“Oh, you must be the new person. I wish I had some time to chat, but I’m on my way to a meeting. I think we have a desk here for you somewhere. Have a seat in the lobby till we figure out what’s up.” If that doesn’t make your heart sink as a new employee, nothing will!

If you’ve started a new job more than once, you probably have at least one story about a bad beginning. You showed up on your first day and didn’t have a computer yet, or you didn’t get introduced around, or you spent a few days with nothing to do because your arrival had not been adequately planned for. Perhaps there was no formal orientation session, or perhaps there was, but it was little more than a dry review of employment policies and a tour of the building.

Effective on-boarding is more than a nice touch; it can spell the difference between the success and failure of recruiting and retention. The Partnership for Public Service recently looked at federal agency onboarding and reported that no component of human capital management had been more overlooked than the process of integrating new employees into their work environments. The Partnership report also said that effective onboarding programs can improve employee retention by 25 percent. This can reduce the high cost of turnover that, by some estimates, costs organizations 30 to 50 percent of the annual salary of entry-level employees, 150 percent for mid-level employees, and up to 400 percent for specialized, high-level employees.

It’s tempting to look back and think we can fix such problems by creating a well-structured orientation program and giving hiring managers a checklist. But that kind of approach misses the key point that onboarding and orientation are two completely different things. Orientation is a critical component of a successful onboarding program, but it is an event within that program, and not the program itself. Onboarding, as defined by OPM, is a long-term process that begins before the new hire comes on board, and continues through the first year of employment. It is “the dynamic process of ensuring new employees have the knowledge, skills, and organizational awareness to become committed, effective members of the agency.”

Many agencies have made improvements since then, yet reports continue that onboarding processes remain overly transactional, inconsistent, and lacking integration and accountability. As a supervisor, here are some things you can do to ensure your new employee’s onboarding process continues beyond the new hire orientation period:

• Use OPM’s new hire survey to identify and address the needs of your new employees
• Focus on assigning meaningful work, and discussing with your new employee how that work supports organizational mission
• Hold frequent “check in” meetings with new employees to assess the need for further training and resources, to give formal and informal performance feedback, and to ensure expectations are clear
• Get an early start on the process of creating an individual development plan (IDP)
• Explicitly recognize positive employee contributions
• Provide insight into organizational values and culture; what does it really take to “fit in” in your agency and work unit?

Taking a continuous improvement approach to your onboarding process will pay large dividends in increased employee engagement, accelerated time-to-productivity, and greater employee retention.

One of the greatest challenges faced by many leaders is an organizational climate that supports a “go along to get along” culture rather than a continuous improvement environment. We all have a story about a poorly performing employee who got passed on to us because a previous supervisor found it easier to transfer him than to take the steps necessary to improve his performance.

Performance improvement begins with a willingness to communicate directly, honestly and courageously with an employee who needs feedback. The problem, for many of us, is that direct and honest feedback feels bad. It’s a lot easier to speak up only when we have something nice to say, and never risk confrontation or hurt feelings.

Kim Scott, a corporate coach whose resume includes stints at Apple University and Google, has offered up a useful model she calls “radical candor.” The two axes of this four quadrant model measure a supervisor’s propensity for caring personally, and for challenging directly; or what Scott calls “giving a darn” and “being willing to upset people.” What takes the sting out of being willing to upset people is having a high score on the give a darn axis.

Consider the case of Monica, a career employee with 25 years of experience as a contracting specialist for her agency. Earlier in her career, Monica had been an extremely high performing employee. Her contracts were flawless and her output was above average. Over the years, however, Monica had become bored with her job. A succession of supervisors had passed her over for promotions or lateral moves because they valued her experience and performance so highly they didn’t want to lose her. Gradually, almost without anyone knowing, Monica’s performance began to slide. Her attention to detail suffered, and her contracts along with it. Her most recent supervisor, George, was baffled by the contradiction between Monica’s reputation and the quality of her current work, but he felt it would be impolite to challenge her long-standing record of superior performance, so he ignored it.

The problem is that George is doing a terrible disservice to Monica. Now, not only has she been passed over for promotion by previous supervisors, but she is heading toward being unfit even for her current position, and George is letting it happen. What George needs to do is show, over time, that he cares about Monica’s well-being, job satisfaction and career trajectory; and at the same time, begin to be completely candid about the fact that her work is no longer up to standard.

