Posted by Bill Dann

We humans love new starts; that new date, a new friend, a move to a new city and, more to our point, a new job.

Take advantage of the employee honeymoon

I know I am preaching to the choir in stressing the importance of a quality orientation for new employees.  It is my experience that despite its importance, few organizations and supervisors do this well.  The reasons are numerous including the urgency of today’s work and the tendency of supervisors to not want to insult the new employee, assuming that the new employee, given their resume, will know what to do.

Thus, new hires are consistently disappointed in the on-boarding and come to feel as if they have been set up to make mistakes that could have been avoided.  We consistently fail to take advantage of the “honeymoon” period for new employees characterized by high motivation, a positive attitude, openness to new experiences, willingness to learn, commitment to produce at a high level and to offer suggestions for how to make things better.  In his book Leadership and the One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard describes these new employees or those new to a position as “enthusiastic incompetents”.  But, he asserts that unless the on-boarding or orientation process sets them up to “win”, they quickly become “disillusioned learners”.

What’s included in employee “on-boarding”?

employee orientationIn addition to the usual tour of facilities, introduction to benefits etc. from HR, and meeting fellow employees, what should be in the on-boarding process to avoid disillusionment and maintain high commitment?  In my experience, the following are essential to new employee orientation:

1. Clarity on Expectations

By “expectations”, I mean, what are the results or final outcomes the employee needs to produce?  Most job descriptions talk about what one should do, not the results expected from the “doing”.  That’s why I counsel clients to define jobs by products, not activity.

2. Clarity on What Good Performance Looks Like

I once hired an office manager whose job in part was to handle communications.  Overhearing her taking a phone call one day, I chastised her after the call for not communicating our interest and willingness to do whatever it takes to meet the caller’s needs.  Her reply, “that’s funny, my last boss wanted me off the phone as soon as possible as he considered it a waste of time”.  Same expectation from the two bosses to handle all incoming calls, but very different ideas for what good performance on that expectation looks like.  Also included here, the supervisor should share pet peeves, i.e. those behaviors or outcomes that have been an irritant in the past.

3. Clarity on How Performance Will Be Measured

What data will the supervisor look at to determine level of performance? This may be covered by a & b above, but often is not.  New employees should be clear on the data that will be used to evaluate their performance. These same measures should be used and clarified on two additional fronts: 1) Job evaluations. These should be objective to the extent possible, which means they should be data-driven. And, 2) job descriptions. These should include the definition of what data will be used to evaluate performance.

4. Clarity on Authority

What decisions will the employee have autonomy on, which ones require consultation with the supervisor, at least in the short-term, and which ones must be requested.

5. Agreement on Future Supervisor Actions

After laying out all of the above, go back through the expectations and assess with the employee what assistance they need from you to be successful in the short run.  I.e., what do they need in terms of training, coaching, consultation and support; what Blanchard calls “leadership style”.  Discuss items such as:  what training is needed and when, the review of draft work products, frequency of meetings to review progress.  Then schedule these meetings and reviews, or the press of the day to day will trump them, and they will be forgotten.

What’s the timeline?

How long does orientation take?  It doesn’t end until the employee answers “are you clear on items a-e above?” with an unequivocal “yes”. A word of caution, you will need to foster a relationship where saying “no” is not only OK, but wanted.  Based on previous experience, the new employee will tend to say “yes” when the answer is really “no” so as to not appear to be incompetent, unprepared etc.

It is important to establish early on that as a supervisor you view your job as partnering with the new employee for their success.  That can only occur if there is honesty and a willingness to confront what is true vs. what should be.  For employees who have previously felt judged and not supported, this may be a tough sell. But once the sale is made, the rewards in terms of motivation, performance and quality of working relationship are huge.

Questions or thoughts? I would love to hear them.  E-mail me with your comments.