I once read an article filled with tips for how to get new employees off to a great start in a new job: long lunches with various team members, cute little gift baskets, and plenty of free time to let them ease their way into their new roles with a new company.
This is not that kind of article.
The first few days of employment are absolutely critical. Many new employees are a little like an aircraft carrier: Once their course is set it can take significant time and energy to change their direction.
Here are seven ways you can set the wrong course in the first few days… and in the process ruin a new employee:
1. Focus on relationships instead of output.
You hire employees to work, not build personal relationships. (Professional relationships yes – personal relationships, no. It’s great if employees do develop personal relationships outside of work, but that’s not why you hire them.) Besides, relationships are built over time, not in the first few days.
Absolutely be polite, courteous and friendly… but otherwise remember a new employee is hired to perform a job – and jobs involve work.
Great employees will build great professional relationships; let them prove they’re great at their jobs first.
2. Train holistically.
Many training guides say providing context for tasks is critical for new employees.
That’s true, but not at first. Initially a new employee doesn’t need to know how they fit into the overall operation. First they need to know how to perform the tasks you hired them to perform. Leave the broader context and holistic training approach for later.
Besides, evidence shows people best learn to master complex tasks when those tasks are broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks. Teach specific processes and let new employees demonstrate mastery of those processes.
Think of it this way: If I don’t know how to do my job, how does seeing how my job fits into the grand scheme of things really help me? I can’t relate my work to the bigger picture if I don’t even understand my job yet.
It’s hard to connect the all dots when I can’t even see all the dots.
When employees know the basics of their job, then bigger-picture training will be much more effective, for them and for your business.
3. Hesitate to give immediate and direct feedback.
New employees are tentative, nervous and mistake-prone. It can feel harsh or unfair to correct or criticize, but if you don’t you lose an opportunity to set the right tone.
Unless the job involves creativity, every task should have a right way or best way to be performed. Expect new employees to do things that way.
Bad habits are easily formed and nearly impossible to correct.
4. Fail to set immediate and tangible goals.
Successful companies execute. Set the right tone by ensuring new employees complete at least one job-related task on their first day.
You will establish that output is all-important, and new employees will go home feeling a sense of personal achievement. Days spent in “orientation” are not only unfulfilling, they make the eventual transition to “work” a little harder.
5. Leave gaps in the schedule.
Sure, it’s hard to coordinate new employee orientation and training. Business must still be conducted and managers, trainers and mentors get delayed or called away.
Yet when that happens, what message do you send? New employees forced to sit and wait quickly determine you don’t value continual performance – especially from them.
My first day at a new job I was pulled out of orientation and sent to the shipping department to help load sixteen trailers. Due to a small crisis all hands were on deck, including the CEO, and I immediately learned that a job description is important but a company’s mission is everything.
Keep new employees busy and set the right tone right away.
6. Allow brand-new employees to modify processes.
Is there a better way to perform just about any task? Absolutely.
But new employees should not be allowed to reinvent the wheel until after they fully understand how the present wheel works. (Unless, of course, you hired them to bring skills or techniques your company doesn’t possess.)
Be polite, but ask them to hold their ideas for now.
7. Talk about empowerment.
Empowerment is a privilege, not a right. Every employee should earn the right to make broader decisions, take on additional authority, or be given latitude and discretion. The key word is earn.
Why? Earned empowerment is the only valid and lasting empowerment culture.
Accountability and responsibility should always precede privilege. Give new employees the tools they need to succeed. Then let them earn greater authority and privilege.
You, and eventually they, will be glad you did.