How do you show that you care? By asking genuine questions about the employee’s personal and professional goals; “having her back” on important issues; and making yourself consistently available for discussion and support. Once Monica can trust that George has her best interests at heart, she will be ready to hear that her performance is no longer what it once was.

It’s time for us to stop thinking in binary terms about being nice versus challenging performance. You can do both at the same time. And as a supervisor, it’s your job.

No matter how good your relationship with your boss, there will always be times when you disagree on an issue and wish you could influence her in a different direction. Perhaps you feel you have more subject matter expertise on a particular project and know a better way to move forward than what your boss is proposing, or you have an idea about how to improve a process that your boss doesn’t see the value in. Or maybe the issue is more personal; you feel the boss is micro-managing you, taking credit for your work, or treating you unfairly in the distribution of assignments. How do you persuade her to see things differently without labeling yourself as a difficult or argumentative employee? Here are some steps:

• First, avoid the “fundamental attribution error,” which leads us to attribute negative intentions to someone we disagree with. Whatever your boss is doing, chances are that he isn’t doing it to drive you crazy, but rather because he genuinely believes it is the right course of action for that particular situation. If you begin with the perspective that he has negative intent, you may shut down further options for influencing him.
• Next, follow Stephen Covey’s fifth habit: Seek first to understand, and then to be understood. In other words, ask good quality questions and actively listen to your boss in order to understand her perspective before you begin any effort to change her mind. Another way of saying this is to inquire before you advocate. You should seek to understand the big picture—the organizational factors driving your boss’s perspective that you may not be aware of–in addition to the smaller picture, which includes the relevant history, values, biases, needs and concerns of your boss. Ask questions like, “How do you see this issue? What brought you to this decision? What are the considerations I may not be aware of?”
• Once you feel you understand the boss’s perspective, consider what you know about his personality and behavioral style. Is he a detail person or a big picture person? How direct is his communication; does he seem to prefer a straightforward confrontation, or does he avoid conflict? Does he usually want just the facts, or does he tend to pay attention to the emotional side of an issue? Does he get straight to the point, or spend time making small talk and building rapport first? Tailor your communication style to match his needs, and then make your pitch.
• Once you’ve begun to advocate for your point of view, make sure to keep a respectful tone and an even keel. Don’t let frustration or anger put your boss on the defensive and derail your efforts. Allow plenty of time for your boss to ask questions and make objections, and address the objections in a neutral manner, allowing for the possibility that you may not have considered all the angles.

Finally, should your efforts be unsuccessful, know when to quit! Prolonging the discussion when it’s clear your boss has made up her mind will only hurt your future efforts to influence her. Consider that you may have laid some important groundwork in establishing yourself as a person who speaks his mind in a thoughtful way, and make sure you don’t damage your ability to do so again in the future. Take stock of what you’ve learned during the discussion, and don’t be afraid to try again when the issue is truly important to you.

As leaders we believe in the importance of creating a culture of inclusion in our organizations, a culture in which everyone feels part of the team and able to contribute to the mission. We know that inclusion leads to engagement leads to higher productivity and increased business success.

But what happens when upping your standards of inclusion requires a radical change to the organizational culture, to the “way we’ve always done things around here” for years, decades, even centuries? Here are some key points to keep in mind as we strive to address this challenge:

1. Radical organizational change happens when we can clearly make the case that our mission demands and depends on it. Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, writing for Harvard Business Review, explains how the Army could be successful in graduating two female soldiers from Ranger school this year only after the case for radical change was recognized back in 2010: “Commanders needed more knowledge and more understanding to gain an advantage on the battlefield. And yet male soldiers could not speak to Afghan women or enter their quarters without causing grave offense in the conservative, traditional societies in which they were operating. Without female soldiers, half the population’s knowledge would remain out of reach.” How can you connect your own inclusion efforts with your organization’s mission to make the case for change?

2. Leadership courage will be required. A leader with the courage to defy convention was at the forefront of many history-making organizational changes. President Truman decided to desegregate the military via executive order in 1948; President Obama put legislation in motion in 2010 to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell.” Without courageous decision-making by leadership, needed organizational changes may take much longer to bring about.

3. Support and encouragement may be needed, and leaders must set the example. When team members see managers making an effort to help new employees succeed, they will feel safe doing the same. Creating a culture of inclusion despite significant opposition and a long history of resistance is not easy, and we can’t get there by doing what we’ve always done. It is harder to succeed when we perceive others want us to fail, so leaders must reach out and embrace those we seek to include. Sometimes just a pat on the back and an offer to be available for help will do the trick. Other times leaders may need to make a concerted effort to open up resources, provide funding, or lead support groups.

