On lasting impressions

The last job I had before I started Collegewise in 1999 got off to a bad start. I’d moved across the country to take the position and arrived for my first day of work only to find my boss unavailable and my desk empty—no computer, no phone, and no access pass to get to the meeting rooms on the second floor. I spent the entire day interrupting people to ask for help and foraging for tools to get started. Worst of all, everyone important in my life reached out and asked eagerly, “How was your first day?” Day one deflated all the excitement I’d had about the position and the company. So it’s not surprising that we do first days a lot differently at Collegewise.

We have two goals when a new employee starts at Collegewise: (1) Send a clear message of “We are thrilled that you are here,” and (2) Give them a great story to tell when their friends and loved ones ask, “How was your first day?” We send out a personalized introduction of each of them to the entire company. They spend time learning from our trainers, our CEO, and their new colleagues, all of whom join them for lunch and dinner on day #1. We construct the entire experience to make them feel welcome and to give them a great story to tell. Done right, the first day sets a tone and reinforces that they’ve made a great decision to join us.

We can’t make every day as memorable as the first at Collegewise, but we’ve learned that we can create meaningful experiences that give employees the same lift. Whether it’s a promotion, a successful completion of an important project, or the anniversary of their start at Collegewise, whenever possible, we try to create a meaningful, story-worthy experience, one that shows each employee just how much they matter to us beyond a worker filling a position. Naysayers may claim that we’re a business and that employees should just do their jobs. But work is personal for the person doing the work. If we want employees who are delighted, proud, loyal, and engaged, we’ve got to give them experiences that make them feel that way.

Chip and Dan Heath, authors of The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences have Extraordinary Impact, argue that our memories don’t just take an average of our moment-by-moment experiences. We remember key events, the memorable highs (or lows). Think back to your last family vacation, your wedding day, or your child’s graduation from college. Chances are, you aren’t focusing on the details made insignificant by time. You remember the key moments that now shape the entire experience in your mind, like the family photo with Mickey Mouse, the first dance, or the moment your college graduate walked across the stage to accept his degree. Once we appreciate the value of these experiences, we can identify opportunities to embrace and create them both at work and at home.

If you’d like to create a culture of key moments in your business, start small. Identify or create an event with potential, like an employee’s first day, a salesperson’s millionth dollar in revenue, or a promotion to a new position. Then imagine it was your child, partner, or best friend. How would you like to see them treated? What story would you want them to tell you about how their workplace made them feel recognized and valued? Once you know the story, you can get to work creating one that’s personal, not programmatic.

We can’t engineer every day to be perfect at work. But if we create enough memorable experiences to enjoy and stories to tell, we can make a lasting impression as good as our first day’s.