What do the first day of practice, work, or school all have in common? Answer: they will almost always create a lasting impression for everyone involved.

I have talked to business leaders, coaches and teachers alike and almost all of them agree that day one must be the day where expectations are communicated and group culture is explained. This day sets the tone for the entire work experience, season, or semester. One of the best teachers I ever had once told me that if classroom control wasn’t achieved after the first class, then it would be a struggle every day until May. This didn’t mean that he turned into Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from “Full Metal Jacket” on the first day of school; however, he did state that there shouldn’t be a single student that wonders what is expected of him or her to be successful in his course. I remember him saying that “They will, of course, find out that I care a great deal about them, who they are and where they are going throughout the next nine months; however, to be excellent, we have to start off with the expectation of excellence.”

RECENT: Contingencies — Why Plan B Might Be the Most Important Part of Your Strategy

This plan didn’t backfire as his classes were amongst the hardest and most important in my high school experience. As I went through college and entered the workforce, his philosophy seemed to be all the more credible as I experienced a great variety of first-day practices that ranged from exceptional to the downright horrid. Some had me leaning into the conversation, ready to “take the hill” for the leader and her objectives. Others had me looking for the nearest exit and wondering how I could have made such a huge mistake. As stated earlier, these experiences were memorable first impressions that set the tone for the rest of the experience. Bad starts seldom got better. Good starts had more of a chance of leading to something fulfilling.

High School Students With Teacher In Class Using Laptops

It is the leader’s responsibility to be aware of how important a first day is and to endeavor to make it significant. Real thought must go into what is said and done. It must all be deliberate and replicable. I have had the pleasure of welcoming hundreds of employees into the facilities I have operated, and I have made it my highest priority to meet with them and explain our expectations and culture to them in person. It is far too important to delegate and no matter what title or position I hold in the future, this will always remain as the most important thing that I do. While this conversation takes about forty-five minutes, the topics listed below are always covered:

No Surprises

Always work to be a “reporting” associate. Problems and issues can derail an organization, classroom, and team. It is paramount that these get reported immediately so that protocols can be followed and solutions found. For example, if an employee feels like she might have hurt her back at work, she needs to let a supervisor know as soon as possible. This allows for the organization to take responsible steps to ensure her well-being and recovery if a serious injury has taken place. If she waits several days to report the injury, then there is an excellent chance that her condition can worsen and create greater hardship for her and the organization. I inform the new employees about our open door program and all the lifelines they have to access support — my promise to them is that the support will be given and no messengers will be shot.

Customers Come First

This is the reason why our organization exists. It is our primary purpose. If we fail in providing exceptional service to our customer base, then we will not survive. While I leave it up to the associates to consider the customer in either a pragmatic way (revenue source) or adopt a vocational approach to the customer (vital service), it doesn’t change the profound importance of their role or responsibility in making certain that the organization is successful. Whether you are a janitor or a senior executive, this should be made incredibly clear from the very beginning with the promise of consequences if lapses occur.

Respect Each Other

I have this crazy philosophy that we control 100% of what we say and do, and I always inform my new staff that I will hold them directly accountable for what comes out of their mouth. In the organizations that I operate, this is the primary reason why employees are terminated (see my article “fire the unhappy people” for details). If I can’t trust them to treat each other respectfully, then I cannot trust them to treat my customers respectfully. Technical deficiencies I can assist with by offering training and education, however, I cannot educate negativity out of someone who is unwilling to change. I also let them know that this expectation is even higher regarding the individuals in charge of supervising and supporting them. Their dignity as employees will be protected just as much as the people’s we serve.

first day

Don’t Cut Corners

Shortcuts lead to poor outcomes. This is a universal truth. All leaders need people who understand that they have to do right, even when nobody is looking. The employee who is worried about getting “written up” if his supervisor catches him doing something he shouldn’t isn’t worried about how his actions might hurt a customer and the organization. He is only interested in maintaining his job status. It is paramount that everyone understands just how much their roles contribute to the successes and failures of the organization or team they are involved with. Avoiding write ups simply isn’t an appropriate motivation for someone to do an exceptional job.

Problems are Normal, Expect Them

Throughout the course of the day, problems will arise. It is our response to these problems that differentiates the true professionals from the “I’m just here for a paycheck” crowd. True professionals don’t hang around the break room complaining about the issues of the day. Instead, they are typically running to find solutions because they know that the problem hasn’t reduced the importance of getting their jobs done. I let them know that these are the people that get the best promotions and raises.

I close my conversations with new employees with the assurance that of all the things that we expect of them, perfection isn’t one of them, simply because that would be profoundly unrealistic and unfair. They will make mistakes, and as long as they learn and improve, we will always provide them with a soft landing. I promise that they will be supported, encouraged and grown, whether they are with us for only a few months or several years. I also let them know that they are with us today because of a rigorous selection process that has already identified them as being right for our organization. However, I do remind them that now is the time that they get to keep the promises they made to us during their interviews. Most importantly, I thank them for joining our team and inform them on how to get in touch with me if needed.

Will your day one expectations be like mine? Probably not, and that is ok! Just make certain that you make day one significant, regardless what you do and who you work with. If you start people out on the right foot, chances are far more likely that they will perform for you and your organization.

Thanks for reading.