Managers can make or break an employee’s ability to perform, stay engaged, and succeed in the workplace. In fact, one in two employees leave a job due to a bad manager, according to Gallup’s State of the American Manager report.
That’s quite a lot of pressure to get things right from the start. But with the right training and resources, managers can effectively help new hires acclimate to the organization, learn the ropes, and ramp into a high-performing team member who stays long-term. Great managers can even be an important part of your employee value proposition.
One cornerstone of effective people management is building trust and open dialogue with direct reports. This creates the positive workplace relationships that are key to not only productivity and engagement but employee satisfaction.
Knowing the right questions to ask new team members can help managers facilitate this open dialogue from day one.
8 Key Questions to Ask Your New Hires
If your onboarding process doesn’t include a list of questions to ask new hires, HR can help by providing managers with some inspiration. And whether managers decide to tweak these to better fit their style or use them as direct inspiration, these eight questions can help provide some structure for informal conversations over the first few weeks.
1. What personal goals or achievements would you like to reach in your role over the next 30 days?
A positive onboarding experience is vital for maintaining employee engagement in the long term — and this first month is a crucial time for retention. This question helps managers zoom in on what each new hire is hoping to achieve while setting a strong foundation for their success.
“Not only does the 30-day period ‘set the scene’ for an additional meeting to review progress, but it also shows empathy towards the employee in that you care about their personal progress,” says Wendy Makinson, HR Manager at Joloda Hydraroll.
Once 30-day goals are discussed, make sure to revisit them using a 30-60-90-day plan. While many managers in the past relied on a 90-day plan during probationary periods, this isn’t always enough and can allow questions to slip through the gaps. The added granularity of earlier milestones allows you to focus your regular one-on-one sessions on the objectives required to successfully meet a new employee’s milestones.
“You can tailor training or further onboarding requirements based on particular goals they may be striving to reach,” added Makinson.
2. What are your preferred communication and work styles?
Managers are directly responsible for an employee’s experience, and using open and effective communication from day one can help unlock engagement — something that’s vital for optimizing performance.
Driving a high-performance culture relies on productivity, and this question can also help managers dig deeper into how and when their employees do their best work.
“[Knowing this] can improve collaboration and productivity,” said Bonnie Whitfield, human resources director at FDG. “It also shows that you value their individuality and want to accommodate their preferences.”
Whether a new employee is working remotely, hybrid, or in-office, accommodating their preferences allows for all personalities to thrive. But for this method to succeed, it needs to be backed up with effective methods for communication. Using a tool like Lattice 1:1s can help managers set up an informal check-in to ask new employees how they’re getting on, but also allow for continuous feedback that helps drive effective communication.
3. Can you tell me about a time when someone's feedback really made a difference for you?
“Focusing on performance management, this question cultivates a growth mindset,” said Olga Noha, CMO at Split Metrics. “It lets the new hire know that you're all about constant improvement and fostering an environment of open, constructive feedback.”
As many companies transition towards a pay-for-performance model, getting employees to reflect on how their manager’s feedback impacts their performance, and making performance reviews more equitable is essential. Centering conversations on meaningful, unbiased feedback can help ensure all employees receive constructive guidance they can use to boost their performance.
This question can also lead to discussions about how employees best receive feedback. As Ashley Kelly, CEO and co-founder of CultureAlly noted: “Everyone receives feedback in different ways, and giving effective feedback is essential for improving performance and achieving success in your role [as a manager].”
Kelly added that this question also shows the company's commitment to supporting each new employee's growth and professional development through regular feedback. Research found that employees who receive daily feedback are three times more likely to be engaged when compared to employees who only receive feedback once a year.
Embedding these regular feedback sessions into your daily practice as a manager doesn’t have to be hard, either. If you’re using Lattice, it’s easy to integrate essential meetings and milestones into your system, in addition to monitoring feedback usage to make sure no employees are being left unsupported.
4. What drew you to our company culture when applying for this role?
Culture matters — it’s one of the aspects that millennials consider the most important when searching for a new job. During the hiring process, most interviewees have discussions around company culture and values, but new hires may have questions about your culture that they didn’t feel comfortable asking during an interview. Now’s the time for managers to dig a little deeper.
“This question assists in figuring out if the new hire's values match up with the organization's ethos,” Noha said. “It also opens the door for discussing any concerns or queries they may have, ensuring they feel backed and engaged from the get-go.”
