I open the door of my new workplace on my very first day. I've come prepared with my devices, materials, and (of course!) a writing implement — I know there will be a lot for me to take note of today. I walk in, and my boss is seated at the front of the room. He immediately gets up, shakes my hand, and introduces me to his assistant. He encourages me to make myself comfortable around the table, and introduces me to the two other people already seated. My new manager comes over and welcomes me, hands me a big packet of papers, and tells me we'll be starting in fifteen minutes. She invites me to have a cup of coffee, or some of the breakfast spread in the back of the room. I grab some coffee, sit down, and look forward with anxious anticipation to the rest of the day.
That's how my first day of new hire training starts in the theatre. Sound familiar?
There's one major difference between the theatre and the business world when it comes to the onboarding experience, and that's frequency. The cycle of being a new hire repeats over and over again for actors. They may be with the same show for years, or they may work with four different theatre companies in 365 days. Almost every time they start a new job, they've got different co-workers, and different management. Actors are the "new kids on the block" (in one way or another) over and over again throughout their careers.
Because we do this again and again (and again...) there are a few best practices to which we've become accustomed. Aspects of communication skills, improv, and professional presence all combine during the "onboarding" phase of any new production. Here are a few simple and effective ways you can power up your new hire training and pass on these skills from the rehearsal room:
1. Built-In Buy-In: In the theatre, everyone has one common, major end-goal: the performance of the play. Regardless of what that play might be, actors are there at the service of the piece, and they've got to get on board with it immediately. Directors often spend a lot of time enforcing the idea that everyone's in it together, and that for the play to succeed, the group must unite behind this common goal.
Try it in your training: What's the big idea? The common goal? The company value that can inspire action? When training new hires, get people connected to the company and culture as quickly as possible by articulating this common goal. This isn't about false enthusiasm, but about creating a sense of team and unity right off the bat.
2. "Yes, and..." from Day 1: One of the major tenets of improv is the phrase "yes, and...". This helps scenes move forward and build in a positive manner, while incorporating multiple points-of-view. Even in a scripted production, there may be a lot of improvisation happening, from interpretation to movement and more.
In the theatre, you've got to be able to take everyone's ideas into account. This can be incredibly difficult. However, if you maintain the mindset of responding to things with the phrase "yes, and..." everyone feels appreciated and heard.
Try it in your training: Encourage your managers, as well as new hires themselves, to embrace this thinking. While you might not be able to say "yes" to every single request put before you, there are a plethora of opportunities to do so.
Say you're very strapped for time, but you've got a new hire dying to share some ideas. Rather than saying, "Yes, I'd be glad to hear your thoughts, but I don't have time right now," try "Yes, I'd be glad to hear your ideas, and let's find a time that works best for both of us. I want to give you my full attention."
3. Listen Twice, Talk Once: Great actors are great listeners. In fact, one of the things that can truly bring a performance to life is the ability of one actor to simply be present and listen to the others on stage. Because good listening is an intensive and active undertaking, it's incredibly vital to rehearsals and performance.
Try it in your training: Adopt the mantra, "Listen twice, talk once." While you may have a huge amount of information to deliver in your sessions, new hires will most likely have a million questions. That's important. Create an environment conducive to questions, and recognize each one, even if you can't answer it at the time. Simply listening to your new employee, and showing them respect with good eye contact, will help them feel that their needs are important. And isn't that the point?
4. The Importance of Timeliness: An on-time arrival is important no matter where you work. Lateness is especially frowned upon in the theatre. Every rehearsal is essentially a company-wide meeting. A late actor wastes everyone's time, not just their own.
Try it in your training: If you want to emphasize timelines right off the bat, model that behavior in your training. This is the time to discuss and enforce the importance of time in your company culture. While there may be a lot of freedom in personal schedules, make it known that everyone is expected to respect the time of others when it comes to meetings.
Over the years, actors have learned what effective onboarding looks like, because we do it all the time. Try these tips in your next session, or power up your overall experience with actor/training consultants — we know a communication skills consulting firm that can help you out!
What's your #1 priority when training new hires? Let us know in the comments below!
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