue standpoint, and from an employee standpoint, I think is a big thing. 

As for onboarding, you’re not trying to overwhelm them prior to their start date. I wouldn’t say a ton of onboarding happens before that, but you are sprinkling things about the culture into the interviews, and sharing about the way that your company does things by how promptly are you scheduling.

Are you constantly rescheduling things? Are you communicating well? Are you treating that person like they’re a priority? All those things are signals about your culture. 

So whether you call that onboarding or you say onboarding truly starts the day that they started your company, either way, they’re all signals that people are using to judge whether they’re going to be successful there long-term.

Erin: I love that a lot of stuff is coming out, especially on social media, about it being a mutual decision.

You, as the new hire or the potential new hire, are choosing a company. Not only are they choosing you. Those signals are so important in the beginning to decide if this is a good place that you’re going to be successful. Not just that they’re going to give you the tools, but a place where you’ll be happy.

Balancing AI with human touch

Erin: Also, the buzz is all about AI and how we’re relying on automation, robots, and that kind of thing. And you mentioned you have a forum that is kind of managed in that way a little bit. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that balance between AI and the human touch.

Christina: So it’s obviously a conversation that we’re not getting away from anytime soon as we explore and see how it unfolds. I mean, it’s reminiscent to me of when the internet started. 

It was everybody’s panic about what was going to happen. I just feel like everything kind of gets watered down before becoming mainstream. And then it’s not as scary as maybe it was in the very beginning. So certainly a disruptor, but for me, I view it as an enabler versus something that is going to blow up or ruin anything that exists now. 

With any tool or technology, human judgment is the important piece. And that’s the part that you, at least as far as I know right now, we can’t entirely replicate. 

So for example, even in tasks, I’ve heard of friends and colleagues who utilize AI services for creating coaching guides or, you know, can you redraft this email or something like that? And why not use it? As long as it’s being used appropriately. 

You’re not putting out company information or private information or anything that would be damaging. It is another tool; just like you’d use a calculator to calculate a math function or something else to support and take off the human load. So the human can focus on the areas that are unique to the human, that are going to enhance whatever the product is. 

I personally don’t fear it. I’m not fearful of it. I think like anything, it will be an enabler.

And it’s already being woven into so many products that we use. It’s going to be available anywhere and everywhere. We’re not going to remember what it was like before it. And more than likely, there will be issues here and there, like with any product or service. But they’ll get ironed out just like we trust the free market to iron out all those other types of things.

Erin: And to a point you made earlier about the downfalls of like, letting machines do the part that machines can do so that the humans can be present and be there in the way that they need to be there.

Christina: I totally agree! I mean, I can’t tell you how many tasks I’ve gone to do, and either said “Let AI help you with this!” Or thought to myself, you know, maybe AI could be a little bit helpful here. I’m going to go there and just see what it comes up with. Because it takes less than 10 seconds usually, right? And it’s the equivalent of going down the hall, maybe, and asking a colleague: “Hey, what do you think about this?”

It’s formulated more quickly. If it helps you get 40% further down the road. It’s maybe not gonna take you 100%, but even 40% further down the road is further than you were before.

Erin: And that’s a lot of how these companies are marketing it. It’s an AI assistant. It’s not the person doing the job. It’s just someone assisting.

Creating “wow moments” for new hires

Erin: Awesome. Great. Well, one last question before we go!

I’d love to hear, what is the one thing you think companies can do to create a wow moment for new hires?

Christina: Stop, center yourself, and give your full attention to the new employee. You maybe can’t clear your schedule for eight hours on that first day, or whatever that might be. But I think a lot of the downfall comes from us moving too quickly.

Onboarding is another task that we need to check off on our list. If we all would just take a deep breath, center ourselves, focus on the conversation at hand, slow down, and listen to the other person, I think that we would find almost all of our answers in those conversations.

It’s just that so many times we’re moving too quickly, we’re checking a box, and we’re not having that real humanity that needs to happen to make it wildly successful. 

So you don’t have to have a huge budget for swag or this whole laser show when the new hire starts. If you could do one thing, I would say, make sure you’re going to spend quality time with that new hire, and then you will find your way to the rest of the process.

Erin: That’s so great. Well, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate your time and all of your insights. I know I got a few nuggets that I wrote down of things that I wanna share with my team and I’m sure our listeners did too. So thank you.

Christina: This has been my pleasure. Thanks for having me!

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Anna Hase

Anna is a coffee-obsessed content writer with a master's degree in psychology. Her main area of interest is employee psychology. When she's not writing, she's either reading or lifting weights at the gym.

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