For a great company culture, a strong team is essential. Tools like Lattice Praise make it easy for managers to recognize and acknowledge their team’s achievements publicly, helping to reinforce the culture that attracted a new hire in the first place.
5. What is the best way to create an inclusive environment for you?
Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) is a key priority for companies and employees alike, so it makes sense to discuss it as soon as possible.
“By asking this question, managers can better understand if the new hires require any accessibility accommodations or resources or help identify potential areas where the company can improve,” Kelly noted. “[It] shows the organization is committed to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all employees.”
Longer-term, surveys and focus groups can be used to help managers uncover whether or not employees feel as though your DEIB efforts are authentic and leading to change. Used alongside tools like our inclusion and belonging dashboard, these form a crucial way for managers and HR to benchmark employee sentiment and track how it changes over time.
6. How do you handle situations where someone expresses a view that conflicts with your own beliefs or values?
It’s unrealistic to expect that all members of your team agree on everything at all times — but how each individual handles workplace conflict can be a good indicator of the management skills you might need to deploy in high-stress situations.
“This is my updated version of ‘How do you handle conflict in the workplace or disagree with a peer or manager's decision’,” said Martin Gasparian, an attorney with Maison Law.
“The newer version still gets a valid answer on how a new hire would handle differences of opinion or strategy in the workplace and how they would resolve it amicably, while also encouraging them to consider how their opinion can also differ to cultural differences and their background, and not just their professional approaches.”
Creating an inclusive environment at work involves managers being proactive and understanding that the dynamics of their team may shift as a new member comes on board. This question can help uncover proactive ways to prevent or manage conflict in the future.
7. What are your career goals so we can best help you achieve them in this position?
To lead new team members in the right direction, it’s a good idea to uncover their short- and long-term career goals. Kelly uses this question to “help inform what tasks can benefit new hires’ progress and align with the common goals of the organization.” She added that this question can also help showcase that your company cares about employees and is committed to supporting their career growth.
Once you’re clear on a new employee’s goals, it’s easier to support new hires. In terms of best practice, the gold standard is a 360-degree performance review process with set goals underpinned by 1:1 meetings and real-time feedback and praise from other colleagues and team members.
Conversations around goals can also lead to questions about employee growth.
“Learning and development are essential tools to help career growth,” said Kelly, who centers the conversation on discovering how her new hires learn best. “This gives insight into what kind of learning resources will best help them smoothly transition into their new role, and shows that the organization values continuous learning for their employees.”
Tools like Lattice Grow can help increase growth and drive engagement by providing the resources each employee needs to perform and succeed.
8. What can I do to make your job easier?
A good manager can make or break the employee experience, so show your new hires that you’re on their side by delving into how you can help them, and showing that you value their opinion. Creating a culture of two-way communication early on also helps reinforce the connection between managers and their teams which over time, can lead to benefits including improved performance, stronger teams, and even better ideas.
“This question demonstrates you’re there to support each new hire and help them move through their day-to-day responsibilities as smoothly as possible,” said Stacy Lord, HR manager at the University of Phoenix. “It also demonstrates that you’re there to partner with them and not just direct them. Questions like this help build rapport — a key factor when creating a new partnership.”
What Not to Ask New Hires
It’s also worth remembering that there are certain questions a manager should never ask their new hires. “You cannot ask questions about an applicant's age, race, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, or whether they have children; or even if they’re planning to,” said Gasparian.
Knowing the law is the first step — but building a meaningful relationship depends on creating two-way trust and psychological safety. In the first few days and weeks, get to know your new hire, but try not to ask questions that could feel overly personal or familiar, because these may make your new hire feel uncomfortable. Framing questions from an open-ended, non-judgmental perspective will help employees feel safe sharing what they really think or need.
Helping Employees Perform Their Best — From Day One
Great managers create a culture of accountability, motivate and coach employees to perform their best, and know how to build trust and dialogue with their team. These skills aren’t always instinctive, though. Truly great managers know they need to work hard on their own development, and proactively set the tone for the manager-employee relationship.
Implementing questions like the ones we’ve outlined above into both one-on-one meetings and everyday ‘watercooler’ chats helps foster the kind of great working environment that sets outstanding managers apart.
Use our Manager One-on-One Agenda Template to create consistent meetings that help cut through the noise and uncover what your employees need to succeed.