4. We must showcase the impact and achievements of the change, and link them back to the mission. In other words, how did difference make a difference? Sometimes this means collecting statistics, and other times it means telling success stories. Opponents of allowing women in Special Forces units were swayed by the story of an important piece of intelligence found in a baby’s diaper in a women-only area. When the advertising industry began to hire and promote women and people of color, they were better able to sell products aimed at women and people of color and open up new markets they hadn’t previously considered. When the Americans with Disabilities Act mandated wider doorways, accessible sidewalks and interactive street crossing signs, we found these conveniences benefited everyone and not just people with disabilities. What stories can you tell about how increased diversity and inclusion on your team helped you to understand and serve the needs of your diverse customers more effectively?

One of the most uncomfortable challenges we face as leaders is to manage our hidden biases. We all have them, regardless of how sincerely we consider ourselves champions of diversity. They come from our life experiences, the values we formed during childhood, and the sense-making tendencies of our brains, which make up stories to filter and interpret our experience whether we like it or not. These biases run the spectrum from fully unconscious to semi-conscious to explicit, and they explain why we are drawn to certain people, indifferent to others, and perhaps even repulsed by some. Overweight people must be undisciplined; young people are entitled; Asians are math whizzes; New Yorkers are obnoxious; all veterans have mental disabilities; people with tattoos or piercings have questionable lifestyles; men are more assertive and women are more compassionate. Take a good hard look at the assumptions operating beneath the surface of your conscious thinking and you will find these kinds of biases, no matter who you are.

Our biases can come out of hiding in insidious ways. Sometimes they manifest in something called “micro-messages,” a term coined by Dr. Mary Rowe of MIT. In the course of studying the impact of bias on education, Dr. Rowe defined micro-messages as small, semi-conscious messages we send through a combination of verbal and non-verbal behavior that may tell someone either that we value them or that we don’t. When these micro-messages accumulate and form a consistent pattern, they may become micro-inequities or micro-advantages.

What’s important to our efforts to become better leaders is not that we try to deny or rid ourselves of bias, but rather that we bring them to the surface, name them, and ensure they don’t impact our behavior in negative ways. This might sound easier than it is. If you unconsciously believe, for example, that Hispanic people have a lesser work ethic than other groups, how likely are you to micromanage, over-discipline or fail to support your Hispanic employees? If you have a hidden bias that tells you middle-aged white men are entitled, might you pass over your white male employee more often when giving out choice assignments? If your unconscious bias makes you uncomfortable around gay people, isn’t that likely to make you less approachable with your gay employees?

More subtly, if you fail to recognize these hidden biases you will probably smile less at certain employees, make less eye contact, and spend less time soliciting ideas from them. These micro-messages will eventually add up to a micro-inequity that is deeply felt and impacts performance, but seems too trivial to address. No one wants to go to their boss and say, “Hey, you come in here every Monday and ask Joe how his weekend was, but you never ask me.” We’re afraid the response might be, “You’re too sensitive! Get back to work.” On the other hand, over time, most of us will recognize and feel the difference in how we are treated, and it will have an impact on how we feel about our jobs, our supervisors and the organization. Eventually we will become demoralized and demotivated, and perhaps even start searching for another job.

Micro-advantages can have a similar impact. The black supervisor who shouts, “You go girl!” at her black employees; the manager from Penn State who raises the school football team cheer with his employees from the same alma mater; the team leader from Los Angeles who uses regional slang with her employees from California–these leaders may be making some team members feel included at the expense of others. It’s only natural that we feel more comfortable with certain people, but if we want to create a culture of inclusion we must take care not to let it be felt as a micro-inequity by others on the team.

Are you ready to tackle your own hidden biases? Here are some steps to take:

• Become more aware of your biases, and don’t be afraid to name them. Consider taking the Implicit Association Test (IAT) at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ to help you understand your specific biases.
• Spend time consciously examining your behavior to ensure it doesn’t reflect any of your biases. Solicit feedback from those you trust to be honest with you.
• Become more aware of how you come across non-verbally. Are you sending micro-messages you’re unaware of? If you’ve never observed yourself interacting with others on videotape, seek opportunities to do so. You’ll learn a lot.
• Make a conscious effort to send positive micro-messages to people you feel less comfortable with, and make sure to include them in team discussions and activities. Get out of your comfort zone.